Tag Archives: Recovery Journey

Food for Alcohol Recovery

Top Foods for Alcohol Recovery: Nourishing Your Body On the Path to Wellness

Taking the first step and admitting you need help addressing your alcohol use can be the most difficult, most critical decision you’ll ever make. It’s common to feel defeated in the face of the many physical and mental health issues caused by excessive alcohol use, but it’s not too late to forge a path forward. I made this difficult decision myself many years ago, and today, I continue to encourage others to move away from alcohol use and toward healthier choices.

At ECHO Recovery, I’ve found great value in the education and recovery support we provide for those who are struggling with substance use disorder (SUD), including alcohol use disorder (AUD). While I know how challenging it can be to face the ravages alcohol has wreaked on your mind and body – and how tempting it can seem to turn back to alcohol to manage these daily struggles – there are far better answers.

With careful planning and attention to your diet and lifestyle, you can address your physical needs, stay in recovery, and go on to live a meaningful life.

Today, I’d like to discuss a few key foods that aid in alcohol recovery that you can begin eating to improve your recovery journey.

What Does Alcohol Do to the Body?

Alcohol can alter your brain chemistry

To determine which foods are best for alcohol recovery – and understand why they’re so helpful – it’s critical to learn more about what alcohol really does to the body.

Alcohol can not only alter your brain chemistry, but it can negatively affect your nutrition as well. In fact, alcohol is known to prevent the body from absorbing and using the nutrients gained from foods. Without these key nutrients, you not only risk succumbing to various physical ailments, but you can also struggle to think clearly and act quickly. Worse, even if you begin an exercise regimen, this phenomenon can limit your muscle growth, making exercising more complex and less effective.

Certain health consequences become more likely with continued alcohol use, and people who consume alcohol excessively or daily are most susceptible to the following conditions.

Liver Damage

Your liver is responsible for filtering waste from your body and storing sugar that your body uses as energy. If you drink heavily, your liver will begin to struggle to keep functioning as normal. Not only can you suffer from excruciating pain, but you also risk experiencing other symptoms of liver damage, like fever, nausea, intestinal bleeding, and even cancer.


Cirrhosis is an advanced form of liver damage commonly caused by excessive alcohol consumption over a long period of time, leading to healthy liver cells being replaced by scar tissue. With years of constant damage and scarring, the liver becomes swollen, stiff, and incredibly weak, meaning it can no longer carry out its important functions. Cirrhosis is unfortunately irreversible, though you can slow its progress by ceasing alcohol consumption and eating an anti-inflammatory diet.


Inflammation primarily occurs when your body attempts to defend itself from diseases, but alcohol use can also be a source of inflammation. The more alcohol you consume, the more regularly your body is in a state of inflammation, which can cause issues with the liver, brain, intestines, and more. Inflammation can be especially impactful in the intestines, as the harmful components of alcohol can leak from the organ, which becomes weaker as drinking continues. Worse, the immune system will eventually struggle to fight off the resulting infections.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Because alcohol can slow down or even stop the absorption of nutrients, you can expect to deal with nutritional deficiencies if you continue to drink heavily. For example, you may lack adequate levels of vitamin A in your system, which can lead to vision impairment and dry skin. Some people may also drink excessively while eating very little, which leads to multiple nutrient deficiencies that are tough to correct.

Top Five Foods for Recovering Alcoholics

Nutrition for alcohol recovery is essential to healing both physically and mentally. Of course, the first step is making the decision to seek help, at which time you will go through a detox process to rid your system of harmful substances. However, detox often doesn’t fully address the foods and nutrients you’ll need on your recovery journey. Often, too, you’ll receive the best in nutrition while in a treatment program, but I’ve seen many people return from treatment and then struggle to maintain a healthy diet suitable for alcohol recovery.

While I am not a nutritionist myself, there are certain foods research has demonstrated to effectively support the alcohol recovery process through all stages of recovery. These top five foods that aid in alcohol recovery are foods to prioritize as you return to physical and mental wellness.

1. Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables include leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, and kale. These vegetables are full of nutrients commonly depleted during heavy alcohol use, such as potassium, vitamin A, and calcium. These veggies also contain a lot of water, which can help keep you from becoming dehydrated. Finally, the substantial amounts of fiber in cruciferous vegetables can keep you regular, improve your gut health, and help you regulate your blood sugar levels.

Cruciferous Vegetables

2. Shellfish

Shellfish is known for including a fair amount of zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron, all minerals and nutrients that aren’t adequately absorbed by the body during heavy alcohol use. For example, without zinc, you can experience appetite loss, rough skin, and mental lethargy, and iron is responsible for helping red blood cells carry oxygen to and from your body’s organs. Shellfish can help you replenish these minerals, helping your body return to normal functioning.


