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Recreational Activites

Recreational Activities at Our Illinois Addiction Treatment Centers

Recreational Activities at Our Illinois Addiction Treatment Centers

At Gateway Foundation, we aim to promote the value and enjoyment of a sober lifestyle. Recovery and treatment require significant commitment, but your time in rehabilitation should remind you of the freedom you can experience without substances or alcohol. 

Recreational therapy teaches clients how to enjoy activities and practice self-care. We tailor therapeutic recreation to emotional, physical and mental healing, encouraging lifestyle changes after you complete treatment.

What is therapeutic recreation? What types of activities and benefits does it entail? Discover how recreational therapy can help those with addiction and substance use disorders.

What Is Recreational Therapy?

What Is Recreational Therapy?

Also called therapeutic recreation, recreational therapy uses leisure activities to promote physical, psychological, social and emotional well-being. It aims to provide a healthy, positive and creative outlet for those struggling with illnesses or conditions hindering their everyday life and enjoyment, like mental health disorders or substance misuse.

Recreational therapy for addiction can involve a wide variety of activities, such as arts and crafts, games, music, exercise and community outings. By participating in these recreational skills and activities, clients can grow more aware of limitations hindering their healing. They can receive creative tools and outlets to address these limitations and begin their recovery.

Therapeutic recreation can be as important to comprehensive addiction recovery as the clinical intervention and detoxification processes. Clients can discover new hobbies, passions and interests, which they can carry through rehabilitation and long-term recovery.

They can also experience healthy social interactions, build relationships with fellow participants, and develop effective coping mechanisms for negative thoughts, stress and anxiety.

Who Benefits From Recreational Therapy?

Who Benefits From Recreational Therapy?

Recreational therapy can benefit anyone, including pediatric patients, teenagers, young adults, older adults and everyone in between. It’s particularly helpful for those seeking to reduce stress, depression and anxiety, or build confidence and social skills. This type of treatment can benefit those struggling with:

  • Mental health, psychiatric or eating disorders
  • Brain or cognitive impairment
  • Addiction or substance misuse disorder
  • Trauma or grief
  • Anger or behavioral issues

The Benefits of Therapeutic Recreational Activities

For those struggling with drug or alcohol misuse, recreation is often the furthest thing from their mind. However, we promote recreation during treatment to increase physical activity, problem-solving skills, stress management abilities and social interaction.

As our clients relax, engage and increase physical movement, they discover or reignite a passion for healthy outlets and interests. Therapeutic recreation treatment promotes sober fun to help individuals find value in remaining on the path to long-term recovery.

We can tailor our recreational therapy to each client’s unique needs to fit their long-term lifestyle goals. Incorporating activities into your rehabilitation plan enhances your physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. Engaging in activities can also offer several other benefits:

  • Promotes a holistic recovery
  • Reconnects impaired neuro-pathways
  • Supports community involvement and healthy friendships
  • Helps clients achieve personal goals
  • Improves immunity
  • Manages stress
  • Builds confidence and self-esteem 
  • Combats depression and loneliness 
  • Prevents boredom and substance cravings
  • Increases focus and control
  • Helps clients find peace in recovery
  • Develops positive long-term routines

How Recreational Activities Fit Into Treatment

How Recreational Activities Fit Into Treatment

Rehabilitation is a comprehensive process involving a strategic framework and structure. For this reason, a blended approach is generally ideal with recreational therapy, just like many other addiction therapies. Therapeutic recreation is often effective when combined with an extensive treatment program of evidence-based techniques.

For instance, therapeutic recreation might accompany or follow trauma-informed therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, relapse prevention or other methods involved in a client’s treatment plan. A mental health professional may encourage you to try out multiple recreational activities to see what works best with your recovery process.

When pursuing addiction therapy for yourself or a loved one, consider the available recreational therapy programs and how they can benefit your unique needs or interests. At Gateway Foundation, clients have the opportunity to participate in various therapeutic recreation programs, discover new talents and make the most of their time in rehabilitation.

