Does Your Drug Rehab Use Positive Psychology to Respect Patients?

Positive psychology is a recent study of the past few decades that focuses on the benefits of a positive mindset rather than a negative one. So far, research has found groundbreaking results.   

Positive Psychology

Table of Contents

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is “a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behavior, with a focus on strengths instead of weaknesses, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad.”1 The goal of positive psychology is to focus on the positive experiences in your life, positive states of mind, and positive institutions.

By focusing on strengths, optimism, gratitude, and other factors, a person will be able to flourish and live a positive life. The goal is that people will be able to change their behaviors with positive thinking and change the way they view themselves. 

Positive Psychology’s History

Positive psychology was founded by Martin Seligman, a well-known research psychologist. He helped lay the foundation of the study of learned helplessness, which is where a person learns to feel like they have no control over what happens to them or in a situation.

Seligman hypothesized that if people could learn to think negatively and lose hope through behaviors, they could also do the same thing with positive thinking. He started researching resilience and learned optimism.1

Seligman became the president of the APA in 1998. When he took over, he began to guide the field to start researching in areas of positive psychology instead of just being focused on negative things. These foundations have led to a lot of research on the topic and a lot of data to show its effectiveness. 

How Substance Abuse Negatively Impacts Life

According to the NIDA, those struggling with health issues, such as lung or heart disease, cancer, or mental health problems, may also be struggling with addiction.2 Not only can substance use disorder impact a person’s physical health, but addiction normally co-exists with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

All these issues lower a person’s quality of life. Substance use disorder can lead to shame, isolation, and suicidal ideation. Many times, someone struggling with substance use might be trying to cope with difficult things in life, creating a vicious cycle that is hard to break. That is where positive psychology comes in. 

The Three Domains of Positive Psychology

During his research, Seligman argued that a person needs three experiences in their life to reach authentic happiness. These three domains are the pleasant life, engaged life, and the meaningful life.

Pleasant Life

A pleasant life is when a person is experiencing pleasantness regularly. With this lifestyle, a person needs to think about what are some things that make them happy. These can be little things such as eating a nice meal or doing an activity that you enjoy. Even though these moments do not last forever, they do help significantly.

Engaged Life

Another strong domain in the engaged life, which is when a person is consistently engaged in a high number of satisfying activities. People tend to be happier when they can work with their strengths. During an engaged life, the person is working on a state of flow. Overall, a person is participating in an engaged life when they are working on growing their virtues and strengths through a multitude of activities.

Meaningful Life

Finally, a meaningful life is when a person feels connected to something greater than themselves. A person is happier if they believe there is a purpose to what they are doing. By using our strengths and virtues, we can participate in something that helps other people. It is normally when someone gets involved inside of a cause, political party, faith, or even a non-profit. By doing all three of these things, people can achieve authentic happiness according to Seligman.

Positive Emotions That Support Recovery

It is vital to make sure that you are bringing in positive emotions for your recovery journey. Withdrawal and daily life can be difficult but regulating your emotions with positive psychology can help you stay on your recovery journey and keep you sober. By paying attention to what you are feeling and being honest, you can make it through this journey. Here are a few positive emotions that help people in recovery. 


Optimism can be described as being hopeful for the future or the outcome of a situation. There is a strong connection between optimism and resilience, especially during stress. By teaching someone optimism, you can show them a new coping mechanism that does not involve their substance of choice. Moreover, you can help teach learned optimism instead of learned hopelessness. 


Being thankful for someone or something gets our minds off what we do not have and gets them onto what we do. It helps us to be thankful for experiences and situations that we would normally only look at negatively. Gratitude helps a person see what is good about their life instead of fixating on what is wrong. 


Many times, people will turn to a substance or fall into learned helplessness when they do not see a purpose to their life or actions. When a person can identify their strengths and virtues, they can find purpose, and serving is a key part of recovery. Without purpose, a person can feel like their life is meaningless, making it that much more difficult to recover. 


Happiness doesn’t mean a person is always bursting with joy. It can look like subtle contentment or excitement. The goal of teaching happiness is finding it within simple daily tasks and activities. Over time, the brain will not need the dopamine rush it got from substances. Soon, it will start producing chemicals regularly once again. 


Finally, empathy can support someone during their recovery. Empathy is being able to understand the feelings of someone else and share those emotions. It helps people to look outside of themselves and relate to other people. By teaching empathy, a person can make amends and give an honest inventory of the things that have happened in their life. It will also help with the implementation of the tenth step. 

Positive Psychology in Addiction Treatment

By adopting positive psychology within your addiction treatment, you are setting yourself up for long-term success. Not only can habits change your thinking and lead to sobriety, but they can also give you overall happiness and contentment that you might not have felt before. 


