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How to Stay Sober: A Checklist

For those who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, staying sober can be a lifelong challenge. Relapse occurs in between 40% to 60% of these individuals, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Yet, with enough dedication, commitment, and willpower,  relapse, or the inability to remain sober over time, can be prevented. Addiction recovery extends well beyond initial treatment for someone with a substance use disorder (SUD); at addiction treatment centers such as RECO Intensive in Delray Beach, FL, we help with various addictions at all stages of recovery.

The potential signs that someone in recovery is at risk of relapse include increased stress levels, denial, changes in attitude, highlighting the good times of past substance use, isolating oneself from one’s support system, or negating the risk of using again. Recognizing these warning signs in yourself or in a friend or loved one can help you stay on the path to staying sober. In addition, here is a more detailed checklist of habits and activities that can help you make sound decisions and keep you from losing your grip in your recovery.

Identify People, Situations, and Other Triggers

In the world of addiction recovery, a trigger refers to anything that can cause someone in recovery to experience a strong desire to begin using substances again. A trigger can be something internal, such as a negative emotion like guilt, anger, shame, or despair, or it can be an external factor that reminds you of why or when you once used substances problematically.

Examples of potential external triggers include going back to a place where you habitually used drugs, or the sight or smell of others using alcohol at a party. People who you often used drugs with or family members who you have a strained relationship with could both be triggering for different reasons, so it is important to mentally prepare for those encounters and to have a strategy in place in case you do find yourself tempted to return to your self-destructive habits.

If hanging out with a particular friend is associated with drug or alcohol use, cut your ties or find other things to do together. Even family members may have to be cut out unless you can set the boundaries that you need in order to stay safe around them.

Unfortunately, attending social gatherings where alcohol or drugs may be used can put your recovery at risk. In early recovery, your best bet may simply be to avoid them, but, especially in the case of alcohol, that is probably an unrealistic goal in the long term given how socially pervasive its use is.

When you do decide you are strong enough in your sobriety that you can risk being around alcohol again at social gatherings, you might want to bring a friend along who can be your support system. Sober friends who will understand what you’re going through could be your best option. Other people in recovery, such as those you might meet at your support groups or treatment centers, can become some of your best allies because they understand how hard it is to conquer substance abuse and to maintain a sober daily life.

Preparing ahead of time for what you will tell your friends and family members when they ask why you are no longer using drugs or alcohol has also been helpful to many people in recovery. For example, write down some polite answers to use or loved ones you can contact for support when someone pressures you to drink or use drugs.

Have Someone to Call if You Feel Tempted

If you find your resolve to stay sober faltering, asking for help can be your best option. During recovery, there will be unavoidable temptations, so make a list of people you can call who can talk you through it or give you a chance to vent. Talking to loved ones about your feelings can help reduce stress and can also perhaps provide the motivation you need to fight through unwanted temptations. You could also attend support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and similar support groups for other types of substance abuse. A health care professional like your therapist could also be a good person to lean on for support.

Maintain Your Social Support System

african woman sharing her achievements at group therapy

A positive network can include friends who practice sober living. Embracing these relationships can help you avoid triggers and uncomfortable situations, and to cope with the triggers and stressful situations that are unavoidable. Socialize with people in your support group or treatment program or expand your social network by getting involved in online support meetings. Support groups can be a great way to make new sober friends who can help you stay sober from drink or drug.

Fight the Urge

Most of the time, cravings last only 15 to 30 minutes. However, the urge can be quite intense for however long you are experiencing it, so it’s important to have a solid plan to help you stay strong through these powerful and painful urges. Try to substitute with a non-alcoholic drink or chewing gum or by staying busy to distract yourself. You could also reach out to family members or other people in your life with whom you have healthy relationships for help figuring out a safe alternative to drug use. The more you fight through these initial cravings, the more confident you’ll be in your ability to stay sober and deal with future cravings, even during times of stress.

Manage Stress

For many people in recovery, stress was one of their greatest triggers for using drugs in the first place. While there is no way that you will ever be able to eliminate stress from your life entirely,  there are many healthier ways that you can cope with it than through substance abuse, and the more you relax, the better you’ll feel. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation can be very helpful, as they can lower your heart rate and blood pressure and help remove negative and unwanted thoughts. Learning to observe your mental processes can help you avoid the troubles that getting caught up in your thoughts can bring.


Exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel good, making it a great strategy for staving off substance abuse in your daily life. Since drugs are often used to quell bad feelings, exercise can be a great way to take your mind away from substance use. Plus, exercising is good for your heart and can prevent many health problems while allowing you to build muscle tone and stamina. Keeping a regular habit of exercise can also increase your self-esteem, whether that is because getting in better shape helps you to feel better about what you see in the mirror or merely because holding yourself to a regular exercise routine reminds you of your capacity for self-discipline.

Take Care of Yourself

Focus on your physical and mental health. In addition to exercise and meditation, you can invest in your well-being by choosing to eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. Making an effort to nourish yourself with healthy-nutrient rich foods will give your brain the fuel it needs to produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters that will keep you in a good mood, and can also help repair any damage you may have done to your body while you were abusing substances.

Getting enough quality sleep is also essential to creating a good, stable mood that will help you in your sobriety, since getting too tired is one of the things that can overwhelm your defenses and trigger you to use substances.

Another way to naturally boost your mood is to go outside for a change in scenery. Some sunlight and a fresh breeze can help a great deal. Taking up an outdoor hobby like swimming, gardening, or horseback riding could be a good way to commit to spending time outdoors while also ensuring you get enough exercise.

