Creativity can wake up parts of the brain numbed by heavy substance use. This awakening can help a person handle the ups and downs of recovery more easily.

Society has made a connection between creativity and addiction. Some people even believe that substance use enhances creativity. This enhancement may appear true in the short-term. Inhibitions are loosened and perceptions are distorted with more substance use. But as use becomes heavier and the body becomes dependent, the substances don’t have the same effect anymore. A person becomes more focused on their substance use over time.

During drug addiction recovery, a newly sober person may feel like their mind is numb and unresponsive. As sobriety settles in, the mind awakens and opens to new ideas. Without the business of using and acquiring substances, a newly sober person can fill this time with positive activities that encourage creativity.

Improved mental clarity allows for a better focus on these new activities. The activities themselves generate feelings of excitement, happiness, frustration and contentment. Ideas are sharper, deeper and more mature. Creativity can flourish again without the influence of substances.

Why Creativity Is So Important in Drug Addiction Recovery

Creativity can wake up parts of the brain numbed by heavy substance use. This awakening can help a person handle the ups and downs of recovery more easily. Sobriety is an active and ongoing process requiring good coping skills and personal awareness.

A person dealing with cravings or emotional triggers can easily get stuck in a tug-of-war between two choices, either using or not using substances. This black-and-white view makes it difficult for a person to see the bigger picture. Giving in to cravings can be the start of a setback but may feel better in the short-term. Avoiding substances during drug addiction recovery is the smarter choice but can be painful. This narrow viewpoint can cause a person to feel trapped.

A person who regularly pursues creativity is used to working with many options. Creative thought makes it easier for a person to respond differently to a craving or emotional trigger. Instead of a yes-or-no choice, a person can widen the “not using” option to include many other activities. A choice to not use substances becomes a choice to:

  • Exercise
  • Paint
  • Do photography
  • Sing
  • Enjoy craft projects
  • Listen to music

Not using becomes a healthy and attractive option rather than a battle of will power.

Creative Outlets in Recovery

Practically anything that generates new ideas or expressions can be considered a creative outlet. Some activities are common and others are out-of-the-box. Any use of creativity can create a positive impact on addiction recovery.

Most people think of the arts when talking about creativity. Painting, pottery, drawing, carving, and crafting are all popular ways to make art. People sometimes like making art projects out of unconventional materials like junkyard metal or recycled objects. Art in therapy isn’t just enjoyable; it also supports growth in addiction recovery. According to The Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, the use of art in therapy creates new perceptions and insights that can promote healing.

Some people enjoy creating with words. Blogging is an easy way to publicly share ideas in a personal voice. Fiction or poetry writing can help people express thoughts and create stories. Slam poetry or rap can mesh expression with performance. Journaling is a popular and very private form of expression.

Music is an emotional expression that all humans can relate to. Singing is an easy and personal way to share and enjoy music. Some people enjoy playing musical instruments, which can create good social opportunities when people play in a group. Dance doesn’t always require music, but it often does. Dancing is another natural and fun way to enjoy rhythm and music.

Benefits of Creativity in Recovery

Healing through creativity has a powerful role in addiction treatment. Creative activities allow a person to respond to challenges in unique ways. A person going through recovery has often covered emotions with substances. Creative pursuits can bring many emotions to the surface. By dealing with them openly, a person can become more comfortable with emotions as they come and go.

As a person learns to express their ideas, they can gain confidence in who they are. Individuals learn that creativity takes courage and presents opportunities for mistakes and second tries. This sense of resilience is so important in addiction recovery. This lesson can be applied to renewing sobriety after a setback or while fighting off cravings. Nothing comes out perfect and it’s good to get up and try again.

Creative activities can also be used as coping mechanisms for difficult moments in recovery. Some types of creativity can be energizing like dancing or singing. Other pursuits can reduce stress and encourage focus like various arts and crafts.

Cravings, triggers and emotions can become overwhelming during recovery. Creative activity is an effective way for a person to change their emotional state. Doing something expressive like journaling or painting can be a positive distraction until the episode passes. According to the American Psychological Association, regular exercise like yoga or dancing gives the body practice at handling stress. The body also releases hormones that provide a pleasurable feeling.

How to Increase Creativity in Drug Addiction Recovery

Drug addiction recovery involves many different treatment methods. Creativity can make the addiction recovery process feel more personal and restorative. However, many people in recovery can feel out of touch with their creative side at first. To make this transition easier, creativity can become part of a person’s daily routine. It may seem awkward and forced in the beginning. But as time passes, regular expression of creativity becomes easier and more natural.

If you are newly sober, make an effort to bring creativity into your recovery experience. It’s easier to stick with a new creative activity by taking a friend or support person along. You may feel awkward putting yourself in new situations on your own. But doing a creative activity with a friend is more fun and can strengthen your relationship.

Addiction recovery is full of new experiences. Maybe you’ve spent a lot of time with music or art. Or perhaps you don’t think of yourself as creative at all. Either way, your recovery is the ideal time to try new creative pursuits. You may discover interests that you would have never tried before, or you may rediscover an activity you haven’t done in years.

Spend some time being still or in silence. Solitude can feel awkward to some people at first. But even if you experience it for just a few minutes at a time, you may be surprised at the creative thoughts your mind generates. You have an opportunity to think ahead and to reflect. Have a notebook handy in case you want to capture a meaningful thought or idea.

If you know that you need to seek substance use treatment, creativity may not be at the front of your mind. However, treatment is designed to address your whole self. Creativity can be part of a healthy and meaningful addiction recovery journey.

Rob Alston
Editor – Rob Alston
Rob Alston has traveled around Australia, Japan, Europe, and America as a writer and editor for industries including personal wellness and recovery. Read more
Erika Krull
Medically Reviewed By – Erika Krull, LMHP
Erika Krull has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and has been a freelance writer since 2006. Read more

Adedoyin, A. Christson; Burns, Nalalia; Jackson, Heather; Franklin, Sarah. “Revisiting Holistic Interventions in Sub[…]ance Abuse Treatment.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, June, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2019. “Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers.” Accessed September 25, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.