Why Do They Keep Telling Me To Talk About My Feelings In Treatment? Because Science Says This Stuff Works

The activities, messages, and cliches used over and over in treatment can get annoying. When you start to ask yourself why you have to be so grateful and make good choices, remember this: a lot of scientific research has gone to great lengths to understand how the brain works regarding addiction and mental health. Nothing you do in treatment is for silly purposes. Everything is scientifically backed because it doesn’t just help you not to relapse, it physically changes your brain.

Gratitude Boosts Serotonin

In the grips of a dark mood, even just remembering to think about something you might be thankful or grateful for is enough to change the brain. The most terrible thoughts and feelings which get you down- like the toxic shame and guilt- actually activate some of the same areas in the brain as drugs and alcohol, or other pleasurable stimuli do. It’s true- our brains enjoy being a little bit miserable because those emotions activate the reward center located in the nucleus accumbens. Gratefulness in any form- from thinking about gratitude, to talking about gratitude, to feeling gratitude- boosts serotonin production in areas of the cortex, including the prefrontal cortex which is deeply affected by addiction.

Describing Your Feelings Reduces Arousal

When the limbic system gets aroused, the body can go a little haywire. This is where the effects of trauma can live. Arousal in the limbic system is reduced when we can name what we are going through. Even if we can’t pick a feeling off of the treatment-famous feelings chart, if we can start to describe what we are going through with metaphor, images, measurements, or symbols, we actually start to relax our unrelaxed state. Using this process is about labeling what feels purely conceptual. An important trick is not to play into the label too much. Often we get afraid of what that label might mean or how identifying with that label might make us seem to others. It’s just a name for an emotional experience to help you bring your body back to a state of normalcy.

Choosing To Choose Makes You Feel Better

Remember how the brain enjoys feeling terrible? One of those states can include the victim state in which one feels completely out of control of their autonomy. Without the ability to make our own choices, we thrive on feelings of despair. Hidden beneath that is some shame and guilt about not standing up for ourselves and choosing where we can. Our choices don’t have to be perfect. In fact, trying to make a perfect choice is counterproductive to the brain. Instead, choosing within recognition that any choice is good enough for that moment stimulates dopamine production. Dopamine is the troublesome yet effective neurotransmitter which creates message of pleasure.


LEAD Recovery Center provides a clinically founded treatment program designed to help each client design a life of autonomy in which they can lead by example after recovering from addiction. For more information, call 800-380-0012.