3. Sunflower Seeds and Nutritional Yeast

Sunflower seeds are a source of protein that can not only boost your energy levels in a pinch but can also raise your dopamine, or “feel-good” hormone levels. Rather than turning to alcohol to get through a tough moment, chew some sunflower seeds instead – they contain the nutrients needed to help you feel good without harming your body and can be an excellent way to cope with the situation at hand.

Sunflower Seeds and Nutritional Yeast

Similarly, nutritional yeast contains many B vitamins that your body is likely missing as a result of alcohol use. Incorporating nutritional yeast into your diet is easy, as it makes a great savory topping or a thickener in soups, smoothies, and sauces. Nutritional yeast can replenish B vitamins and keep your body going without much fuss.

4. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish contains many healthy nutrients, prime among them omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Both are crucial for keeping you feeling healthy and helping you recover from damage and inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids specifically are among the best nutrients for fighting inflammation caused by alcohol. Look for meaty, fatty fish like salmon, which contain high levels of omega-3s and are also packed with a fair amount of protein.

Fish and Omega 3 Fatty Acids

5. Large Meal Salads

Eating salads filled with a variety of cruciferous and non cruciferous vegetables and topped with sunflower seeds, salmon, or more can improve your hydration and boost your nutrient intake. Just be sure to mix your greens and include a hard-boiled egg, as eggs, raw spinach, and cabbage contain high levels of L-glutamine, a protein building block (amino acid) thought to help reduce alcohol cravings and improve muscle building. Eating at least one salad a day with a variety of ingredients can help you stay away from alcohol while replenishing your nutrient levels.

Large Meal Salads

Specific Nutrients to Look Out For

While whole foods are crucial for addressing your dietary needs and providing nutritional support for recovering from alcoholism, it is often necessary to supplement a healthy diet so you can address the most critical nutrients. These minerals, vitamins, and supplements are the ones we recommend focusing on first.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and can help repair liver damage and increase glutathione levels. Glutathione is an antioxidant that accelerates liver repair, and vitamin C is essential for maintaining adequate levels. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, and cruciferous vegetables, and consider taking a vitamin C supplement.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is essential for those with cirrhosis and alcohol-induced fatty liver. It can improve liver function and protect the liver from various toxins. While more research is needed to see if it can also aid those with cancer, some studies have noted its potential in this area. Milk thistle supplements are available in most pharmacies.

Cysteine and Glycine

Both cysteine and glycine are amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. By boosting levels of cysteine in your body, you can regain your strength and keep your body protected from certain illnesses. Whole grains, sunflower seeds, legumes, yogurt, and poultry are known to contain cysteine, or you can look for a supplement (more on this below).

Glycine is also used to create protein, helping you replenish your ability to strengthen your muscles. Most meats contain adequate levels of glycine, but it can also be found as a powder for supplementation. Adequate glycine levels can help you can feel fuller, stronger, and more nourished.

N-Acetyl Cysteine

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is the supplemental form of cysteine especially useful for boosting antioxidants in your body and improving brain function. Both are essential after long periods of alcohol consumption. Look for supplements containing NAC if you are having trouble consuming enough whole foods containing cysteine.


Glutamine should be the most abundant amino acid in the body, but you can experience glutamine depletion if you use alcohol heavily for an extended period of time and/or neglect proper nutrition during this time. Increasing your glutamine intake during early recovery can help you suppress your cravings while also keeping your nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea under control. Glutamine is also good for supporting proper gut health, so get plenty of meats, cheese like ricotta or cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, and cruciferous veggies like spinach and cabbage. Alternatively, look for a glutamine supplement.


As previously mentioned, insufficient amounts of zinc can negatively impact your skin and appetite and can also reduce your sex drive. Zinc can help clear alcohol-related toxins from your body while also keeping your thyroid health in great shape. Consider a zinc supplement, or eat plenty of shellfish, beef and pork, oats, cashews, and chickpeas.

Other Effective Tips for Alcohol Recovery

Kombucha for Gut Health

Now that you know several effective supplements and nourishing foods for alcohol rehab to choose from, it’s important to learn about the best ways to consume them. Here are some tips I’ve found effective for recovery:

Consider Intermittent or Periodic Fasting

One critical nutrition and recovery tip is to consider not only what you’re eating, but also how and when. Intermittent fasting means you’ll only eat one or two meals a day, restricting these meals to certain time periods. This can be an effective strategy to promote autophagy. Autophagy is a bodily process that helps clean up damaged proteins throughout your body and replaces them with healthy amino acids.

Periodic fasting, which consists of fasting for 24-hour periods a couple of times during each week, can mean autophagy occurs at around the 18-hour mark. Periodic fasting also speeds up the process of restoring amino acids. If this is a concern for you, consider periodic fasting if intermittent fasting isn’t helping you as quickly as you’d like.

