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How To Create An Addiction Recovery Plan (+ Why You Need One)

One of the hallmark characteristics of a substance addiction is repeated attempts to cut down or quit without success.

You’ve probably been there (I know I certainly have).

You tell yourself you’re going to stop drinking or getting drunk, with all the intentions of doing so, and inevitably falls to the wayside.

But it is possible to overcome a substance use disorder, and making a sobriety plan is a key component to that process.

What Is an Addiction Recovery Plan?

An addiction recovery plan is a structured method of not only how you’ll cut down or stop drinking, but how you’ll maintain your recovery for years to come.

Making a sobriety plan not only helps you understand what your next steps can be, but helps you keep your motivation for recovery and prepare for when challenges come your way. 

A woman writes her addiction recovery plan into a journal on a table
how to create an addiction recovery plan

Why are Addiction Recovery Plans Important?

A well-constructed sobriety plan can be an anchor of your recovery.

Part of the challenge of overcoming a substance use disorder is that your motivation can waver, your plans can change, and your intentions may shift.

It’s why so many people will swear off drugs and alcohol forever, only to start drinking or using again and tell themselves they’ll try again another time.

But a sobriety plan is fixed.

It doesn’t change along with your emotions, but it accounts for them in the process. It gives you a plan of action for when you don’t know what to do. It can even show you that recovery is possible, through your own lived experiences and successes along the way. 

How to Create a Personal Recovery Plan

First, there are no fixed requirements for a personal recovery plan.

You don’t need to be sober to start an addiction recovery plan, and you don’t even need to achieve abstinence along the way.

Recovery is a personal goal – it is what you make it.

For some people, that may mean achieving total sobriety. For others, it could be an improvement in mental health symptoms, repairing damaged relationships, or simply improving your quality of life.

What follows are suggestions – what has worked for others and can work for you too. Feel free to add what you think is important for your own recovery, and what you think will be helpful along the way. 

1. Write It All Down

If there is one definitive guideline I can offer for creating a personal addiction recovery plan, it would be to write it down onto paper, type it onto a document, or tap it into a file on your phone.

Plans kept only in your mind are too easily cast aside, changed in the moment, or forgotten entirely. It’s simply not enough to just think about your recovery plan; you need to make it permanent.

But additionally, writing down your sobriety plan can help you think it through.

Putting pen to paper requires you to deeply consider your goals, motivations, and challenges. The very act of writing out your thoughts commits them to memory – it makes them real, actionable, and better understood.

2. Identify Your Goals and Motivations

With your sobriety journal, smartphone, or keyboard in hand, it’s time to determine what you want the goal of your addiction recovery plan to be. What do you hope to gain from this process? List this at the top of your plan.

Examples of goals for an addiction recovery plan could include:

You don’t just need a single goal – but stick to just a few.

Too often, people fall into the trap of trying to fix everything in their lives all at once: they want to achieve sobriety, get better sleep, start a daily exercise routine, and get a promotion. While all of these are good things to reach towards, it can be overwhelming.

Addiction is hard enough to beat on its own. Focus on that first, and your secondary goals can come down the road.

In addition to your goals, think about your motivations. What’s driving you towards recovery? What is it that you’re seeking recovery for? List out your motivations beneath your goals as a reminder for why you should keep striving. For example, you might add motivations such as:

  • Making my kids proud
  • Improving my physical health
  • Allowing my brain to heal
  • Not depending on addictive substances for happiness
  • Being a better spouse
  • Becoming a better person

Achieving recovery is never easy. But with your motivations in mind, you have something to come back to that reminds you of why you started this journey in the first place.

3. Look for Alternatives to Drugs or Alcohol

When trying to cut down or stop substance use, it’s important to recognize that you’re reducing the number of activities you do on a day-to-day basis.

For many, addiction is a full-time job: seeking out substances, using them, and recovering from their effects can take up several hours of the day.

If you try to stop without incorporating healthy alternatives into your routine, you can find yourself bored and listless – and your mind may inevitably wander towards returning to substance use.

The solution is to find healthy, engaging activities that can keep drugs and alcohol off your mind, and provide enjoyment and rewards of their own. The number of potential alternatives is endless, but some examples include:

Researchers call these activities alternative reinforcers – and they play a key role in helping people overcome substance use problems.

If you have an activity that you do already, you can consider ramping up the time you spend to compensate for the time spent using drugs or alcohol. Or you can start a new hobby, provided that it is engaging and rewarding.

4. Find Your Tribe

Humans are inherently social creatures, and we often fall into similar patterns of behavior as the people closest to us. This can work to your benefit, or your detriment – depending on the habits of the people who you hold dear.

For some, it can be beneficial to cut yourself off from the people that you used drugs or alcohol with. Yet for others, cutting these people out is impossible.

But no matter which side of that coin you find yourself, you can take steps towards finding a supportive sober network that will encourage you towards keeping on track for your recovery plan.

Ask yourself who in your network would be an advocate for your recovery, and who might tempt you to return to substance use.

If you don’t have a strong support system in mind already, seeking out fellowship at a sobriety support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, or Women for Sobriety can help you meet people who share your goals, and improve your likelihood of staying sober.

A group of friends sit om a pier talking about their sobriety plan
support systems as part of your recovery plan

5. Plan for Challenges

When making an addiction recovery plan, don’t make the mistake of looking towards the future with rose-colored glasses.

The path to recovery is littered with roadblocks and challenges, and being prepared for how you can deal with them is an essential part of achieving your goals.

Ask yourself:

When you’ve identified what your major challenges may be, start developing plans for how you’ll manage them when they occur. Maybe that means calling a supportive friend for help, leaving the situation, or turning to a healthy coping mechanism instead of substance use.

6. Track Your Progress

Tracking your progress along the way is an important way of seeing if your sobriety plan is working. This could be as simple as a sobriety tracker – counting each day that you’ve stayed sober over the course of a month.

Or you could track your moods or cravings, to see whether they’re decreasing as you follow your plan.

If you’re not progressing like you hoped, it might be beneficial to change certain elements of your plan that you think would be more beneficial. But don’t get caught up thinking that momentary lapses mean absolute failure.

Recovery isn’t always black and white, and trends over time may be a more meaningful way of checking your progress.

7. Reach Out for Help

Making an addiction recovery plan can seem daunting, and you may not have all the answers when you first start out. That’s completely okay, and the fact that you’ve started a plan means you’ve already taken the first steps towards meaningful change.

But if you feel like it’s too much for you to do alone, reaching out for professional help is a great way to take the extra step towards a lifetime of recovery. Mental health professionals can help guide you through the process, be there to support you, and provide actionable tools for you to implement in your sobriety plan.

Above all, be kind to yourself in the process. Recovery is no easy task, but it is possible – and the rewards of a life free of addiction are worth the effort.

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