Forget what you knew about diaries. They are no longer the sappy middle school journals of the past, full of entries about crushes and friend drama. A diary is simply a chronicle of a specific time in your life, and at this point in your life, it may be a good time to start a substance use diary. 

What is a substance use diary?

A substance use diary is a practical tool used for tracking your usage habits and patterns. By regularly writing down your drug or alcohol usage, you can clearly see the factors that influence your decisions. However, a substance use diary is far more than a way to document habits. You’ll also be writing down thoughts, feelings, settings and people that may be triggers. The more you notice the circumstances that contribute to your actions, the more clearly you will be able to recognize and avoid those things that make sobriety difficult.

For example, you may notice you use when you’re bored, or when surrounded by peers who serve as negative influences. Perhaps you feel the urge to use when you’re in a setting that brings negative thoughts or feelings to the surface. Many people may feel they know their triggers intuitively, but keeping a diary can help you to illuminate unknown triggers, as well as those influences you may have underestimated.

A substance abuse journal will look different for each person. It may be organized into columns to document basic details: substance used, amount used, those present, your setting and more. A substance use diary could also be as simple as a freewriting space, in paragraph format. You have freedom here to decide what style works best for you, and even to try out different methods to determine which is most helpful.

The main goal of a substance use diary is to identify patterns. What happens next is entirely dependent on what you discover. A counselor or therapist who knows your situation is best suited to help you address your unique circumstances and usage patterns.

Benefits to keeping a substance use diary

Journaling offers numerous benefits. First, writing is an excellent means of creative expression and reflection. Many individuals struggling with substance use find it helpful to communicate their struggles using art, whether it be painting, poetry or writing. Journaling, then, can be a healthy outlet that not only allows you the freedom to explore your experiences, but gives you insight into how to overcome those struggles.

A journal for substance use can also be an instrument in helping you track milestones and celebrate victories. The longer you journal, the more progress you will see. It’s rewarding to look back and see the ways you’ve grown and the progress you’ve made. Despite any setbacks that might occur, you may notice you relapse less and less frequently, or use a smaller amount when you do.

The major benefit to keeping a substance use diary is the knowledge you gain. Tracking habits gives you the insight you need to address those tricky areas of recovery, such as changing friend circles or removing yourself from a triggering situation. As with any step in recovery, this often means sacrificing something for the sake of something better.

Tips to writing regularly

You may not have kept a diary in years (or ever), let alone a substance use and misuse journal. Getting back into the habit of writing daily may feel strange initially, but here are some tips to get you into the groove.

  • If you’re not sure where to start, search online for a substance use diary template (search for “diary” instead of “journal,” otherwise scholarly journals pop up). Many organizations have templates online for free. Copy the structure into a notebook, or print off pages to use. Have the pages ready so you don’t have an excuse when it comes to dailly writing.
  • Be honest. You are only fooling yourself if you start lying about the amount you used, or leaving out the places you went. Any data or patterns you notice will be skewed if you’re leaving out details.
  • Keeping track of different things will impact people differently, so choose to write about things that are important to you. For example, keeping track of how much money you spend every time you use may be motivating to some and discouraging to others.
  • Talk about your journal with someone, to establish a sense of accountability. This could be a sober friend, a support group or a sponsor.
  • Keeping track of your feelings is crucial to the process. Write down if you’re using when you feel angry, bored, anxious or lonely. If you always use when you’re bored, work to be more aware of those feelings of boredom creeping in. If you can catch them early, there’s time to divert your path and choose an alternative activity.
  • Designate a time to write. Making a plan and sticking to it will help build the habit of writing and make the commitment easier.
  • The days you least want to write could be the most important days to track, so push through when it’s tough.

Take steps toward recovery today

Overall, a substance use journal is a tool for your own benefit. There are no definitive rules in this process, and you can adjust writing habits as you go. Once you get into the habit of writing, stay consistent and your journaling will help you to notice patterns. Recognizing your own triggers is a crucial step in the path to recovery, and it might be the difference between walking and running down that path.

If you’re ready to take steps toward recovery, Real Recovery is ready to help. Our licensed healthcare providers help you choose recovery daily, providing the right combination of personalized care and professional treatment modalities. Call 1 (855) 363-7325 today, or reference our services to learn even more about what your next step in recovery and freedom could look like.