Try Kombucha

Another strategy to consider is the use of kombucha tea to stand in and provide relaxation during times you’d normally desire alcohol. Kombucha is a fizzy, fermented tea created with yeast and bacteria cultures that can help you improve your gut health. While the fermentation creates a bit of alcohol in kombucha tea, it’s incredibly small, under 0.5%. It’s recommended to use tea that’s low in sugar and proceed with caution with any beer or wine stand-in.

Improve Your Recovery Journey Today

Man on a Recovery Journey

I know firsthand how difficult it can be to stay on the path toward recovery, especially when substances like alcohol have been an integral part of your daily routine. That’s what makes proper nutrition for alcohol recovery so crucial – by including these foods and nutrients in your diet, you can support your overall healing and begin addressing your physical and mental well-being. Use these tips, along with a consultation with your personal healthcare provider or dietician for more personalized guidance on this matter.

If you’re still considering seeking help for your alcohol use disorder, ECHO Recovery is here for you. Contact us to discuss recovery, find resources in your area, and learn more about how recovery can change your life. Cheers to a brighter and more hopeful future!


  1. UC San Diego Health Services. (n.d.). Nutrition and Endurance.
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Alcohol-Induced Liver Disease.
  4. Stanford Health Care. (n.d.). Alcoholic Cirrhosis.
  5. Healthline. (n.d.). N-acetylcysteine (NAC): Benefits, Side Effects and Uses.
Art Journaling to help with Recovery

Art Journaling Prompts for People in Recovery

Every road to recovery is unique. While there are general tools and support systems, nearly everyone can benefit from, finding a therapeutic technique that you truly click with can provide the best benefits for maintaining and thriving in a sober lifestyle.

Self-discovery and self-reflection are two critical aspects of recovery. When a person is struggling with a substance use disorder, they often neglect their true physical, mental, and emotional needs. Who they are becomes defined by the substance. Developing the ability to look internally and reflect on what you find is key to regaining your sense of personhood. In recovery, finding yourself again can be a difficult but rewarding process.

Consider Journaling for Recovery

One useful tool for rediscovering yourself during recovery is the concept of journaling. There is no wrong way to journal, and the most effective way for you to journal can vary depending on your personal style. Some individuals prefer to write in an open format, jotting down their day and experiences. Others like to have specific prompts that get them thinking about life and sobriety.

Another option that is growing in popularity is art journaling. Art journaling for addiction recovery provides an opportunity for you to partake in self-reflection while also tapping into your creative side. If you’re in recovery, art journaling can help you find inspiration and purpose as you move forward on your sober journey.

Art Journaling for Addiction Recovery

Art journaling is one of many forms of art for recovery. Art therapy is an effective tool for helping individuals with substance use disorders explore their feelings without fear of judgment or confrontation. In the early stages of recovery, there are often many emotions that rise to the surface after having been suppressed by drugs or alcohol.

Facing these deep emotions can be overwhelming, especially as recovery is beginning. However, the ability to face and move on from these emotions is key to maintaining recovery long-term. Art journaling provides an opportunity to use creativity to access emotions and begin to understand the root cause of traumas.

So what is an art journal? Also referred to as a visual journal, an art journal functions much like a traditional journal. With traditional journaling, you are writing down your thoughts and feelings. With an art journal, you are expressing yourself through sketches, doodles, drawings, clips of pictures and magazines, and any other way that you can creatively collect your thoughts and feelings.

Order one of our designer notebooks

Requirements for Art Journaling

Fortunately, you do not need to be a great artist to benefit from participating in art journaling. Just like traditional journaling, this is a practice that is designed to be personal and will be seen only by you and those you wish to share with. There are no right or wrong ways to journal, and there is no worry that your work will be judged or criticized. The purpose of an art journal is to have an emotional outlet that works for you.

For many, putting into words how you’re feeling and what you are experiencing can be too difficult. In that instance, drawing what you are experiencing may provide the outlet needed. As with traditional journaling, though, consistency is key. You’ll want to consider a mode of creativity that makes sense for daily reflection. Larger artistic projects such as sculpting or painting can be therapeutic, but a journal is more of a daily tool that can change with your moods and feelings.

Benefits of Art Journaling for Addiction Recovery

Art journaling can provide numerous benefits for individuals in any stage of addiction recovery. Journaling can be a helpful tool in recovery because it allows people to explore their deepest emotions without fear of judgment or criticism. Journaling can help uncover triggers, which in turn can help people face those triggers to avoid relapse. Journaling also adds a bit of routine to a person’s day, which can help them develop a schedule conducive to sober living.

There are other major benefits of art journaling, and understanding them can help you decide if art journaling may be a good fit for your needs.


