Nostalgia In Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery treatment is primarily about effecting change in both behavioral and thought patterns. Unfortunately, these types of changes rarely meet the many expectations for huge sweeping reform. Change in addictive behaviors and thought patterns are largely attained through the minor feats and actions of repetition recorded unconsciously in memory. Conscious and unconscious memory wind up serving as a sort of lynchpin in the addiction recovery process, which can be both beneficial and detrimental to the outcome.  


Memory’s role in addiction recovery is based on an individual’s perceptions which can be unreliable. On the beneficial side, memories of habits and previous interactions in life shape human identity, giving us an illusionary construct of the people we want and believe ourselves to be. Memory also allows humans to perceive the passage of time and therefore understand the concept of change which is key to addiction recovery. Unfortunately, at its worst, memories are a faulty receptacle for distorted renditions of the past. Senses of touch, taste, or even smell can bring a rush of memories to the forefront without warning, which can be especially dangerous for individuals in recovery. 


Many memories will be linked to an emotional response that shades past events in the golden light of nostalgia. The past is generally viewed in a better light than reality and brings a perceived comfort in nostalgia. This is a particular danger for patients in early recovery as most of their past links to being intoxicated or misusing substances. Individuals in addiction recovery will find themselves reviewing their pre-sobriety phase of recovery in a nostalgic or favorable light, which often leads to relapse.  


Defining Relationships Between Nostalgia, Memory and the Present Moment


Nostalgia paints a romanticized view of previous actions that involved substance misuse. The bad memories often exist in a blind spot for individuals in addiction recovery. Generally speaking, many memories are often formed and marked by adverse or traumatic events from past experiences — you remember not to touch the burner on a stove if you burn your hand after touching it. Many in addiction recovery will find it difficult to remember the negative feelings surrounding a life once governed by substance misuse. An individual in recovery might paint their history of substance misuse in a positive light, which might lead them down the path toward relapsing. In this scenario, the perceived memory of past events will work against the recovery process. 


Romanticizing substance misuse is not the only trigger for clients when it comes to perceived memories, though. Crossed wires and faulty connections can be developed where memories of events will be intrinsically tied to substance misuse even though the two are not reliant on each other as a pleasurable experience. For example, if you drank alcohol while watching television with friends, your memory will link these two, which can then allow watching television to serve as a trigger for drinking alcohol in the future. This type of Pavlovian response occurs when someone enjoys one experience and is misusing substances during those enjoyable past events. Addiction recovery patients should be mindful of these connections and must actively work to separate the enjoyment of activities from substance misuse.


How Can You Avoid Romanticizing Past Substance Misuse?


  • Form New Memories: This will take time, but eventually, you will forge new memories that paint a favorable light on your sober lifestyle. Later on in recovery, you may even want to approach some of those crossed wire scenarios we discussed earlier and attempt to frame them in a more positive and sober light. Forming new memories around old events that involved substance misuse should probably not be tried in early recovery and approached with caution even later on when you feel more secure in your sobriety.

  • Avoiding Familiar Patterns and Behaviors: As we mentioned earlier, memory is allusive, and recalling certain events or scenarios will primarily be out of your control. However, by avoiding familiar habits and physical locations, you can avoid any unnecessary risk of recalling past events that involved substance misuse. 


If you are ready to start making new, sober memories, then Choice House offers dual-diagnosis treatment services to help you along in your addiction recovery process. Our treatment services include a 90-day inpatient program, intensive outpatient service, and the opportunity to take up residency at our sober living campus. Nostalgic recollections of past substance misuse are a common symptom of addictive behavioral disorders with co-occurring mental health issues. Choice House utilizes various therapeutic modalities to help men tackle addictive behavioral traits as they forge new, healthier memories that will prove vital to recovery long after leaving our facilities. Our facilities are in the Boulder County, Colorado area, with the Rocky Mountain National Park just a few steps away from our doorstep. Taking full advantage of our proximity to the Rocky Mountains, our unique outdoor wilderness therapy designed to help men forge new, sober memories as they reconnect with themselves, nature, and fellow recovery patients over physical activities like hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking. For more information regarding Choice House facilities and addiction recovery treatment services, please give us a call at (720) 577-4422.


Table of Contents

Questions About Treatment?

Choice House is your comprehensive guide to lasting sobriety and wellness. Reach out to us today to see how we can support you on your journey toward sustainable well-being.