Laughter = Best Medicine…Turns Out It’s True!

In July 2015, Meridian HealthCare sponsored a “Sunday Night Live Comedy Show” at the DeYor to benefit prevention and recovery programs in the Valley. The featured performer was Mark Lundholm, a nationally known stand-up comic who has appeared in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries.

We brought Mark here first and foremost because he’s screamingly funny. But there’s another reason: Mark has been in recovery for more than 20 years. While his show was designed to appeal to a general audience, his comedy frequently touches on themes that relate to addiction. In fact, his hugely successful one-man off-Broadway show is entitled “Addicted: a comedy of substance.”

Mark performed a special private show earlier that day for some of Meridian’s recovery clients that dealt directly with these issues. Your first reaction might be that addiction to drugs and alcohol is nothing to laugh about. But while addiction is certainly a serious matter, laughter can actually be an important and very effective part of the recovery process.

The role laughter plays in general physical and mental health has been studied extensively. We know that laughter relieves physical tension and stress and relaxes your muscles; that it increases blood flow and boosts the immune system; and that it triggers release of endorphins, which promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

But laughter can also be particularly beneficial to those in recovery. Here are several reasons why:

  • Laughter helps put things in perspective. After a long history of loss (financial, employment, relationships, etc.), laughter helps to lighten the mood and give those in recovery hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Laughter can dissolve anger and other distressing emotions. It helps you to relax and recharge, and can actually increase energy levels. All of this is important to those in recovery, who need to bring positive energy to the hard work they’re doing.
  • Persons who are addicted tend to be very focused on themselves — the problems that surround them, the pain they’re enduring, the stress of their daily lives. Laughter helps those in recovery change the focus and dissipate some of the gloom. In particular, those who learn to laugh at themselves and not take themselves so seriously have taken an important step on the road to recovery.
  • Sharing laughter in a group setting helps break the cycle of isolation that is often a part of addiction. It’s a universal language that bridges the distance between people of different cultures and circumstances, and fosters a sense of inclusiveness and belonging.

From a physiological perspective, there are similarities in the way the brain reacts to addictive substances and laughter. Stanford University research has found that cocaine, amphetamines, and almost every other recreational drug increase dopamine levels in a specific part of the brain. Researchers discovered that when test subjects reacted to funny cartoons, their laughter lit up that very same brain reward circuitry. So laughter can actually be a part of the process of “rewiring” the circuitry of the brain, so that those suffering from addiction can feel good without resorting to drugs.

Regardless of our condition, every one of us can benefit by adding some laughter to our lives. So rent a funny movie or seek out the classic comics of days gone by on YouTube; share a joke with friends; do something silly; or simply laugh for no reason at all. And don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself from time to time! It’ll do you a world of good.