By stepping out of your comfort zone and engaging in new activities — or those you previously enjoyed — you can start to decrease your reliance on drugs or alcohol and focus on a healthier, more positive avenue.

Gateway’s recreational therapy for drug addiction in Chicago can benefit treatment in various ways. Exercise, physical activity and mindfulness-based practices can provide the following physical and mental advantages for addiction recovery.

1. Reduced Drug and Alcohol Cravings

Exercise can reduce the desire for nicotine, alcohol and other drugs. For example, if someone who wishes to quit smoking is only given a nicotine replacement, they may gain weight due to an increase in appetite. Using aerobic exercise as an adjunct treatment for substance use disorders can increase abstinence significantly.

2. Improved Mood

Because the body is gradually relearning to function without drugs or alcohol, mood swings are common during substance withdrawal and recovery. For instance, a client may experience a euphoric sensation, then feel depressed a few minutes later.

Consistent physical activity can improve mood since it stimulates the release of endorphins — hormones in the brain that block pain perception and boost feelings of well-being. Even a brief workout can dramatically affect endorphin release and overall mood.

3. Higher Energy Levels

Regular physical activity through sports or outdoor endeavors boosts your body’s energy levels. Exercise raises the nutrients and oxygen flowing to your muscles. It also helps blood move faster through your heart.

Over time, your muscles build endurance and grow stronger. Higher strength and energy levels make it easier to perform daily tasks, rebuild relationships and resist the compulsion to use substances.

Reduced Stress

4. Reduced Stress

Therapeutic activities can alleviate stress by releasing feel-good endorphins and chemicals from the brain. Activities like making art and exercising also reduce levels of stress hormones like cortisol. As a result, these activities can promote feelings of happiness and well-being. This is especially important for people in addiction recovery, as drug or alcohol withdrawal can raise stress levels.

Lower-impact therapeutic activities like journaling, creative writing and meditation can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress. Discovering new coping mechanisms to process emotions and feelings is beneficial during the rehabilitation process.

5. Better Sleep Quality

Many people in recovery find it difficult to sleep soundly through the night, especially in the early stages of treatment. Physical activity can help you overcome obstacles hindering your sleep patterns, including difficulty falling and staying asleep, or feeling drowsy and sluggish throughout the day.

Creative therapeutic outlets can also help you sleep better. The calming effect of these activities can ease your mind, making it easier to fall asleep.

Improved Self-Image

6. Improved Self-Image

Excelling in a therapeutic activity can boost confidence, positive thinking and self-esteem. For instance, participating in outdoor exercises or sports can help you accomplish personal goals like building muscle or losing weight.

Achieving a fitness goal reminds you that you are capable of facing and overcoming challenges, which is essential to remember during rehabilitation. Research shows that encouraging results from consistent exercise can influence substance users’ motivation to change their behavior.

Perhaps your goal is to find a unique interest or learn something new. Taking up a new art medium, like painting or drawing, allows you to pursue a new skill, discover a talent and flex your creative muscle. Whatever you wish to achieve during your recovery, recreational therapy at Gateway is a great way to grow your confidence and self-image.

7. Relationship Building

Attending group recreational therapy sessions is a great opportunity to meet new people in a safe, uplifting environment. You can also find a common ground with people who have similar hobbies and interests.

Making new friends in the initial recovery stage can be challenging, but recreational therapy provides a great way to form connections and build relationships. Whether taking an art class, playing on a sports team or hiking with a group, therapeutic recreation brings people together during recovery, reminding them that they aren’t alone.

Types of Recreational Therapies Used in Addiction Treatment

Types of Recreational Therapies Used in Addiction Treatment

Every individual has unique needs and responds to treatment methods differently. Therefore, some may benefit from certain types of therapeutic recreation more than others. For instance, one might prefer more art-based recreational opportunities like music, painting or drawing, while another may benefit from outdoor recreation and sports.

The key is finding what works best for you. A specialist can guide you through this process and have you try some different activities. Pursuing this type of therapy is an excellent opportunity to rekindle an old passion or develop a new hobby. Below are some common types of substance misuse recreational therapy.

Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy is a broad term encompassing outdoor physical activities, such as:

  • Boating, canoeing or kayaking
  • Horseback riding
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Rock climbing
  • Ropes courses

Outdoor excursions can help relieve stress and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and anger issues. They can also encourage team building, develop motor skills and improve coordination.

Music, Art and Drama

Recreational therapy centered around art offers a creative, relaxing and enjoyable outlet for clients to freely express themselves. Painting, drawing, dance, drama and other art mediums can:

  • Alleviate stress, anxiety and depression
  • Lessen chronic pain and body tension
  • Promote communication skills, a positive self-image and a sense of well-being

Opening up about difficult thoughts and feelings is challenging for many clients. Creative and artistic activities give them an innovative way to share emotions and increase self-awareness. They can practice these therapeutic recreations in a safe, nonjudgmental environment, encouraging them to be themselves and build confidence.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

As the name suggests, animal-assisted therapy involves the use of animals — such as dogs, horses, cats or birds — during treatment for a condition or disorder.

Animal-assisted therapy aims to improve the individual’s emotional, social or cognitive function. Most people experience a boost of depression- and stress-reducing hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin by simply being in the presence of an animal. Here are some common types of animal-assisted therapy:

  • Canine-assisted therapy: Patients can pet, play with, feed and groom trained therapy dogs during addiction treatment. This can help build self-esteem, relieve stress and improve communication skills.
  • Feline-facilitated therapy: When cats are present during therapy sessions, they can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of sadness or anger. It can also help patients develop social skills.
  • Equine therapy: Equine therapy involves activities with horses. Patients feed, groom and guide horses under the supervision of a mental health professional. Equine therapy aims to help them develop self-confidence, responsibility and emotional regulation.

Through animal-assisted therapy, patients can build empathy and communication skills by picking up on body language. In addition to substance use disorders, this therapy can be an effective technique for other mental health challenges.


Mindfulness-based treatment encourages people to think and reflect on the thoughts, feelings and behaviors influencing their substance use. Because it’s an effective relapse prevention strategy, activities encouraging mindfulness — such as creative writing, journaling, meditation and yoga — can be incorporated into recreational therapy as well.

Mindfulness-based therapeutic recreation has been shown to:

  • Soothe the mind
  • Relieve stress, anxiety and depression
  • Improve sleep
  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure
  • Release endorphins

Recreational Therapy Activities for Substance Misuse at Gateway Foundation

Gateway Foundation provides many recreational opportunities that we incorporate into our clients’ individualized treatment programs. Our treatment centers have indoor gymnasiums, fitness centers and lovely natural surroundings where you are sure to find an activity that interests you.

These activities create positive outlets that help you find fresh ways to enjoy and cope with life without substances. Reigniting old passions and finding new ones through a therapeutic recreation activity empowers you to achieve long-term success in recovery.

If you’re pursuing recreational therapy for substance misuse in Chicago or surrounding areas, Gateway Foundation has many options to choose from. We make it easy for clients to find activities they enjoy based on their hobbies, passions, interests or techniques they respond well to. Here are some of the therapeutic recreation activities we offer.


1. Exercise

Physical fitness and exercise naturally boost serotonin levels, reduce cravings, ease depression and help prevent relapse by lessening other withdrawal symptoms.

You may have to try several exercises to find one that resonates with your treatment plan. Experimenting with different workouts helps you determine which aspects of exercise you enjoy most. It may take time, effort and patience, but it’s highly rewarding in the long run.

