How Successful Recovering Alcoholics Maintain their Sobriety

How Successful Recovering Alcoholics Maintain their Sobriety


In order to be successful in alcoholism recovery, the struggling addict or alcoholic must turn their life around, build a foundation for recovery, and embark on a journey of personal growth and self improvement. Those who are successful in the long run are doing certain things that others are lacking. Many, many people who start out in early recovery and are striving for long term sobriety end up falling by the wayside and relapsing.

So obviously we want to tease out those qualities that exist in the successful group of recovering alcoholics, so that we can adapt those qualities for our own purposes and thus make our own recovery stronger.

So the question is: What are those qualities? What is it that successful recovering alcoholics do differently?

Let’s dig in and take a closer look.

For starters, most people who are successful in long term recovery got there start by building a strong foundation in early recovery, typically by going to an inpatient treatment center. While this is not an absolute necessity, it is strongly recommended by most professionals in the substance abuse world, and if you ask several people who have found success in sobriety, the majority of them will tell you that they did, in fact, attend inpatient treatment in their past. It is a great starting point and a strong way to build a foundation for recovery.

But the question is really this: What keeps a recovering alcoholic sober in the long run? What is the mix of things that are necessary to maintain sobriety?

I wondered about this when I got into recovery and I was attending AA meetings, because I noticed that the advice that I was giving was downright overwhelming. First of all, there was a tremendous amount of advice that was being given to me by so many different parties: Therapists, sponsors, peers in AA meetings, and so on. Second of all, some of this information seemed to be a bit conflicting at times. One person told me to “think, think, think” while another told me to stop doing my own thinking altogether and rely on advice and suggestions instead. And ultimately a lot of the advice that you hear in addiction treatment all boils down to the dynamic that you find in the Serenity prayer, which essentially says that you should need to try really hard at this life thing, except when something is truly impossible, and then you need to stop trying completely and let go. A lot of advice in recovery is like that; you either push hard or you stop pushing, you either dig deeper or you stop digging, and ultimately the only direction you are given is to “pray for the wisdom” to know when to hit the gas versus hitting the brakes, when to push for growth in your life or to practice acceptance, when to start running and when to stand still.

So when I first got into recovery I was overwhelmed and confused about what I needed to focus on in order to remain sober. I was asking for advice at AA meetings, and I was getting lots of suggestions from people, but just getting an overwhelming list of suggestions does not really tell you what to focus on in your recovery. So I needed a way to narrow things down, to figure out what was truly important versus what I could safely ignore. I needed to find the key principles and concepts that were actually vital to my sobriety.

So I started to experiment. I started to take the suggestions that I was getting, one by one, and I was testing them out as rigorously as I could. In most cases this meant I tested ideas out for at least a 30 day trial, to give the idea a real chance to start to work in my life.

For example, I started exercising every day and made a commitment that I was going to stick with it for at least 30 days. I did the same thing with writing in a journal every day. I also did the same thing with seated meditation.

Now some of these ideas panned out while others did not. For example, at the time, I dismissed seated meditation in favor of jogging. I ultimately decided to pursue and focus on the jogging habit rather than to pursue seated meditation as a daily practice. So I did that and it worked well for me. I dropped the idea of seated meditation–not because it was worthless to me, but because I had tested it and found another alternative to be more effective for me.

So one of the key ideas here was that I had to test out the suggestions and advice that I was given in recovery, and actually apply it in my life, and then see how it worked for me. What I had secretly hoped was a perfectly laid out formula that neatly applied to everyone seeking sobriety was actually a vast set of suggestions and tidbits of advice that had to be methodically tested to see if it really fit the individual.

There are people who are working a recovery program that is completely different from what I do in my own life. I write about recovery, I work in the field of substance abuse, I go jogging and I check in with friends in recovery, but I don’t go to meetings, I don’t see a therapist currently, and I don’t really talk with my sponsor all that much. But what I am doing works for me, and it has been working very well for the last 17 plus years of my recovery journey, and I arrived at my specific routines and habits through a great deal of testing and experimentation.

So I would suggest to the newcomer that they do the same. Yes, you are going to be overwhelmed a bit by all of the advice and suggestions that you get while you are going through early recovery. If you talk with therapists, with a sponsor, and go to group support meetings then you are going to get a mountain of various suggestions and advice.

How do you prioritize? Focus on the themes that you hear repeatedly, as it is probably true that if nearly everyone is suggesting something then it is probably useful and correct. So start testing out those suggestions that you are hearing repeatedly and make a commitment to yourself that you are going to stick it out. Keep trying new things and taking positive action in your life, then step back and watch as your life begins to transform. It should be fairly obvious when the rewards of your efforts start to show up, and you will know that following more such advice will also yield good results.

In short, successful recovering alcoholics sustain their sobriety by continuing to learn, to grow, and to challenge themselves by accepting new ideas into their life, and then testing those ideas. You can get similarly good results if you are willing to follow a path of personal growth. Good luck to you in your recovery!