Leisure and Recovery

Do you find yourself wondering what you will be doing with your free time now that you are not drinking, using drugs or gambling?

Are you bored and worried that you will never really enjoy yourself again?

Did most of the things you used to do involve alcohol, drug use, or gambling?

These are some of the questions you might be asking yourself now that you are in recovery. These questions are all about the role of leisure in your life now that you have quit drinking, using drugs or gambling. You CAN have fun without using alcohol, drugs or gambling, but you may need to make some changes.

Much of your leisure time in the past probably involved alcohol, drugs or gambling. The challenge is to find things you like to do, and learn to do them without using or gambling. Over time, you need to develop positive leisure routines and connect with people to have fun with in healthy ways.

What is leisure?

Leisure means different things to different people. Some people like to do sports or hobbies. Others define leisure as free time spent away from chores, work, school or other obligations.

Leisure can be something active or something inactive. It can be physical like sports and running, or it can be reading a book or working in the garden.

It can be something you do with other people, or on your own. If it's something that you like to do and simply makes you feel good, it's leisure!

Making changes can be tough. You may need time to figure out what you like to do best. It might take time before you feel you fit into a "clean and sober" world. However, it does get easier!

Making choices

Get active

Research shows people need regular physical activity every week to be healthy. As you look at making leisure changes, plan to get active. Start up slowly and build up your activity levels. Choose activities that will help you increase your endurance, flexibility and strength. You will

  • feel better physically
  • feel better emotionally 
  • have more energy and strength 
  • be more fit 
  • maintain a healthier weight 
  • improve posture and balance 
  • feel more alert and increase your ability to concentrate 
  • develop healthy social friendships and relationships
  • increase your sense of well-being 
  • relax and reduce stress 
  • sleep better at night

Getting started

  1. Develop a leisure list.
    What do you like to do in your spare time now? Are there things you used to like before alcohol, other drugs or gambling became a problem? What new activities would you like to try? Who would you like to join you? What equipment and how much time will you need? What will it cost?
  2. List low-cost or even free leisure pursuits.
    Check your community recreation centres, churches, schools, and clubs. Consider volunteer opportunities. Check your self-help social committees such as through AA, NA, CA and GA. Other sources?
  3. Create healthy habits.
    Are there some habits you would like to change? List those changes.
  4. Research community resources.
    Look at community newspapers, bulletins. What's happening? What events are coming up?
    • Check your local recreation department to see what programs are scheduled. Do they print brochures for upcoming programs? 
    • Investigate the YMCA, YWCA and fitness clubs. 
    • Check out continuing education programs at schools, colleges and universities. 
    • Check if there are programs organized through churches or social clubs. How about community senior centres or associations? What about AA/NA groups? Do they have activities set up? 
    • Visit public libraries and community recreation centres for information on leisure resources. 
    • Look in the yellow pages of the telephone book for clubs and organizations. 
    • Check the web page for the city or town where you live. 
    • List the activities you found in your research that you would like to check out more or get involved in.
    • List the activities you found in your research that you would like to get involved in.
  5. Set aside time.
    Organizing your time is important to a successful recovery program. Develop a weekly plan of activities. Plan in advance. Structure and planning will ease you into a new healthier lifestyle. Once they become regular, leisure will become as normal as brushing your teeth in the morning.

High-risk situations in leisure

Some leisure activities may put you at risk for relapse. Team sports may involve bets. After playing a ball game the team may go out for a beer. Family gatherings, and events such as anniversaries, weddings, and Christmas may involve alcohol, other drugs or gambling. You may be tempted to return to your old ways of celebrating. You can avoid some of these situations, but not all. You need to plan how you will handle these situations ahead of time.

List your activities that may involve others using alcohol, drugs or gambling and develop an "action plan" for dealing with this.

For example:

Activity: Ball tournament

Action plan:

  • I'll bring my own pop.
  • I'll tell my teammates that I don't feel like drinking this weekend. 
  • I'll tell them I don't drink anymore. 
  • I'll tell them I'm driving.

Staying with the program

Even with great intentions, sticking to a program may be difficult. Here are some tips to help.

  1. Choose things that you find interesting. You are more likely to stay with new leisure activities that interest you, rather than doing things that others think are a good idea.
  2. Set up small attainable steps to help you change your behaviour gradually. 
  3. Find a partner or friend who is also interested in the same or a similar activity. Support from others is helpful in times when it could be easy to give up on a goal.
  4. Involve family members in your leisure pursuits and goals.
  5. Keep a journal or keep track of your accomplishments. Record the activities you participate in and also the time of participation.
  6. Review and reward yourself for a job well done. Often we don't acknowledge our accomplishments as often as we need to. Focus on your successes!


Being motivated is the key to sticking with something new. At first, motivation can come from those around you. You might try new activities at the suggestion of a friend or a counsellor, but to continue with something new the motivation must eventually come from inside you.

For example, you may join a team sport because somebody tells you it is healthy—once you start to actually feel healthier and stronger, you are likely to stick to it. If, on the other hand, you find that that the team has a poor attitude, or that you are going only because you are feeling pressured, you can look for another sport without feeling like a failure. Once you find the activities that are enjoyable and fun, make you feel better physically, and where you find a sense of belonging, you will find you want to go, not feel you have to go.

So pick a challenge—not too hard, not too easy—and build that motivation within. Steer clear of pressure and stay in charge. Facing comfortable challenges will make you feel competent and gives you incentive to do more.

Here are some tips to help you build this inner motivation:

  • Focus on enjoying the leisure experience—the movements, the surroundings, your family, friends and social acquaintances. 
  • Learn the rules and strategies for the games and leisure activities. Practise these skills. 
  • Try not to push yourself too hard. The activity may stop being fun and you will stop doing it. 
  • Try not to let others push you too hard. If you don't feel comfortable with a leader, find another who can provide the positive feedback and encouragement you need.
  • Make it something you want to do, not something you have to do. Instead of saying, "I should exercise," say, "It would be better for me if I went for a walk today because I could take in some fresh air." 
  • Participate in physical activity to reward yourself. Enjoy physical activities because they improve your mood, help to reduce your anxiety and help you to relax.
  • Remember that adding regular leisure activities into your lifestyle is an investment in your health. Get active and stay active every day

Leisure for life

Over time, your leisure interests will change. What you commit to today will change as you progress through your recovery. You will find new and exciting activities to get involved in. You may want to get back into some activities that we were part of your life before you got into using or gambling. Remember that the leisure plan you develop today is not set in stone—you need to keep working on it and change it as your interests and experiences change.

Remember that the challenges you accept today set the foundation for your activities tomorrow!

For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, please call the 24-hour Helpline at 1-866-332-2322 (Alberta only).