Benefits of Journaling in Addiction Recovery

Why Should Keep a Journal in Addiction Recovery
Recovery Unplugged Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Written By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu -

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Last Medically Reviewed on January 21, 2024

Keeping a journal in addiction recovery has many benefits for you and your team of care providers and support staff. It allows you to record your thoughts and behaviors daily, permitting you to uncover some previously unnoticed, negative thought patterns.

Keeping a journal can be a part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)[1], two widely practiced treatments for substance use disorder (SUD). Although it might appear challenging initially, many individuals on the path to recovery find journaling incredibly beneficial. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in keeping your healthcare providers informed about your progress.

Benefits of Journaling in Addiction Recovery

Maintaining a journal during the process of overcoming addiction can be very rewarding. Here are a few key reasons why:

Self-Reflection and Self-Awareness

A particularly impactful advantage of keeping a journal during addiction recovery is the enhancement of self-insight and self-knowledge. Writing in a journal is a reflective surface, capturing our mental and emotional states on the page. It enables people to monitor their emotions, identify recurring patterns, and comprehend the stimuli linked to their addiction. This journey of self-exploration can be extremely revealing and strengthening, promoting considerable individual development throughout the recovery process.

Emotional Regulation

Journal-keeping also plays a vital role in managing emotions. It offers a secure and therapeutic way to express and navigate intricate emotions, which can often be overpowering during recovery. By writing down their thoughts, individuals can express their emotions without fear of being judged or criticized, diminishing their emotional intensity.

This is where “journaling CBT” becomes relevant. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychological approach that assists individuals in comprehending how their thoughts affect their emotions and actions.

When incorporated into journaling, CBT techniques can help individuals identify negative thought patterns, challenge these thoughts, and replace them with healthier ones. This can be particularly beneficial in preventing relapses, as it equips individuals with the cognitive tools necessary to manage cravings and resist the urge to use.

Stress Management

Keeping a journal can also be a potent tool for managing stress. Writing can be therapeutic, offering a sense of release and calm. It enables people to express their frustrations, fears, and anxieties, which can significantly decrease stress levels. By recording positive events and accomplishments, individuals can uplift their mood and improve their mental health during recovery.

Be it promoting self-awareness, controlling emotions, or handling stress, maintaining a journal can be a strong support in the journey towards overcoming addiction.

How to Start a Recovery Journal

When starting your journal, try to write one entry per day. For many, the best time to write is at the end of the day – so you can record all of the day’s happenings. Write down whatever thoughts negatively impacted you during that day. This gives you a clearer perspective and helps you better understand and confront your problems.

Adding positive thoughts, feelings, or situations is a good thing to do, as it reminds you that there is some positivity and you are moving forward in your recovery. You can write about anything. Always date your entries and try to include as many details about your day as possible. Your journal is a safe place to write about whatever you want.

Journaling requires intense self-reflection and is imperative to recovery. You can share it with your counselor, or you may wish to keep it private. Either way, it is beneficial. Once you complete treatment, you can still profit from referring back to your journal or even continue journaling.

How Do I Organize My Thoughts?

When journaling, it is helpful to make a habit of deciding how to record your thoughts. Choose a time to write an entry daily. As mentioned in this article, doing so at the end of the day is most beneficial.

Also, consider how you will journal. Do you want to write by hand in a notebook, or do you wish to do so virtually? Scientific evidence[2] shows that writing by hand can be beneficial as it helps you remember what you have just taken in.

Either will do finely. Some things to consider when using a paper journal include incorporating drawings and other art forms, such as music. A benefit of having a virtual journal is that it may be saved online, accessed anywhere at any time, and you do not have to be concerned about losing it. Do not worry about your spelling or your grammar. You are journaling effectively as long as you understand and can read back what you write.

Does Journaling Help People With Substance Use Disorders?

According to one study regarding a dialectical behavioral training program[3], individuals with co-occurring disorders benefited from journaling, as it provided them with healthier ways to confront and manage their symptoms. The results from this particular study showed decreased binge drinking and substance use from the start of treatment to the six-month follow-up. Journaling helps individuals to practice mindfulness, reducing negative emotional and unhealthy coping skills.

Another study was completed on incarcerated male inmates diagnosed with substance abuse disorder[4] (SUD). In the study, they explored the results of those who were given instructions on journaling versus those who were not. Only 51% of the individuals saw rearrest after 12 months when journaling, compared to 66% for those given a different intervention.

A research article on PubMed Central (PMC)[5] showed that maintaining a diary has proven to be a helpful tool for people struggling with trauma and substance abuse issues. The research indicated that those who participated in sessions of reflective writing experienced reduced distress levels, pointing to the potential healing properties of journaling. The findings demonstrated that dedicating 15-20 minutes to these writing activities for three to five times a week resulted in notable improvement in various health conditions.

Journaling At Recovery Unplugged

At Recovery Unplugged, we heavily utilize journaling and creative writing in our treatment approaches as part of our rehab programs. Creativity is appreciated and nurtured here, with music also being an adjunct to therapy.

We recognize the power of this exercise to help clients articulate their emotions and process their trauma. Our programs are covered by most insurance providers, and we have centers in Austin, Fort Lauderdale, Lakeworth, Nashville, and Northern Virginia. We offer varying levels of care; inpatient, outpatient, residential, partial hospitalization programs (PHP), detox, and intensive outpatient (IOP).

We have a full team of medical professionals and support staff to help you start your recovery process. Reach out to us today for help. You may even chat with us online. Take the first step. You can do it. We can do it together.

We take our music-focused treatment for addiction very seriously, so we are going to hold our content to the same precision standards. Recovery Unplugged’s editorial process involves our editing safeguard and our ideals. Read our Editorial Process.



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