People in recovery often need to slowly tear down walls that took years to build. This is because when a person has a substance use disorder, they tend to isolate themselves from others. Many people don’t want their addiction to be apparent, so they hide their true selves and develop a defense mechanism when people try to get too close. Addiction can also provoke feelings of shame, which further hinders the ability to be authentic and honest.

Art journaling is a safe medium for facing instead of suppressing emotions. This can be beneficial in recovery because suppressing emotions can negatively impact mental, emotional, and physical health. Art journaling presents an opportunity to be authentic with your deepest thoughts and feelings at a pace that is comfortable for you.


Expressing yourself through any medium can feel liberating, and this is especially true in recovery. For example, when you vent to a friend about something that is bothering you, you usually feel lighter and have better clarity about the situation. In the same way, art journaling can help you free your emotions at your leisure.

Opening up in recovery can be challenging, which is why art journaling can be so beneficial. This form of therapy allows you to release negative emotions, evaluate your thoughts, understand the problems you are facing, and participate in a creative opportunity that you enjoy.


Art journaling is designed to help you uncover long-buried emotions, but it is also designed to help you develop an understanding of yourself. Especially for individuals in recovery, finding yourself again can feel overwhelming. For months, if not years, substance use has defined who you are, but finding yourself again can be facilitated through art journaling. You can rediscover who you are, what you enjoy, and what brings you happiness. This is a vital tool for self-care.

Goals and Intentions

Recovery should be a time when people move on from the behaviors, thought patterns, and destructive activities of the past. For that reason, recovery is about setting goals, large and small, that help keep you motivated and focused on what you want from the process. An art journal is the perfect way to visualize your goals. You can draw positive goals and outcomes you would like to see in your future.

Supplies you might use in Art Journaling Projects

How to Start an Art Journal

When you are considering starting an art journal, it can be beneficial to first think about the way you would normally take notes. Do you like to work with colors or keep it simple? Do you prefer handwriting your notes or using a digital platform? These questions can help you determine what kind of art journal would be best for you. To get started:

Gather Materials

It is helpful to have a dedicated notebook for your sobriety art journal. Since art can demand more than a single piece of paper, use a visual-journal-specific notebook, or consider purchasing thicker paper. You’ll also want to round up your preferred art materials. This can include paint, pens, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, glue, pencil sharpener, and anything else you might need to create your work. If you would prefer to create digitally, look into platforms and programs that would allow you to easily access your art and keep it organized.

Journal with a Plan and Purpose

Art journaling is a way to release your inner thoughts and feelings without rules and restrictions. However, you may want to consider setting yourself some basic boundaries, especially at first, since getting into this process can feel overwhelming. It is easy to overthink your art journal, essentially putting it on hold before you can even begin.

To help, you may want to make some decisions before you start, such as what medium you prefer, which colors you want to use, and even how large your project will be.

Find a Topic

Specific art journaling ideas aren’t always necessary. Oftentimes, you’ll find inspiration from daily experiences, persistent thoughts, or familiar feelings that you want to express. However, some days, finding a topic can be more of a challenge. On these days, a great list of potential journal prompts can come in handy. Prompts are a great way to ease into the practice of art journaling and could offer a source of inspiration you wouldn’t consider on your own.

Get Creative

Once you have all the materials you need, a prompt or focus, and have set boundaries on how you want to create, you are ready to get creative. There are endless possibilities when it comes to art therapy. Your journal is designed for you, so use it as you need.

Art Journaling Prompts for Addiction Recovery

Art Journaling Prompts for Addiction Recovery

To get you started, we have compiled a list of prompts that have helped others get the most from their art journal. Prompts are a great way to explore topics you might not consider yourself and can be great to have handy on days when inspiration feels lacking.

  • Draw a place you feel safe – Especially for people in recovery, safe places, and people can feel limited. Drawing a place where you feel safe, whether it be real or imaginary, can help in moments of fear or anxiety. Identifying a place that is safe is the best way to improve your ability to get vulnerable with yourself and others.
  • Use colors to express your current emotions – Sometimes, words fall short when you’re trying to express deep or confusing emotional states. As mentioned, too, in early recovery, emotions can be intense and difficult to navigate. Instead of trying to write out what you’re feeling, simply choose a color that you feel best represents that emotion. Your canvas could have one or many colors that represent what is going on at that moment.
  • Where are you today compared to six months or a year ago? – Art journaling can also work as a great tool for self-reflection in the future. You can revisit this prompt, taking note of the control and understanding you may have developed toward your emotions since that point. In this way, journaling can be a marker of your progress.
  • Create a collage that represents your journey – Collages can be a great way to express yourself artistically without stressing about your ability to draw or paint. You can use photographs you already have, print out pictures from the web, or even flip through old magazines to find inspiration. Collages are a great way to create a work that represents where your life is now, as well as create a vision for the future.
  • Create a self-portrait – This is another great prompt that can be revisited throughout your sober journey. You can draw how you see yourself now, how you saw yourself in the past, or how you would like to see yourself in the future. You can choose to be realistic or get creative with your appearance.

