Not Just Games: What Is Recreation Therapy in Addiction Treatment?

Not Just Games: What Is Recreation Therapy in Addiction Treatment?

Recreation therapy is a burgeoning field full of promising yet simple interventions. It is also a safe, holistic approach that anyone struggling with mental health or substance use disorders can try. Relative to other treatments, recreational therapy poses little to no risk. Those with physical limitations must respect their bodies and can still participate. Today, let’s talk a bit about what these therapies entail. We will also discuss our approach to recreation therapy at Laguna Shores Recovery Center.

Recreation Therapy in Treatment Contexts

Though recreation therapy can be practiced virtually anywhere, it is a common feature of modern treatment centers. The National Council for the Training of Recreation Therapists defines recreation therapy as any leisure or activity-based interventions that “address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery, and well-being.” 

These activities may be led or supervised by a Certified Recreational Therapist. Many of these recreational options are perfectly safe to pursue alone or with friends. The therapists can address issues or personal struggles in real-time. But the pursuits themselves can be taken with the patient. 

Recreation therapy for addiction can look wildly different depending on who is practicing it. Many centers include features like gyms, pools, and even horses. Technically, all of the above are therapeutic tools. Some common forms of recreation therapy used for recovery include these:

  • Animal-assisted therapy. 
  • Art therapies
  • Dance
  • Exercise
  • Sports
  • Gardening
  • Board and card games
  • Writing
  • Experiential activities such as obstacle courses or hikes

Recreation Therapy Helps People in Recovery Learn Coping Skills

A big proponent of recreation therapy is that it offers new coping skills to people in recovery. Coping skills are essential. Indeed, one can never have too many means for self-soothing and stress management. In the case of substance use, people become accustomed to turning to a direct chemical ”quick fix” solution. As dependency progresses, the brain’s dopamine and serotonin systems rely on a drug’s presence. These are the natural chemicals all humans need to experience joy and pleasure. 

Some drugs, such as methamphetamine, replace the typical dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin production. People naturally need replacement coping mechanisms when they abstain from their problematic substance. The stress of becoming sober is one reason. But a deeper truth is that humans need recreation and fun. All of us need healthy outlets for difficult times and emotions. 

Recreation therapy provides tangible things to do in times of craving or distress. Some specific situations and emotions people can use recreational methods for include these: 

  • Anxiety: Many of us do destructive things like chain-smoking cigarettes simply because we lack something more appropriate to do with our hands. Some of us are just plain jumpy, especially in early recovery. Activities like knitting and sewing help through repetitive, slow motion alone. You may also consider art therapy tasks, which have the added benefit of expression.
  • Depression: Recreation, in general, staves off depression, as does a balanced, healthy routine. Most people can play a simple card or tabletop game even when symptomatic. Games help us maintain our connections with others. If you can get physical activity or exercise involved, this is a proven strategy for managing depression in the long term.
  • Relapse Prevention: Creative activities help our brains learn new ways of solving problems. Music, art, and craftsmanship can become lifelong healthy coping mechanisms. Each of these also leaves something to show or even sell for your efforts. Care of plants and animals has a similar effect and often gives people in recovery emotional support and motivation to stay sober. Any recreational activity can become a way to engage with sober people and develop accountability. 

Recreation Therapy is Pro-Social Fun in Recovery

Laguna Shores Recovery Center understands that recreation therapy teaches a critical skill some people don’t learn until they get sober: how to have fun. Many people in recovery think their partying days are long over. But the reality is that at some point, we all knew how to have fun without drugs or alcohol. For some of us, this may have last been as children. But it is indeed possible to laugh, cry, and socialize appropriately. Recreation activities that require cooperation help us function as better problem-solvers in real life.

Fun in sobriety is easily achievable with recreation therapy. Moreover, it is vital to long-term recovery. If we lead depressing, vacant, unfulfilling lives, all of us are more prone to falling prey to problematic drinking or using. Enjoying ourselves is vital to happy existence and activities, and modalities learned in recreation therapy can become healthy daily habits. 

Consider that if someone enjoys even one of the twelve activities, that may be the thing that helps hold together their long-term recovery. Someone who takes to gardening can make their experience more social by participating in a community garden. If a sport is appealing, joining a team or setting a regular game can be a leisure, support, and even accountability task. 

Recreation therapy and fun in sobriety are just one key part of a healthy recovery. At Laguna Shores Recovery Center, we strive to offer access to holistic options. We want to support you or your loved one out of addiction and into a new life. We believe the best foundation for addiction recovery is rapid stabilization in all areas of health: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Our clients may have had many different experiences and come from many walks of life, but are united by the luxury of a life in recovery. No individual is ever beyond help. If you have questions about substance use and how we can help, call (866) 774-1532 today.