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The Importance of Gratitude in Addiction Recovery


Addiction, clinically known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli without regard for consequence. An individual that struggles with addiction will prioritize satisfying his or her drug cravings above all else. This will affect all areas of one’s life and can lead to damaged relationships, financial strain, legal complication, and a slew of adverse health consequences. Addiction does not develop overnight, nor should an individual expect his or her recovery from substance use disorder to occur instantaneously. The treatment process requires an overhaul of one’s mental and behavioral health. A fundamental component of addiction recovery is to prioritize engaging in behaviors and cultivating and implementing mental health habits that align with treatment goals and aim to enhance one’s overall well-being.

The Benefits of Gratitude

Gratitude is generally defined as a disposition or characteristic that allows an individual to perceive and appreciate the positive and meaningful aspects of life. Positive psychology, which is defined as “the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning,” and gratitude are known to play a significant role in addiction recovery. There are many benefits of gratitude, some of which include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Stimulates pro-social behavior: According to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky, study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
  • Reduces stress, fear, and anxiety: As explained by Dr. Susan Ferguson, a neuroscientist at the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, “when we express gratitude and receive the same, it acts as a catalyst for neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which are crucial in managing emotions, anxiety, and immediate stress responses.”
  • Increases a sense of connection: Research shows that gratitude activates the production of oxytocin, often referred to as the love hormone, in the brain. Oxytocin is the same hormone that mothers release after birth and helps us bond with others.
  • Improves emotional regulation: Studies have shown that the hippocampus and amygdala, sites that regulate not only our emotions but also memory and bodily functioning, get activated with feelings of gratitude.

Research from Harvard Medical School suggests that expressing gratitude strongly correlates with greater happiness and life satisfaction. According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation “Gratitude is a muscle that develops with training and practice, and when we make a habit of appreciating the better qualities in life, we strengthen that muscle in our mind… when that muscle grows strong enough, we will reflexively notice the good, and we will see something’s benefits before its real or imaginary drawbacks and limitations.” The benefits of gratitude are far-reaching and can be instrumental in promoting long-term treatment outcome and enriching one’s quality of life. 

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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