The Benefits of Journaling in Recovery

Thoughts are fleeting—that’s why writing them down during recovery offers such valuable insight. It’s easy for memories to be fuzzy or downright inaccurate—a written record of events over days and months gives more accurate insight into what’s working and what’s not.

Keeping a Written Record of Recovery

The Benefits of Journaling in Recovery

A structured, regular commitment to journaling gives a person perspective on recovery, making goals possible

Addiction recovery requires a person to completely revamp all aspects of her life. She must focus on activities that encourage sobriety and associate with friends who have the same goal. Staying sober is a moment-by-moment process, so knowing which techniques keep temptations at bay is crucial.[1]

Studies show keeping a regular journal of thoughts about recovery can help a person better manage recovery goals. Also known as expressive writing or therapeutic writing, journaling can improve a person’s progress in early recovery. The act of journal writing helps a person put her story down in one place. Knowing where she has been and where she is going offers a roadmap for important goals. For example, a person who dropped out of college due to drug use in her late teens can make taking college classes a goal for her 20s. The story of dropping out of college becomes motivation for the future instead of a sign of failure.[2]

Managing Trauma Through Structured Journaling

The highs and lows of recovery seem much bigger in the moment. A journal that keeps track of each day gives a person the chance to look back over a few months and get perspective on how well things are going. Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas-Austin, recommends a four-day journaling experiment that can transform a person’s life. As part of the experiment, a person writes about the most traumatic experience or important emotional issue of his life. Forget about grammar, spelling and anything that stops the writing process and spend a portion of each of the four days writing about the issue for a timed period. Pennebaker says the process turns troubling memories into a concrete experience that can be understood. It also improves a person’s immune system and boosts productivity.[3]

Getting Positive Results from Journaling

Not all attempts at journaling yield positive results. The best strategy is to take a structured approach to journaling and focus on a certain topic or keep writing for a defined period. The writing process is beneficial when a person learns from the experience. For example, she feels more positive and has a deeper understanding about the actions of others. She also is able to gain meaning from her thoughts and develops solutions to problems. Journaling can be negative when it leads to unhealthy results. Take a different approach if the writing process brings on an obsession with bad things that happened in the past. It also can be unhealthy if it encourages isolation and leads to self-obsession or a tendency to observe life instead of living in the moment.[4]

Journaling can also be a valuable companion to a person in therapy. It can help a person work on strategies to manage stress or temptations to use. It also can help someone clearly define problems that need more work, such as a troubling relationship with a parent or partner. The process also lets a person practice the art of self-reflection. It can be difficult to be honest about personal traits. Over time, journaling makes it apparent if things are going as a person hopes or not.

Need Help Finding Addiction Treatment?

Addiction treatment is a positive, life-changing experience for many people. Many good treatments exist that heal the brain by building new pathways that help a person focus on healthy activities and overcome the pull to take addictive substances. While there are many effective addiction treatments, a person achieves the best outcomes by planning ahead and building structured routines into his life. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, our admissions coordinators are standing by to help.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, please call our toll-free helpline. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer specific solutions for every person’s unique issues. Take the opportunity to change your life. Call us today.


[1] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Treatments for Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved Jan. 3, 2016 from

[2] Dwyer, Sonya Corbin, PhD, Piquette-Tomei, Noëlla, PhD, Buckle, Jennifer L., PhD and McCaslin, Evelyn, Med. (2011). Journaling. . .Explored as an Effective Counseling Tool with Women Gamblers. Paradigm. Retrieved Jan. 3, 2016 from

[3] Lewis, Jordan Gaines. (2012). Turning Trauma Into Story: The Benefits of Journaling. Psychology Today. Retrieved Jan. 3, 2016 from

[4] Stosny, Steven, PhD. (2013). The Good and the Bad of Journaling. Psychology Today. Retrieved Jan. 3, 2016 from