Renaissance Ranch

Dangers of Nostalgia during Addiction Recovery

Jun 8, 2015

Nostalgia is by definition is a wistful longing to return to past times or circumstances. The trouble with nostalgia is that these times and circumstances are often romanticized or idealized into seem better than they really were. This causes people to remember only the good things about a particular time while forgetting about all of the negatives and stresses that surrounded those good things. Here is what you need to know about nostalgia during addiction recovery—and how you can prevent it from undermining your successful recovery.

Dangers of nostalgia

It amplifies the good while minimizing the bad.

Just as time heals emotional pain, time can heal those pains associated with your past drug or alcohol use. Nostalgia has the power to make you believe that the time you spent addicted to drugs or alcohol is worth returning to. It can make you forget about all of the stresses and negative consequences of substance abuse that caused you to make the decision to become sober in the first place.

It can prevent you from progressing towards future goals.

When nostalgia has you reminiscing about past substance abuse, it can tear you away from goals that you once made to remain sober for life, holding you in a constant back-and-forth between addiction and sobriety.

It can keep you from appreciating your current life.

Some nostalgia can be so debilitating that it prevents you from appreciating what you have right in front of you. If you’re in the early stages of recovery and are finding that nostalgia is starting to get the best of you, you’ll need to practice techniques for combatting nostalgia. You should also seek the help of a professional, as nostalgia in some can lead to declined physical health and even thoughts of suicide.

How to combat nostalgia

Know what nostalgia looks like.

If you’ve read this far, then you are already better armed to prevent nostalgia from tempting you to turn back to old habits. As you progress through your recovery, remind yourself of what nostalgia looks like and how it works on the mind to tempt you back to addiction.

Make new memories in old settings.

Spending time in places where you once used—and around people whom you frequently used with—is one of the strongest triggers for deep nostalgia. If you frequently find yourself encountering an almost debilitating form of nostalgia when you come into contact with these people and places, make new memories. As long as the settings are sobriety-friendly ones, and as long as the people you are spending time with are supportive of your decision to stay sober, new, wholesome memories can replace those old ones that are feeding you a false sense of the past.

Make your new life fulfilling.

People are more likely to become deeply nostalgic when they aren’t finding fulfillment in their current lives. Even if you are having a difficult time getting past the positive feelings you associate with a past addiction, a wholesome and fulfilling lifestyle that you currently live can trump that.

Kris Groves is a Advanced Substance Use Disorder Counselor and has been working in the field of substance abuse since 1996. Kris is the Program Director for Renaissance Ranch. She has worked in general outpatient and intensive outpatient programs. As a volunteer for the Family Home Evening Program at the Utah State Prison, Kris educates women about addiction and recovery. She has worked as an anger management specialist and workshop presenter for addiction education. She also presents workshops on addiction and recovery in smaller communities in Utah and Idaho.
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