What Successful Recovering Addicts do Differently

What Successful Recovering Addicts do Differently


Many struggling addicts and alcoholics attempt to get clean and sober and enter into the world of recovery. While some people are successful at building a new life for themselves in recovery, a significant percentage of these people do not make it, and they end up relapsing.

So the question is, what are the successful examples in recovery doing differently? How are their efforts special compared to the others who end up failing?

Let’s take a look at some of the differentiating factors.

First of all is the tendency for successful people in recovery to have gone to rehab. Now it is not the case that a person absolutely has to attend inpatient treatment in order to be successful in sobriety, but it definitely helps. A whole lot of successful recovering addicts got their start at a 28 day inpatient treatment program. Note, too, that going to inpatient treatment generally means that you are going through a medical detoxification as well, which can be an important factor in a safe and successful recovery as well.

Now going along with the idea of going to rehab is the tendency for successful people to embrace a recovery program such as AA or NA. There are other recovery programs as well and some of them are religious based program options. The important thing is not so much that you pick just the right program, but that you fully embrace the program that you do choose and you dedicate yourself to working that program. Successful people in recovery have gone “all in” when it comes to their treatment and when it comes to working a program in their life.

It is very typical for a struggling addict or alcoholic to dabble in recovery, to go to rehab but not to follow through, to attend a few AA meetings but never work the steps or get a sponsor, and so on. There is an infamous line in the big book of AA that says “Half measures availed us nothing.” This means that if you do not completely dedicate yourself to recovery, to treatment, to program such as AA, then you do not really have a good chance at staying clean and sober in the long run.

If you do happen to go to inpatient treatment then you will notice that when you are getting ready to transition back out into the real world the therapists at treatment will be assigning you an aftercare plan. So the idea is that you will follow up after you leave treatment with things that they recommend to you such as IOP groups, therapy, AA meetings, and so on. The people who do well in recovery have almost always followed through with all of these aftercare recommendations. When they have interviewed people who relapsed after going to inpatient treatment they almost universally say that they did not really follow through with all of their aftercare. This is one of the most important factors in determining your success in recovery.

One of the things that I have done in my line of work at a substance abuse facility is to talk to people who are coming back to treatment for a second time. One of the things that I ask them is “did you get a sponsor while you were out there working your recovery program?” The answer is always, always, always that they did not get a sponsor. I cannot think of a single instance when someone came back to get more help at rehab and they said “yes, I had a sponsor but I still relapsed.”

Now I realize that there are going to be exceptions to this out there, and I realize that just getting a sponsor in AA or NA is not going to insure that a person never relapses. But I still cannot help but notice the extremely strong correlation when it comes to people who are struggling versus those who do well in recovery. Getting a sponsor from a recovery program is such a big indicator of success and failure to do so seems to insure that the person is not really committed to their recovery.

I have also noticed that people who are successful in recovery almost always seem to have some sort of mentor, whether that is a therapist, a recovery coach, a sponsor in AA, or all of the above. One of the key concepts that drives success in addiction recovery is the idea of “getting out of your own way.” But what exactly does this mean?

One of the biggest problems in early addiction treatment is the tendency towards self sabotage. Many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts talk themselves into relapse without even realizing it is happening. This is because were so used to justifying and rationalizing our addiction to ourselves, and when we enter recovery our mind is still in the habit of coming up with these justifications for us. For example, I was very prone to self pity as a means to fuel my drinking habit–I would figure out why the world had done me wrong, and then used that as an excuse to drink or use drugs excessively.

So in order to succeed in recovery I had to get some mentors in my life–a sponsor, a therapist, a recovery coach, whoever–and I had to trust those people to give me advice. Then I had to actually follow that advice. This is what it means to “get out of your own way.” The people who succeed in addiction treatment are willing to let go completely, to the point that they are willing to allow someone to tell them what to do and how to live.

Finally, the successful examples that I see in addiction recovery all tend to be people who are growth oriented. They are always in “learning mode.” They are eager to improve themselves and to improve their lives. They want to hear opinions and ideas from people who are already established in recovery so that they can emulate that success.

There is a dynamic in addiction recovery between self acceptance and personal growth. In order to be happy with yourself and feel content, you pretty much have to accept yourself. But on the other hand, if you want to really get motivated and make significant changes in your life, then you need to be upset about some aspect of yourself that you are insisting needs to be changed. You cannot get by on self acceptance alone; you have to get motivated in order to change the things that you don’t like. And that is where the personal growth will eventually come from, which will propel you into this amazing new life in long term recovery. Good luck!