Tips for Art Journaling

To get the most out of journaling, it is recommended to make creating in your journal part of your regular routine. Journaling on a regular basis is beneficial for self-reflection and dealing with the various emotional triggers you can face on a daily basis. It also provides an outlet when you need it, whether you’ve had a great day or a difficult one.

We also suggest that you consider keeping your art journal private or being careful about who you choose to share it with. The purpose of an art journal is to allow you to explore difficult, deep emotions and struggles you may face in your healing journey. Even individuals with the best intentions could make a comment that strikes you the wrong way, opening the door for regression when it comes to honesty and vulnerability. Like a diary, an art journal is designed for your eyes only.

You should also consider experimenting with different mediums. Working with different mediums presents a healthy challenge and can prevent feelings of repetition and boredom. You may even discover you have a knack and passion for a certain previously undiscovered medium.

Suggested Reading: Art Journaling Ideas

Creativity Supports Addiction Recovery

Skilled artists and interested beginners alike can find healing and a sense of self through art journaling. While any type of journaling is personal, confidential, and judgment-free, art journaling can be more accessible than written journaling for many people. It also allows people to explore their deepest emotions, navigate triggers, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. See our Art for Recovery resource for more information and support.

If you’re in recovery, consider art journaling as a way to get creative while exploring yourself in your new life, expanding beyond the written word to truly express yourself on a whole different level. The best part? You don’t have to consider yourself artistic to benefit from art journaling. All you need is a willingness to try, a few tools, and a commitment to making it part of your daily routine. Visit our Art Corner to find artists, classes, and more.

Teens Lack Future Planning

Disconnecting From Your Future Self: Why We Prolong Our Recovery

As a common practice, employers the world over ask their potential candidates a simple question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?”

This line of questioning is meant to learn a candidate’s headspace, both in terms of their own plans for the future. and where they see themselves fitting within that framework. A candidate who has no clue where they will be in 5-10 years might seem, to an employer, to have no direction or purpose, especially when it comes to their goals within that company.

If a person cannot visualize themselves in a position within the company for which they’re applying, happy, successful, and possibly in a higher position than the job they’re applying for, how are employers to have faith in their prospective employee’s motivation for applying?

It’s similar for those in recovery from substance abuse disorder. The ability to visualize ourselves in a position of health, happiness, and continued recovery without relapse is paramount to recovery. As I explored the benefits of the visualization of success in recovery in part 1 of this blog series, I’ll likewise explore the detriments of not visualizing our future selves regarding our recovery—a roadblock many of us experience on our journeys of recovery.

Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a Good-Looking Corpse

James Dean once said, “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.” As morbid and disturbing as this quote is, I’ve found that it resonates with the youth of today in a big way. In fact, the sentiment has even evolved into a more modern iteration: “YOLO,” which is an acronym for “You Only Live Once”. The reasoning behind this phrase is that this is the only life you are given so you might as well live life right up to the hilt. You can find this phrase on t-shirts, mugs, water bottles, and even blankets, for some reason.

At first glance, this “YOLO” mentality might seem fun, clever, and certainly less morbid than Dean’s viewpoint. Unlike Dean’s reckoning, there is less emphasis on death in the future and more emphasis on our lives in the present, which serves to make it much more attractive to youth. Unfortunately, the phrase has also shifted in meaning as it’s become popular, as the most viral catchphrases often do. Instead of a “seize the day/carpe diem” sentiment, it’s become a rallying cry of unaccountability and encouragement to take unnecessary risks. The mindset is exceedingly harmful because it completely separates who we are today from our future selves, who will inevitably experience the fallout from today’s decisions.

Teens’ Future Planning (Or Lack Thereof)

Teens Lack Future Planning

It should come as no surprise that the younger subset of the populace has a tough time imagining their future selves as themselves, just “older”. So, it follows that making life-altering decisions that might affect a teen’s life later comes from this disconnection from their future selves. When teens make decisions like committing a crime or cheating on an important test, they often focus on the immediate consequences—punishment from parents and teachers versus the fact that a conviction will affect their permanent record and academic dishonesty will one day look unfavorable on a college application.

We are predisposed to miss the connections between our present and future selves. In social media, we see that adults today are being taken to task for problematic photos, comments, social media posts and other communiques of their youth, sometimes decades in the past. At the time, most of these individuals had no regard for what the behavior could mean for them in the future. While I can’t speak to the fairness of asking an adult to answer for the “crimes” of their younger, more frivolous selves, it is very much a reality today, especially with social media—and social evidence of the dangers of disconnection with your future self.