Here are some popular forms of exercise our specialists might encourage you to try out:

  • Running: Running is a great way to burn off stress, develop self-discipline, boost endurance and achieve personal goals. You can listen to music or organize your thoughts by running solo, but running with a group is a fantastic way to connect with others and build a sense of community.
  • Swimming: Swimming is a low-impact yet effective cardio exercise. It’s especially suitable for those with sensitive joints or previous injuries. Water can help relieve soreness, tension and achiness that often accompanies withdrawal. Swimming is a great way to soothe the body and mind alike.
  • Cycling: Cycling is easy on the joints and gets your blood flowing. You can take a bike to an outdoor trail or attend a group spin class. Either way, it’s an excellent therapeutic activity to try during recovery.
  • Rock climbing: Rock climbing is both fun to learn and great for muscle strength. You can also improve concentration by analyzing climbing patterns and planning each move strategically. You can visit an indoor climbing gym or practice outdoor climbing with a local group.
  • CrossFit: CrossFit is an intensive fitness program combining numerous strength-building activities, healthy nutrition and teamwork. If you’re looking for something slightly higher-speed, this may be for you. CrossFit is an incredibly effective way to boost your mood and self-esteem, build strength and endurance, and relieve stress and tension.
  • Archery: Archery is a bow-and-arrow sport that encompasses target practice, hunting and contest shooting. Because archery requires immense focus, precision and skill, prevailing in this activity can provide a great sense of achievement. 

Some other great exercises include martial arts, boxing, surfing, snowboarding and kayaking. The possibilities are limitless when creating an exercise routine suited to your interests, skills and abilities. Gateway can help you find the right exercises for your treatment plan if you aren’t quite sure where to begin.

2. Yoga and Meditation

The practices of yoga and meditation can teach healthy coping skills that you can use to manage stress and reduce feelings of anxiety. Yoga helps you practice healthy thoughts, feelings and emotions. You can relax your mind and improve your focus.

Yoga also builds muscle strength, stamina, flexibility, energy and athletic performance. Additionally, it’s a great way to connect with other people. Therefore, yoga can do wonders for your body, brain and socialization alike.

3. Art and Music

Promoting self-awareness and self-expression is an important aspect of treating substance use disorder. Art and music are healthy ways to express deep-seated thoughts and emotions and examine the effects of substance use.

Art-based therapeutic activities help clients find an alternative communication method to convey their feelings. Some examples of these activities include:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Sculpting
  • Art projects and crafts
  • Creative writing, like journaling, poetry, fiction or nonfiction
  • Acting
  • Music, like singing or learning an instrument

Therapeutic art is a great way to manage stress, adjust to your recovery process, enjoy a break from intensive therapy sessions and express yourself creatively. It soothes the mind and offers a safe, healthy outlet for different emotions.

4. Hiking and Nature Walks

Connecting with nature and getting outdoors is a deeply therapeutic experience that promotes relaxation and serenity. It’s a great opportunity to soak in nature and refresh your mind. Plus, conquering a challenging trail is an excellent workout and self-confidence boost. Hiking is an ideal activity for physical and mental health alike.

Group Games

5. Group Games

At Gateway, you’ll find various group games to participate in, including: 

  • Basketball
  • Kickball
  • Volleyball
  • Horseshoes
  • Ping-pong
  • Foosball
  • Darts
  • Pool
  • Video gaming

These activities can foster team-building, social functioning and friendships. They also help decrease social anxiety while providing a safe space for interpersonal skills practice.

Whether basketball, volleyball or ping-pong, participating in group games through Gateway allows you to reap the benefits of physical activity and social interaction alike. You can establish both strong relationships and healthy habits.

Learn More About Gateway's Recreational Therapy in Chicago, Illinois, Today

Learn More About Gateway’s Recreational Therapy in Chicago, Illinois, Today

Fun activities that encourage body movement, engagement and enjoyment are beneficial for the healing and health of our clients. Learning to connect around these types of activities builds self-esteem, positive recovery skills and interpersonal skills. Therapeutic recreation shows individuals how to have fun without drugs or alcohol.

At Gateway Foundation, we offer a continuum of care through various treatment options and therapies, including many therapeutic recreation activities. Our goal is to create an environment that promotes health and recovery, both now and in the future.

If you’re seeking recreational therapy for alcohol addiction or drug misuse, Gateway has over 50 years of expertise, caring and compassionate staff, and evidence-based treatments with proven results. Contact us today to learn more about our recreational therapy for addiction in Chicago.

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