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Why Abstinence Can Actually Hurt Recovery


Sober Recovery Expert Author

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If you’ve attended any meetings, you’ve probably heard this joke: “If you sober up a drunken horse thief, you’re just going to have a sober horse thief.”

One of the most difficult things to understand when you get sober is that getting sober is the easy part. It’s changing your lifestyle that’s the trick. While making the conscious choice to get sober is, in a nutshell, abstaining from alcohol and drugs, that is not the only aspect of your life that needs to be changed.

Recovery is so much more than just stopping drugs or alcohol intake.

What’s the Difference?

Abstinence, in a general sense, is no longer taking part in something. For the addict, this means no longer using drugs or alcohol. However, abstaining from substances doesn’t necessarily equal recovery. In fact, there is a key difference between the two. Abstinence is purely choosing not to use while recovery is the entire process of bringing your mind, body and health back to a “normal” state.

For those on the path of recovery, it is a long journey because it does not only pertain to drugs or alcohol--it’s a lifestyle change. Obviously no longer putting substances in your body is the first step towards recovery but the road to sobriety does not end there.

Why It’s Harmful

Abstaining from drugs and alcohol instead of a complete recovery is a potentially dangerous tightrope to walk. Sobriety is no guarantee, as many of us know, but a relapse is more likely to happen when you engage in the same activities from when you were using. Recovery gives you the opportunity to change these old habits, while abstinence only addresses the substance abuse aspect of your life.

Taking the road to recovery will change everything in your life. This route will offer you a chance to change your behaviors, increase your levels of serenity and free you from the obsession of always thinking about drugs or alcohol.

Choosing abstinence alone will not keep you sober. There will always be a “what if” aspect hanging over your head because it doesn’t address the constant obsession over drugs and alcohol. Sometimes removing something from your life, whether it’s drugs, alcohol or even a toxic relationship, may cause you to dwell on the good times and then begin missing its presence in your life. That can be detrimental to your sobriety because you can be led to believe that you will one day have the power to successfully drink or take drugs again.

Things to Ask Yourself

There are a few things to be aware of once you stop using drugs and alcohol to ensure that you’re not simply abstaining but moving towards recovery. To keep yourself in check, ask yourself these questions along the way:

  • Are you constantly thinking or missing drugs or alcohol?
  • Are you finding it difficult to find hobbies or activities that don’t require drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you think that one day you will be able to drink or drug without consequences? Or that being sober for a certain amount of time will be long enough?

Getting sober is only a piece of the larger puzzle that is your life. If you’ve successfully quit using, the next step is changing your behaviors and patterns so that you can live a happy and free life without drugs and alcohol.

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