Inability to Visualize Future Self and Its Harm

Believe it or not, this mindset is not just employed by teenagers, as evidenced by the adults the world over who use this “YOLO” phrase unironically before they engage in risky or dangerous behavior. While a teenager’s lack of impulse control is backed by science because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed, the science behind an adult’s risky behavior lies heavily in how we fail to visualize our future selves. Similarly, in teenagers, risk-taking and James Deansian “Rebel Without a Cause” behavior is also understandable and can serve a purpose. Some of the risks taken in youth will not result in positive future outcomes, but may provide life lessons. For adults, the consequences are much more dire.

For example, an adult who does not plan for their end-of-life expenses by way of life insurance could leave their family with hefty funeral expenses and a mountain of debt when they inevitably die. Yet, many of us do just that. While we’re living life, the concept of death is too scary and too troublesome to think about, so we procrastinate and “put off ‘til tomorrow what could be done today”.

Another instance of our need to visualize our future selves as they connect with our present decisions is when we make plans for retirement. By the time we reach federal retirement age at 65 years old, those of us who don’t have a retirement fund or pension must either ask for financial help from children or other family members or keep working to support our expenses. Where we fail, so to speak, is in visualizing ourselves as a retired person later in life when we’re younger. For a time, I, too, fell into the trap of this mindset, until my current path helped me see that the successful person I am today is connected to my past decisions as well as the self I will be in the future.

Why Do We Procrastinate on Important Decisions?

Why Do We Procrastinate on Important Decisions?According to fMRI scans run by Hal Hershfield of the Harvard Business Review with G. Elliot Wimmer and Brian Knutson of Stanford: “Many people feel disconnected from the individuals they’ll be in the future and, as a result, discount rewards that would later benefit them. But brief exposure to aged images of the self can change that behavior.” By being able to visualize themselves as physically older using a visual aid, subjects in the Hershfield study were able to shift their thinking in favor of striving for future rewards.

He further studied how people viewed themselves in the future as compared to how they viewed Hollywood celebrities like Matt Damon and Natalie Portman. Surprisingly, people tended to view themselves in the future and the actors in the same light – as strangers.

Hershfield found that, after reading about celebrities’ lives in gossip magazines, social media, and the like, we continue to regard them as strangers even with our “inside look” into their day-to-day lives. This is because they are strangers – we have never met these people in person, and we have not developed any kind of meaningful interpersonal relationship with them. Our inability to empathize with them, especially with the disparities in income and lifestyle, is normal and understandable.

However, the realization that we largely view our future selves the same as we view celebrities is somewhat alarming. This disconnect and the perception of our future selves as strangers is apparent when you consider alcohol, drug, and even tobacco use. Even with decades of scientific knowledge, readily available on the internet, of what happens to healthy lungs over years of smoking, people still choose to do so. They see their respiratory health as “future me’s” problem, unable to see the irony that “future me” and “current me” have the same set of lungs.

Future Visualization in Recovery

When we make decisions to use illicit drugs or develop a dependency on addictive substances, we are not visualizing our future selves at all. Much like the hypothetical smoker above, we are laying the burden of consequence on a future stranger, not connecting them with ourselves. Drinking to excess with friends seems like a fun time in the moment, especially with alcohol’s inhibiting effect. For many people experiencing addiction, the impact large amounts of alcohol or drugs have on the body, whether a hangover the next morning or liver failure from repeated excessive use years later, are still “future me’s” problem.

The disconnect can persist once recovery begins, delaying progress towards a future of sobriety and health. For this reason, during recovery from substance use disorder, future self-visualization is key. A therapist or mental health professional might implement the techniques employed by Hershfield and his colleagues mentioned above, such as displaying an age progressed photo to help lock in a person’s connection to their future self and what that might look like. Another way of doing this is to have a person close their eyes and really visualize, vividly, where they are in their recovery in a year’s time, 5 years’ time, and moving forward. By doing this, we are seeing ourselves as successful in recovery and truly identifying with our future selves. This further solidifies our motivation to achieve that goal of sobriety/successful recovery.

Conversely, by remaining disconnected from our future selves, we’re unable to see ourselves in sobriety—or even visualize what the alternative of remaining in addiction might truly mean for us. We remain blind to what sobriety might look like in terms of our relationships with our family and friends, our future work success, and how sobriety now affects our future selves. Without building these connections, that sober person in our future is a stranger, diminishing our personal investment in them, and making that goal much harder to achieve.

In many instances, inability to see ourselves as a sober person in the future, free of substance use disorder, can discourage us from continuing to receive help. Or, it can hinder and prolong our journey of recovery. Instead, work to develop a true connection with your future, sober, self, and continue your recovery in harmony with your goals for success.

