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Many people recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) use alternative therapies or creative hobbies to manage their condition and reduce side effects or symptoms. Creative writing is a common outlet for individuals in treatment. According to the Substance Use and Addiction Journal, “Studies have demonstrated the efficacy of expressive writing as a brief therapeutic intervention, with significant reductions in distress, and improved psychological and physical health.” West Coast Recovery Centers encourages clients to use creative writing and other healthy forms of self-expression to reduce stress and process emotions during treatment

How Does Creative Writing Improve Mental Health?

Creative writing allows people to use fictional scenarios to work through real and complex emotions. Some people use stories, poetry, or other forms of writing to “redo” traumatic moments in their past and have them play out less painfully. Others may use metaphors or other storytelling tools to express complex emotions, thoughts, beliefs, or experiences. 

The process of putting complicated or emotionally painful ideas into words often reduces stress and helps people manage their emotions more effectively. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “[I]ndividuals can improve their subjective well-being by fostering and strengthening their creativity.”

Writing improves mental health by doing the following: 

  • Providing a safe and comfortable outlet for strong emotions 
  • Offering a distraction from cravings and other symptoms of SUD
  • Helping people process and heal from past traumas 
  • Providing a sense of accomplishment and improving self-confidence
  • Offering people in recovery a sense of cathartic release  
  • Improving emotional expression and building healthy communication skills 

Creative writing can reduce mood swings and other side effects of substance use disorder by supporting healthy self-reflection and mindfulness. 

Processing Recovery Through Storytelling

Storytelling has been used for thousands of years to create powerful metaphors. People recovering from trauma, substance abuse, and mental health disorders may benefit from using fictional stories to express their thoughts, feelings, desires, beliefs, and worries. According to a presentation by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) titled Share Your Story: A How-to Guide for Digital Storytelling, “The process of sharing one’s recovery experience can be a healing and empowering exercise for storytellers.”

Some people process their recovery through storytelling by doing the following: 

  • Creating stories about their experiences and changing the outcomes to be more positive 
  • Using fictional characters and settings to explore memories, feelings, or thoughts related to SUD and recovery 
  • Creating escapist fiction as a positive distraction and form of self-care
  • Sharing fiction in therapy to explore difficult-to-talk-about topics  

Storytelling does not have to relate to a person’s recovery directly. Some people find writing about completely separate topics and situations helpful.

Reframing Past Experiences Using Creative Self-Expression

According to Frontiers in Psychology, the “short-term adaptive effect of reframing strategies is in line with several findings of emotion regulation studies that found more positive and fewer negative emotions.” Clients in early recovery can work with their care team to find positive ways to reframe their experiences using creative writing and other tools. 

People in recovery often use creative writing as a way to do the following: 

  • Process trauma or other painful emotions and memories 
  • Challenge unhealthy beliefs or behaviors
  • Reframe maladaptive thoughts and beliefs
  • Combat internalized stigmas 

Everyone has different motivations and goals for creative writing. Some people love to create new worlds and use the medium as a form of healthy escape from everyday stress. Other people use writing to address the core issues impacting their health and recovery. Creative writing is flexible, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to use writing as a form of healing. 

How Does Sharing Creative Writing Help People Heal?

Creative writing improves mental health by reducing stress and the symptoms of SUD or co-occurring mental health disorders. Sharing creative writing content with others can also increase social support, reduce loneliness, and create a sense of belonging. 

Sharing creative writing helps people heal by doing the following: 

  • Providing new perspectives on the content
  • Facilitating community connections 
  • Providing a therapeutic release for strong emotions 

Sharing stories is a community activity and fosters a sense of fellowship and social understanding. People benefit from writing and reading creative content. Often, peers in recovery identify with the characters, stories, and metaphors used in stories written by others in treatment. 

Creative Writing as a Form of Self-Care

Self-care is essential during recovery from substance abuse. According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, “For some individuals, self-care is as basic as physical self-care, such as sleep, hygiene, and a healthy diet.” However, “For most individuals, self-care is about emotional self-care.” Creative writing is a healthy emotional outlet. Many people in recovery use writing as a form of self-care. West Coast Recovery Centers uses art therapy and other alternative holistic therapies to support individuals in recovery. Creative writing can enhance the effectiveness of art therapy or other treatments. 

People have been using creative writing as a form of therapy for a long time. Creative writing has been incorporated into mental health and addiction recovery treatment programs in recent years. People use creative writing to build confidence, process trauma, and reframe how they think about recovery. Writing is highly cathartic and reduces stress, allowing people to focus on healing from the effects of SUD. Creative writing is also a very flexible activity. West Coast Recovery Centers uses evidence-based and alternative holistic therapies, including art therapy and writing, to help clients recover from substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. To learn more about our programs and services, call our office today at (760) 492-6509