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Journaling techniques to help you in your addiction recovery

November 16, 2021
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is probably one of the most famous books of our times. As the title suggests it was a diary where the young Anne Frank wrote about the trials and tribulations of living in hiding in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. With the holocaust happening around her, the diary became her source of comfort till eventually the family was discovered and sent to the concentration camps. Her diary not only helped her but millions around the world, who took courage from her daily entries about finding courage and joy in the everyday small things. 

History of Journaling

People have been writing down their thoughts and feelings since the time the written language was discovered. Prehistoric cave paintings were a way for our cave-dwelling ancestors to share about their daily life and struggles in the wild. It may have bought them some joy to immortalize their lives during months when hunting was not possible. Today, many studies have claimed that journaling can help one deal with anxieties, relieve stress, get better control of their life and become an overall healthy and productive person.

In the 1960s Dr Ira Progoff, a New York City psychotherapist popularised the “Intensive Journal Method” after realizing that clients who kept a daily journal fared better in dealing with their emotions than those who didn’t keep a journal.  The “Intensive Journal Method”, believes that we all have the wisdom within ourselves to be our best version and through journaling, we can bring that version to life.

While handwritten journals are still the most preferable format, there are now digital formats like blogs, vlogs, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. When it comes to journaling one’s addiction recovery it’s best to use the handwritten format and keep it personal, so that one can write more freely without the fear of being judged. Journaling can help recovering addicts keep a track of their emotions, help them deal with withdrawals, control their desire to abuse drugs, deal with their inner fears and most importantly become the best versions of themselves. 

Intensive Journal Intro — Wright

Types of Journaling techniques

Diary Journal: This type of journaling encourages you to write daily, especially at the end of the day. You write about the events of the day, anything that stood out, anything that you could have done differently. More often than not, it’s about writing down your day as it is. For e.g., “Office presentation is well received by the boss”. Over time, writing daily will give you more control over your thoughts and you will find yourself planning your day ahead with better choices.

Reflection Journal: As the name suggests this method is about reflecting over your thoughts and actions that were taken during the day and writing them down. Often written at the end of the day, a reflection journal will help you get clarity over your thoughts and actions and will also help you realize if you are on the path of healing or if you need more help. For e.g., “Went past an alcohol shop, struggled with the desire to buy alcohol but didn’t give in to the desire”. This form of journaling is also helpful for people dealing with sleep issues as it is a relaxing form of journaling.

Gratitude Journal: This type of journaling is about writing down things you are grateful for each day. Doing this every day fills the writer with a greater sense of wellbeing and offers a positive outlook on life. This encourages them to continue to stay on the path of recovery and avoid abusing substances that made their lives miserable. For e.g., “Mom made chocolate cookies and because of which I didn’t think about smoking even once today, I am grateful for my mom”. A gratitude journal is a great way to get a positive high on life itself.

Health Journal: This method of journaling encourages you to write down how you are feeling physically and mentally every day. You can track your physical and mental wellbeing over time by looking at your past entries which can help you make better health choices. For e.g., “I had a cold twice this month. I need to drink more warm liquids”. Staying away from drugs is easier when you feel physically and mentally fit.

Goal Journal: This kind of journaling is great for tracking your progress over time. You set for yourself short-term or long-term goals and then write down ways and methods to achieve them. By looking at your past entries you can see if you have achieved or failed at these goals and how you can do better the next time. For e.g., Wake up every day at 6 a.m. and meditate. Goal journaling helps one to be more focused and keeps thoughts of abusing drugs at bay.

Freewriting Journal: This type of journaling is very good for people who don’t know what to write or have too much on their minds. There are no rules here. You can write whatever you want without focussing on any particular thought or action. Over time, your thoughts become clearer and you become more accepting of yourself. For e.g., “I like smoking, I like the high, I have quit smoking, I miss smoking, I hope I can stay away from cigarettes”. This kind of journaling is great for people who are still struggling with their recovery progress as it allows them to honestly deal with their addictions.

Unsent letter Journal: This type of journaling is great for recovering addicts who may have hurt their near and dear ones in their path because of their addictions. Here you can write letters to your loved ones explaining your past behaviours and seek forgiveness. These letters are not meant to be sent to the recipient and hence give you the courage to be more honest in your writing. It is a great way to find true healing, especially if you have hurt your loved ones.

How can journaling help one stay on the path to recovery.

The act of writing down your thoughts and emotions is a great healing technique. It lets you dwell deeper within yourself and reach into your own reserve of strength and willpower. Reading your past entries helps you see your own progress and gives you the impetus to keep doing better. For example, on reading your past entries you may realize that you haven’t felt the desire to consume alcohol even during parties. This kind of self-realization will fill you with positivity, hope and courage to continue staying on the path of recovery.

On the other hand, it also helps you identify your problems and encourages you to seek help for the same. For e.g., on reading your past entries you may have found out that every time you felt like smoking you had a chocolate bar. You now realize that you are replacing your smoking addiction with chocolates and too much sugar is not good for your health. You can switch to a better alternative or seek help for the same.

Some of the benefits of journaling while in recovery include stress relief, fewer anxiety attacks, a rise in feelings of accomplishment, a positive outlook in life, more inner peace, an increase in emotional awareness, more goal-oriented and an overall rise in happiness levels.

To ensure that you take full advantage of your journaling journey, make sure that your entries are honest and from the heart. Write down thoughts and events that stood out in the day and as much as possible write every day. Write down every single achievement no matter how small it may seem to you. When you will read these little victories in the near future, it will give you the positive boost you may need at that point in your life.

Journaling is the best way to record your recovery process and look back at it with a sense of pride and achievement. No matter what type of journaling method you use, it will become your greatest ally, your source of comfort and your own personal pool of willpower and encouragement. So, go ahead and start journaling!

Journaling for Mental Health – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center13 Powerful Journaling Techniques (And How To Start)


Wright, R., An Introduction to Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal method

Journaling for Mental Health. University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester, NY.

13 powerful journaling techniques (and how to start).