Start Visualizing A Better Future Today

Visualizing A Better FutureAt ECHO Recovery, we are committed to educating the public about recovery and all the latest science behind it, including future-self visualization as a method of motivating a person to seek help with substance use disorder. We are also passionately fighting the stigma of substance use disorder and its negative effect on those in recovery.

The information on our site, our art classes and other resources are completely free to you. Please consider donating, volunteering, becoming a corporate sponsor or simply subscribing to our blog and following us on social media. Every effort helps us reach more people who need help with recovery. We do this because we care.

The Benefits of Connecting With Your Future Self

The Benefits of Connecting With Your Future Self

We Think of Our Future Selves as Strangers

Try to imagine your birthday next year. Now visualize yourself in 20 years, on your birthday. Did you see yourself through your own eyes blowing out the candles? What did you see in 20 years? Was it someone else, unfamiliar, who was blowing out the candles? For many people, it is extremely difficult to connect to a future version of themselves. I know that I never imagined the person I am today when I thought about my life 20 years down the road.

This disconnect between our current selves and that future version that is out there in the distance can make it difficult to make life choices that are beneficial to our future selves. Not having an emotional connection to our future selves makes it more difficult to make long-term plans, fulfill the goals we set for ourselves, and complete long-term projects. Given that our recovery journey is a long-term project, I’m sure you can see the importance of developing an emotional connection to our future selves.

The Science Behind Connecting to Our Future Self

The importance of connecting to our future selves is grounded in scientific evidence. Scientists from Stanford University used fMRI scans of research participant’s brains to compare neural patterns. Their research focused on the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, which experience more activity when a person thinks about himself. They found that when people were asked to describe their self ten years from now, their neurological patterns were similar to those patterns formed when thinking about another person such as a celebrity, instead of resembling the neurological patterns formed when thinking about their current self.

This same data was evidenced across the board of the research project. So, from the perspective of their brain, the future self was a completely different person. Those participants that had the widest variance between their view of their present and future self were also the least likely to defer immediate gratification for future rewards. These are the people for whom procrastination can be a serious problem.

If the part of your brain that lights up when you think of your current self is not the same as the part that is engaged when you think about your future self, it makes sense that it is difficult to take action today for some future version of yourself that you don’t feel connected to. For most of us, it’s the here and now that feels important. The “just for today” takes precedent over the “what about ten years from now.” Why not eat that extra piece of cake?

These same researchers found that by helping participants develop an emotional connection with their future selves, they were also more likely to participate in more future-oriented behavior. The correlation between a strong emotional connection to our future self and a willingness to put in the necessary work today to reap the benefits for our future self indicates how valuable and nurturing this relationship can be.

Impacts of Disconnection From Your Future Self

Impacts of Disconnection From Your Future Self When we are disconnected from our future selves, we are less likely to consider the impact that today’s actions have on our future. Our biases towards thinking in terms of the present make immediate gratification a more tempting option. We can see, feel, and taste the impact of our decisions in the present, but their effects on our future selves are a lot less tangible. For many of us who have struggled with addiction and substance abuse disorders, this is an all too familiar mindset.

Plus, we all tend to be overly positive about the expectations of our ability to make better decisions tomorrow. This disconnection impacts those who don’t struggle with substance abuse as well.

Here are a few areas of our lives that can be impacted by a disconnection with our future selves:


It can be much more difficult to save money for retirement when you can’t even begin to connect to the version of yourself that is 40 years in the future. So, instead of putting that tax refund into a retirement fund, you take a trip to Disney. But what if you had a picture of your 75-year-old self on your computer screen while you were making that decision? Would you still go to Disney? The research shows that simply having an avatar that resembles our aged self can cause us to deliberate a little longer and make a better choice for our future self.


How many of us can relate to the “I’ll start my diet tomorrow” syndrome? And then tomorrow comes, but your brain is still not connected to that future version of yourself, and instead of starting that diet, you have that piece of cake or take a nap instead of a walk. Would you still participate in behavior that can put you at risk for chronic disease if you felt emotionally connected and responsible for that future version of yourself?


Would you still cheat on a test or steal that purse if you knew what the impact would be on your future self? If you could see your future self, sitting in jail, would you be as likely to break into someone’s house to steal a TV? Research shows that those who have an emotional connection to their future self are less likely to behave in unethical ways.


Making sacrifices today for a better future in 20 years can be a tough sell when you have no real connection to that person. Sleeping in on the weekend is much easier than studying for a test, especially when you lack a connection to that future Fortune 500 version of yourself. Besides, you can get up early next weekend. Unfortunately, next weekend you will still have that present-day mindset that put you in this situation last weekend.

