The Power of Quiet in Addiction Recovery


It comes as no surprise that our society values extroverts — those who are comfortable in conversation, dare I say performance; ease social situations; are humorous; and keep things flowing. However, a third or more of us (USA) are introverts. I wonder if that percentage is even higher among those with addiction issues? No studies I have found confirm this, but common sense would point to the usefulness of “social lubricants” like alcohol or drugs to enable the introvert to be successful in an extroverted world.

For a moment, let’s look at our Recovery World and the ways that we typically work in all stages of recovery. Since we know that many people with substance use disorders hide their use, and/or use alone, we bring people together in groups as their recovery path. Whether in the clinical setting (detox, stabilization, rehab) or in fellowship meetings (12-step, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, etc.), our primary mode of recovery support is 1. coming together in groups, and 2. talking. And talking. And talking….

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in the efficacy of talking and processing information and feelings through verbal expression. The question I am raising is – does this approach truly work for everyone? Especially the introverts? We actually don’t know. If I use drugs in an unhealthy way, and I am an introvert, it’s quite possible that no one else knows this. I am not going to detox, I am not attending a 12-step meeting. Case in point:

Susan, an introvert, says “….every time I pull my car into the parking lot of a 12-step meeting: I have gone to hell and climbed back out. I have beaten a three-bottle- of-wine-a-day habit. Isn’t that enough? I do not want to go in there — not because I am defiant or resistant or uninterested in staying sober, but because I am AFRAID and because this is as unnatural to me as telling drunken stories at a party used to be. I HATE sharing. I am uncomfortable among strangers. I am worried that if I capitulate and try to talk I will sound foolish, or boring (like that guy who slouches in the corner and always monopolizes the meeting)….And more often than not, I drive away.”

What does this tell us for our Recovery models? It says that in order to reach the Susans of the world, we need programs that include “quiet” sessions. Perhaps we need programs that are ALL quiet time. Time when we are not asking people to share verbally. AND we need to value and promote those aspects of the program. Finally, we need studies that document and support the efficacy of those sessions in comparison and in concert with more traditional “talk” approaches.

What would this program modification entail? Many programs already include some times to be in quiet, to be “left alone,” even if the activity is in a group. These include:

  • Art
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Writing
  • Walking/hiking
  • Reading
  • Exploring/observing

At Breathing Space, we support the efficacy of Yoga and Mindfulness meditation to support ALL in recovery. And for those introverts who have not come forward to work their recovery, perhaps we can all consider how researching and promoting quiet in our recovery programs might bring more people onto the path of living life fully, free of the pain and limitations of addiction.