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Life has good and bad parts, ups and downs. Sometimes the bad parts feel like they are overtaking the good. If you have a substance use problem, you probably are finding that there are more bad parts than good. Even if you have progressed into recovery, life can be hard and filled with pitfalls. It is helpful in recovery to be optimistic and hopeful. To do this, you may want to develop those skills to give yourself the best prognosis for sustaining your sobriety in the LGBT community.
What’s Going On in Your Brain
Believe it or not, the makeup of your brain is actually altered by drug use. “Most drugs of abuse directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, motivation and feelings of pleasure.” NIDA explains that at normal levels, the system rewards natural behaviors, but when it is over-stimulated—like with drugs that produce euphoric effects—the brain adjusts its expectations to that higher threshold. This causes the brain to want to repeat the drug use in order to continue getting the stronger rewards.
For instance, when some drugs are taken, they can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards such as eating and sex do. In some cases, NIDA says, this occurs almost immediately (as when drugs are smoked or injected), and the effects can last much longer than those produced by natural rewards. This higher expectation by the brain results in its pleasure circuit thinking that naturally occurring rewards are no longer good enough. Over time, this tolerance can lead to major changes in neurons and brain circuits, NIDA says, “with the potential to severely compromise the long-term health of the brain.”
Once an LGBT person stops abusing drugs or alcohol and goes into recovery, the brain must relearn its responses. One way to help that process is through positive thinking. “Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.” Mayo points out that positive thinking often starts with self-talk. “Self-talk is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative.”
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include the following:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
Hope and Resilience
The entire recovery process for the LGBT person is laced with positive thinking and hope. “Hope, the belief that these challenges and conditions can be overcome, is the foundation of recovery,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “A person’s recovery is built on his or her strengths, talents, coping abilities, resources and inherent values. It is holistic, addresses the whole person and their community, and is supported by peers, friends and family members.”
With the growth and improvement in health that occurs during recovery, there will also be setbacks. That is just a part of life, and getting back on track, or developing resilience, is an element of recovery.
“Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to cope with adversity and adapt to challenges or change,” SAMHSA says. “Resilience develops over time and gives an individual the capacity not only to cope with life’s challenges but also to be better prepared for the next stressful situation. Optimism and the ability to remain hopeful are essential to resilience and the process of recovery.”
Without this optimistic hope for things to improve, recovery would be more difficult or impossible. Some studies have shown that the presence of optimism or pessimism does influence health and well-being and that optimism is important in effective stress management.
Findings in a study at Concordia University show that the stress hormone cortisol tends to be more stable in those with more positive personalities. Other studies have shown that recovery from surgery can also be faster and more efficient when the patient has a positive outlook. With health benefits greater overall for people with positive outlooks and hope as an important part of the recovery process, you can see that it is a very useful skill to master.
How to Become More Positive
If it’s so important, how do you cultivate the skill of being more positive? Try the following tips from Dr. Gregory L. Jantz:
- Practice gratitude.
- Be aware of when you are judging others, focusing on failures, complaining about work or criticizing yourself or your body.
- Try standing up straight, shoulders back, chin held high, stretching your arms out as wide as they can go. Carrying yourself with “positive posture” will encourage your mind to feel more positive as well.
- Stop surrounding yourself with crabby people.
- Do something kind for someone else.
If you would like to learn more about positive thinking, hope, resilience or any aspect of your recovery journey in the LGBT community, call our admissions coordinators at our toll-free helpline anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Please call today.
 “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, updated July 2014, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain
 “Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress, by the Mayo Clinic staff, March 4, 2014, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950
 “Optimism Helps Manage Stress Hormones,” by Rick Nauert Ph.D., July 20, 2013, http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/07/24/optimism-helps-manage-stress-hormones/57543.html
 “Positive Thinking, Faster Recovery, ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117317&page=1
 “6 Ways to Become More Positive Today,” by Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., Psychology Today, Sept. 24, 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hope-relationships/201409/6-ways-become-more-positive-today