Researchers have been working on studying mindfulness for decades. By incorporating meditation as a habit alongside other addiction treatment programs, people have seen significant results. According to Eric Garland, even though some of the studies have been difficult to replicate, there have been significant effects when it comes to the power of mediation and other mindfulness-based treatments regarding substance usage during recovery.

Building Connections

Building connections and friendships is a powerful tool. Having a solid community can help a person during their most difficult times. Creating strong connections with other people, including people in recovery, can lead to lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and better peer support. Choosing to connect instead of isolating is one of the best parts of introducing positive psychology into the treatment process.

Gratitude Exercises

Thinking about what you are thankful for is a beneficial way to adopt a positive mindset. Research has shown that making a routine out of gratitude is super important. Doing things such as writing down what you are thankful for or things that went well during your day is a great way to practice the tenth step and change your mind to positive thinking. 

Engaging Activities

Finally, participating in engaging activities greatly aids recovery. Some groups call these outer circle activities. These are things that you can do instead of using a substance. By doing things such as service projects, volunteering, enjoying a television show, or learning something new, you are exercising the engaged life, helping you towards that true, authentic happiness.

Research and Statistics on Positive Psychology in Addiction

Sadly, due to the newness of the field, there is not much empirical data on the topic of positive psychology alongside addiction and recovery. Recovery tends to focus on macro changes and positive psychology focuses on the micro-levels.

When they work alongside each other, there is hope that several positive results can occur. If a person were to walk into a regular 12-Step meeting, they might be surprised to see how many of the steps follow alongside positive psychology. So far, there have been nine smaller studies that have touched on the topic and shown good results, and there should be more coming in the future. 

Why Use Positive Psychology In Addiction Treatment?

Positive psychology helps people who struggle with substance use disorder to focus on small, positive changes in their lives. By creating habits and focusing on the positive, a person who struggles with addiction can completely change their mindset.

While recovery yields a long-term solution, positive psychology can assist in the short term. Things such as gratefulness, empathy, and optimism help when a person is working through the steps. 

Positive Psychology’s Three Domains in Recovery?

Just like there are three domains in positive psychology, there are also three domains when it comes to positive psychology and recovery. These fall under the same categories as before: the pleasant life, engaged life, and meaningful life. 

Substance Use and Shortcuts to Somatic and Complex Pleasures

There are a few different types of pleasures when it comes to a pleasant life. The more immediate gratifications are somatic pleasures. These pleasures provide immediate gratification for the person.

Complex pleasures are things that take more time to gain the same emotional high as the somatic pleasures, but they might be longer-lasting. Substance use is a misuse of the somatic pleasures inside of a person’s life. By teaching new ways to seek out that pleasure, a person can rewire their brain to seek out a healthier positive experience. 

Reacquisition of Character Strengths in Recovery

There are twenty-four character strengths underneath the six virtues of the engaged life:

  • Open-mindedness
  • Perspective
  • Love of learning
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Bravery
  • Persistence
  • Integrity
  • Vitality
  • Love
  • Social intelligence
  • Kindness
  • Fairness
  • Citizenship
  • Leadership
  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Prudence
  • Self-regulation
  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope
  • Humor
  • Spirituality

By building up these strengths during the 12-Step recovery process, a person can find more lasting happiness and serenity in their life. Positive psychology enables a person to focus on the positive rather than the negative that might be going on around them. 

Positive Organizations Help Build a Meaningful Life

Finally, by being involved in service and something bigger than themselves, an individual can find meaning and purpose in life. Positive organizations like treatment facilities and recovery groups are a great way for a person to start serving. It also gives them a safe space to ponder what that meaning might be. 

The Addiction Recovery Movement

Over the years, there have been advocacy groups that work to decriminalize addiction and look at it as a mental health treatment. There is a significant stigma in society around addiction and mental health. This movement seeks to normalize the process of going through recovery and making it socially acceptable to seek out a treatment program. 

Fighting Stigma

One of the most challenging things to do is fight against the stigma of recovery. Several different groups aim to bring awareness to the public eye around addiction and recovery. They are creating national conversations that are finally starting to turn into legislation. 

Promoting Treatment-Friendly Legislation

A few years back, Oregon decriminalized many drugs to better support people struggling with addiction. Instead of sending someone struggling with substance use disorder to jail, they would instead welcome them into a treatment facility to seek out recovery. Viewing addiction as a mental health condition rather than a crime is helping to get rid of several discriminatory laws towards people in recovery. 

Changing Public Opinion

The biggest hurdle that needs to be jumped is changing the tides of public opinion. It can be extremely difficult because of how strong the stigma still is in our culture. However, bringing awareness to the public and reaching out to all groups helps to change public opinion. Making recovery more accessible and welcoming everyone helps include all communities.

Positive thinking and practices can lead to long-term outcomes that will help the person recover and achieve sobriety. Using things like optimism and gratefulness to combat learned helplessness is a great place to start. 


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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