Substance Abuse

Would you choose to snort cocaine just for fun at that party you went to after work if you could see your future self dealing with withdrawal symptoms? Or would you still go to your daughter’s birthday party drunk out of your mind, if you could see your future self, living alone in an apartment because your wife divorced you and you no longer have custody of your children? The immediate gratification we derive from a substance can quickly turn into abuse and addiction for our future self that we never connect with our actions at the moment.

The thing is, until we change from a present-day bias in our thinking and connect more emotionally to our future selves, we will keep putting things off and making decisions that are based on immediate gratification.

Your Connection to Your Future Self Impacts Your Recovery Journey

Recovery Journey It isn’t that difficult to see how a disconnection to the future version of ourselves contributes to the choices that many of us made that lead us down the path of substance abuse. The immediate gratification of getting high or having that drink was much more tangible than the idea that our future self might end up in a rehab facility, especially when our mind thinks of our future self in the same way it views a stranger. Why would we prioritize the health and happiness of someone we aren’t connected to above the happiness and immediate gratification of this real-time version of ourselves?

If this disconnection to our future self contributed to the person we are today, then it is only logical that we can choose to connect to our future self in such a way as to make better decisions and to support our recovery process. Instead of only seeing ourselves as an alcoholic or an addict who is confined to that role, and all that comes with it, we can focus on our future selves and the goals we have for the future. If we can emotionally connect to a non-using version of ourselves, and make choices that will support that vision, then, based on science, we should find those positive choices are much easier to make.

Visualization is a powerful tool for bringing about change. The more vivid and realistic you can make that vision of a positive future self, and the more you can align it with your present self, the more likely you will be to act in a way that supports that vision. You will find that it is easier to sacrifice the immediate gratification of today to support that future self that you have grown to care about.

Imagine a future birthday party for your children where you are not only present physically but mentally and emotionally too. Imagine getting a promotion at your job or receiving a 5-year coin for your sobriety journey. The more real your goals are for your future self, the more you can connect that person to who you are today.

Another great tool for developing a closer connection to this vision is to write a letter from your future self, thanking your present-day self for having the courage to make the kinds of changes that allowed these positive milestones to happen. What actions did you take? How did you change your behavior? What sacrifices led to that future success?

Benefits of Connecting to Our Future Self

Taking the time to emotionally connect with our future selves can change the way we think and strengthen our ability to make positive choices in the present moment. Making simple changes such as playing out a decision before we act on it can connect us more deeply to our future self. Before deciding to put something off until tomorrow, play out the scenario.

If I don’t finish studying today and put it off till next week, then I’ll have to stay up late after I get off work to finish my studying. If I work late, I’ll be too tired to study and then fall asleep. Then when I have to take the test the next day, I’ll be tired and unprepared… may as well study now.  Taking the 20 seconds to walk yourself through the impact of your decision on your future self has now changed your brain’s neural process to think of your future self as being more directly connected to your present actions.

The more time we spend connecting to our future self, the more integrated that version of our self becomes with our present-day self. The most successful people have a strong connection to the future version of themselves and can act in such a way as to bring that vision to fruition. They can delay immediate gratification because they are deeply connected to the future vision of themselves.

Ways to Connect to Our Future Self

Taking the time to focus on better connections with your future self can provide the motivation you need to develop healthy habits in the here and now. Think about what you envision for your future self. What do your relationships look like? What does your recovery look like for your future self?

The following writing prompts can serve as a starting point to developing that connection:

  1. Try to envision your life five years from now. What does your path look like? What kind of work do you do? Where do you live? How do you spend your free time? How do you feel physically and emotionally? Try to visualize yourself in 10 years, and then farther down the path at 20 years from now. Have you chosen a different path for yourself? Are you doing the same work? Are you living in a different place?
  2. Write a letter to your “current self “from your “future self.” What type of advice do you think they might offer you? What kind of personal insight into your growth could they teach you? What have they learned in the future that can help you now?
  3. Take some time in the morning to consider how your present actions impact where you will be in the next 5,10, or 20 years. If that seems too far off, try the prompt using a year from now. Then make a list of actions you can take today that will have a positive impact on bringing you closer to your vision of your future self.

Prioritize a Relationship With Your Future Self

Prioritize a Relationship With Your Future SelfThe path of recovery requires that we not only take each 24-hour day, minute by minute but also that we envision a future for ourselves that is full of the things that we define as success and the love and joy of our friends and family. Our journey is a journey of discovering ourselves, and that includes connecting to the vision that we have for our future self. The more we can bring this vision to life and stay connected to this non-using version of ourselves, the more likely we are to make the positive choices that will make this future our reality.

Making a friend out of the stranger that our future self can be, is a beneficial step for anyone who wants to make more positive choices in the here and now. It can help you stop procrastination tendencies, delay immediate gratification, and improve your lifestyle to benefit your future. Take the next step on your journey of self-discovery today.