The Value of the Arts in Recovery — Part #2

Paining woman is outside in a morning sunshine.

It is a wise person who decides to follow one positive change with another. And then another, and another, and so on, until one’s life is full of the positive and empty of the negative. That’s why, when an individual who is addicted to drugs or alcohol goes into treatment and comes out clean and sober, it’s a good idea that he or she also takes on new life hobbies and activities of a positive, fulfilling, beneficial nature.

For many addicts in recovery, engaging in the fine arts can be a significant boon to their recovery.

The Fine Arts

In an article on Empty Easel, contributor Karen Hamm talks about how, while recovering addicts cannot use art to recover from drug and alcohol addiction, recovering addicts can benefit significantly from engaging in art and from practicing various art forms.

“While art cannot bring someone into recovery, it can certainly fuel the furnace. Living a new life without alcohol for 11 years now, I have witnessed a progression in myself, from an art enthusiast, or wannabe, to embracing the courage last fall to enter a show with a talented ‘plein air’ group…”

Quoting Karen’s eloquent prose on the subject, “While art cannot bring someone into recovery, it can certainly fuel the furnace. Living a new life without alcohol for 11 years now, I have witnessed a progression in myself, from an art enthusiast, or wannabe, to embracing the courage last fall to enter a show with a talented ‘plein’ air group. This workshop paved the way to learn how to experience fun without substances while being an outlet for creative expression and connection.”

For Karen, her method of finding joy in recovery came from painting. But any of the fine arts can provide one with a new hobby, a new passion really, that fuels them to experience an entirely new adventure of life, and to experience joy and growth from that adventure.

How Do Fine Arts Help to Encourage Clean Living?

As Karen correctly stated in her article on Empty Easel, art is not a method of getting clean from drugs and alcohol. It’s very important to understand that point. Residential drug treatment centers exist to help addicts overcome their habits and experience life anew. However, the fine arts can be a significant boon to recovering addicts, once they are fresh out of rehab and back into regular adult life. Art gives recovering addicts a positive, healthful, engaging, fulfilling means by which to create new joy, new passions. Addiction recovery is about starting over and tackling life anew, and getting involved in the arts is a great way to do that.

There is no doubt that the transition from life in rehab to life back out in the real world can be tricky. That’s why engaging in the arts can be a fantastic way to kickstart one’s sober life, to find creative and enthusiastic expression in something healthy and beneficial.

Here are some of the ways in which art is beneficial for those in recovery:

Self-expression through music

Art encourages the power of self-expression.

When people struggle with addiction and drug use, they often feel as though they cannot express themselves. In fact, their hindrance to self-expression might be a big part of why they turned to drugs and alcohol in the first place.

Once sober and free of addiction, recovering addicts might consider getting involved in painting, drawing, sculpting, illustration or design. All of these methods of art allow one to express oneself in an entirely new and different way. Recovering addicts can rediscover themselves in art, and they can use their creativity to figure out who they want to be, what they want to do.

And that leads us to the second point.

Art helps people find themselves.

People who use drugs and alcohol often feel lost, unable to find out who they are, what they want to do, and how they want to do it. Addiction treatment exists to get recovering addicts back on the path of life, helping them to find themselves and to address the underlying reasons as to why they turned to drugs and alcohol in the first place. Rehab gives people a clean slate.

For those of creative intent, the fine arts can be the logical second step. The arts can be the first bits of writing on that clean slate. Rehab can be the diving board, and the arts can be the pool of possibilities. Diving into the arts post-rehab allows one to explore one’s creative talents and find out more about themselves.

Art provides a community.

Friends in a gallery

It is wise for those in recovery to surround themselves with like-minded individuals who are pursuing positive, ethical, healthy, and creative pastimes and passions. While art does not create recovery, art does support recovery. Getting into the arts and finding support and camaraderie with other artists is simply beneficial for one’s recovery.

One of the worst things a recovering addict can do when he graduates treatment is to return to his home, stay at home, and do nothing. People in recovery should be active, engaged in their career, school, family, and they should be involved in groups and positive social settings of their own choosing. Art can provide those groups and those social settings.

Art allows recovering addicts to bend boundaries.

Life in recovery means creating positive coping strategies and developing life skills for a happy, healthy life. However, sometimes that can make recovering addicts feel like they are following a strict schedule or regimen every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it might get a little routine. Practicing an art form, on the other hand, allows one to bend boundaries and challenge the status quo. Art techniques might have rules, but the creativity of the arts does not.

Art enhances other areas of life.

People who create art often find themselves less stressed out, having an easier time at work, able to express themselves better, able to communicate better, able to control their emotions better, etc. It’s not all that easy to nail down (from a scientific perspective anyway) why art has this effect on people, but there is no denying that it does.

Recovery and Art

If someone is still actively using drugs and alcohol, time spent creating art or trying to use art as a healing method is essentially wasted. Art alone cannot free one from addiction. Residential treatment gives an addict the best chances possible for overcoming addiction.

However, once one breaks free from addiction with the help of treatment, art can provide a whole new world of discovery and expression. It can create a turning point in a recovering addict’s life. And they should welcome that turning point.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.