• How Having a Sense of Humor Helps Recovery
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    How Having a Sense of Humor Helps Recovery

    Rolling Stones guitarist and admitted addict Keith Richards once said, “I’ve never had a problem with drugs. I’ve had problems with the police.” As bizarre as the joke may sound, having a sense of humor while in a difficult situation is actually good for you. In fact, there are both anecdotal and scientific data helps prove that some humor can actually be healthy during recovery.

    The Science

    First, let’s look at the scientific perspective.

    The chemistry in the brain for drug abuse and humor actually has common traits. The euphoria of being “high” originates when a spike in neurotransmitters (dopamine) causes the brain to perceive the addictive behavior as a rewarding experience. It provides a rush of pleasure and reinforces repetition of the activity.

    Both cocaine and laughter produce dopamine in similar ways. Stanford University researchers discovered that “when test subjects reacted to funny cartoons, their laughter lit up the same brain reward circuitry as cocaine.” [1] In many ways, they both create a feeling of being high.

    In recovery, humor is viewed as a healthy activity. The phrase “fake it until you make it” is often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. The theory goes that if during times of distress you imagine you feel happiness, you will gain the tools and experience to actually become happy. This leads us to the exploration of the less scientific aspect of humor during recovery.

    The Reality

    As children, we learn how to soothe ourselves and endure uncomfortable emotions and situations. Most addicts do not have the skills to deal with distressing situations or intense frustration, so they turn to drugs to escape.

    The late comedy legend Robin Williams admitted he had an addiction to alcoholism and spent several stints in rehabilitation. He always said he dealt with his abuse issues with humor and levity.

    Robin Williams is an example that finding an amusing perspective of substance abuse may not alter the circumstances of the addiction, but it can affect the perspective of the negative consequences and provide a moment of light heartedness.

    Experts in the field view laughter as a drug-free option that has a useful place in recovery and therapy. Unlike much of the extreme and necessary work required during the rehabilitation process, humor can lighten the mood. Even more exciting is that in a group setting, humor can be productive and beneficial in encouraging social interaction.

    A joyful experience can also become a calming influence. Research has shown that when people laugh, they “produce brain wave frequencies similar to that of a true state of meditation.” [2] This concept has received strong support and led to the creation of “Laughter Yoga” by Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India. Studies on Laughter demonstrate it has a positive influence on individuals with addictive behavior by “lowering the level of stress hormones in the body.” [3]

    Recovering addict and professional comedian, Mark Lundholm believes “humor does three things: It removes shame, it lessens the threat of a topic should you choose to discuss it, and it invites trust.” [4] He now combines his past abuse experiences with his comedic wit to help countless addicts with his shows.

    Developing or regaining a sense of humor is not a simple task for an addict. There are also some people who believe that making light of the situation has no place in drug abuse rehabilitation. Of course, there are times when comedy is not appropriate and some addicts may be reluctant to participate at first. However, in the proper setting, laughter can foster a sense of hope and emotional freedom to those in recovery.


    [1] http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273%2803%2900751-7?_returnURL=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0896627303007517%3Fshowall%3Dtrue

    [2] http://web.archive.org/web/20140515064930/http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/04/prweb11782387.htm?PID=6151680

    [3] http://laughteryoga.org/english/home

    [4] http://www.addictionpro.com/article/comedian-mark-lundholm-uses-power-humor?page=2


    Audrey Beim holds two advanced degrees from major universities, including a Master’s Degree in Psychology. She has over 20 years of experience in the health, wellness, nutritional and fitness categories and has used her expertise to write articles for media outlets such as Linfield Media and Examiner.com.




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