Keeping a journal is often recommended as a powerful tool to aide addicts on their road to recovery. Journals not only help patients reflect on and express their feelings, but also to examine ways to avoid relapse.

However, many patients don’t stick with journaling because it can be a tedious practice. I work as an addiction psychiatrist, and I have developed a highly effective method of journaling that takes two minutes or less every day. This method offers patients personal accountability to understand the cycle of addiction.

Journaling does not have to be a synopsis of the entire day, but rather a reflection of the conflicts that impacted the person during the day. One of the most effective ways to journal is when individuals are able to identify and address the key issue(s) bothering them that day before going to bed. This helps people in recovery be on top of the stressors they face on a daily basis.

I teach my patients an efficient way of journaling daily: filling in four columns with one sentence each. The four columns are:

  1. What Bothers You?
    Identify the issue that is bothering you and write it down in one sentence or less. Sometimes it is as easy as recognizing the issue at hand. We often get caught up in our emotions and need to take the time to stop to see what exactly it is that is bothering us. By writing it down, we can recognize and take needed steps to stop the cycle of addiction.
  2. How Are You Feeling?
    Examine your feelings associated with this problem. Are you angry, sad, happy, disappointed, guilty or resentful? Write this down in one sentence or less. I recommend writing down any feelings that come up for you during this process. It can be one or two, even nine or ten problems at a time. Whatever it is, just write it down in your journal.
  3. What Action Did You Take?
    Did you take any action to address the problem? If so, write it down in one sentence or less. If not, also make note of that.
  4. What Action(s) Do You Plan To Take?
    If you didn’t already take action, what actions do you plan on taking? Jot this action plan down in one sentence or less. This is one of the ways patients can pause to examine what they did, or did not do, in the moment. No one is perfect. We don’t always react the way we wanted to when a certain situation pops up. But writing this down will help you replay the situation in your mind, gauge how you reacted or how you would react next time you’re in the same situation. What’s important is moving forward.

When patients have a lot of issues affecting them, it is easier to address these problems and effectively deal with stress through learned interventions or by calling their therapist or sponsor for help. Interventions could include positive self-talk, applying learned cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, or using mindfulness techniques.

However, not all issues can be effectively addressed alone. I always recommends that individuals have their therapist’s or sponsor’s number handy to make the call when the stressors are too overwhelming to handle alone.

For more information on substance abuse dependency, addiction and treatment, please go to

Journal photo available from Shutterstock