If you get bored, other relaxing alternatives to substance use that you can use to occupy your time and calm down include taking a bath, getting a massage, or practicing breathing exercises. A healthier indulgence, like going to a salon for a mani-pedi or planning a movie night with a friend, can help you to feel better without resorting to alcohol or drug use.

Find a Hobby

man playing guitar at his home

If you’ve been stuck in a recovery rut, it might be time to go back to an old hobby or to find something new that keeps your mind engaged. Substance abuse thrives on isolation, and an engaging hobby can also be a great way to make new friends.

If you’ve been having trouble motivating yourself to exercise on your own, you may want to sign up for a sports team, lessons in your favorite physical activity, or workout classes at your local gym. This will make exercising feel more like a fun social activity than a punishing solitary one, and create an added incentive for you to follow through with your workout.

Playing an instrument, building models, drawing, and sculpting are other great examples of fun and stimulating hobbies that you can do either alone or with others. Writing is not only a fun and creative activity but can motivate you to stay sober as well. By jotting down positive thoughts and thinking about what really matters to you, you can express these ideas and fall back on your journal during the harder times.

Reflecting on your life and your struggles through a hobby like journaling can also make you more self-aware, which can help you stay sober by making you more cognizant of the negative feelings and other factors that can serve as triggers for your desire to use substances.

Writing and other expressive, artistic hobbies might also help you find meaning in the painful experiences you may have had during your addiction when you are able to use them as inspiration for a creative project. If you get to a place where you feel comfortable sharing your addiction-related artistic work, you may eventually find that putting your story out there may inspire others in their recoveries as well.

You can also turn your creative outlets into another opportunity to make friends and socialize by joining or starting a writing workshop, taking an art class, or auditioning for a part at your local theatre.

As in the case of exercise, putting effort into a hobby regularly will help you build your capacity for self-discipline, which in turn will strengthen your self-esteem and your motivation to stay strong in your sobriety.

Commit To Something Beyond Yourself

Similarly to the example of engaging hobbies, commiting to something greater than yourself can help you build the self-esteem, willpower, and gratitude that will enable you to stay rooted in your sobriety even when things get tough. Instead of moping around reminiscing about substance abuse past, try spending your spare time volunteering for a worthy cause. Maybe you could help out at a local food kitchen or homeless shelter, or maybe your religious group has opportunities for you to engage in charity work.

As suggested by the guidelines of twelve step programs, connecting to your faith or to a higher power can be a great way to strengthen your resolve to stay sober in and of itself, but even someone without strong religious beliefs can find joy and hope in being able to provide for and bring happiness to others. If faith-based service work isn’t your jam, figure out how you can use what you are passionate about to find a way to make a difference to others, like volunteering at a museum or theatre if you are an arts lover or an animal rescue if you love animals.

Speaking of animals, getting a pet might also be a good way to strengthen your sobriety with a commitment to care for your new furry friend. A dog or cat can be just the non-judgemental source of companionship and unconditional love that might help you make it through the darker days of your sobriety, and knowing that they rely on you might inspire you to stay away from toxic bad habits even when things get hard.

Once you feel confident in your own sobriety, you can also help pay your good fortune forward by taking people who are newer to recovery under your wing, perhaps by becoming a sponsor in a twelve step program or maybe in some less formal mentorship capacity. As previously mentioned about hobbies, finding a way to share your story of recovery with others may also strengthen your own resolve to keep up the fight.

Deal with Past Traumas

Memories of past traumas can increase stress, which, in turn, can lead to substance abuse to escape negative feelings. While alcohol and drugs are a quick fix to these negative feelings, in the end they will only leave you with more problems and negative emotions than you had in the first place. You may still be feeling guilty over your past mistakes made while under the influence of drink or drug, or you may be struggling with feelings of unworthiness that make you feel as if you are not worth all the effort that it takes to maintain a sober life.

If you ever find yourself overwhelmed by feelings like this, the first thing you should do is talk to a friend or loved one or visit a health care professional like a counselor or therapist so that you can talk through your troubles. Family members or friends from your support groups may be able to remind you of everything you risk losing if you give into your cravings and return to abusing substances.

If you’re still struggling, a treatment center may also offer services other than addiction treatmen that can specifically target emotional trauma, its effects, and its causes. These might include group therapy, family therapy, excursions such as nature walks, or community service.

Remember to HALT

HALT is an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. According to many addiction experts and professionals, feeling any of these for too long or too strongly can increase your risk of relapse. Loneliness and isolation tend to be associated with depression. Anger can be overwhelming, and might tempt you to use substances to calm down rather than lash out at the thing or person who has angered you. A lack of sleep can lower your defenses and make you more vulnerable to other negative emotions that might threaten your sobriety.

On the other hand, building strong positive relationships and focusing on positive feelings like gratitude can help empower you to stay sober even when more negative emotions do encroach. Spend quality time with family and friends to improve your mindset, and make an effort to be as forgiving as possible of both yourself and others. Cultivating a positive mindset overall  can help you to be resilient enough to stay sober even when painful feelings make it difficult.

On the more practical side, you should be sure to always get a good night’s sleep, and to choose nutritious foods and drinks that you make an effort to eat at regular intervals to stave off the hunger and tiredness that can make other triggers for substance abuse more difficult to resist.

Don’t Let Relapse Be The End Of Your Sobriety Journey

Even if you do find yourself slipping up and using drugs and alcohol, that doesn’t mean that all the work you have put into your sobriety has to go to waste. Instead of continuing your substance use and falling back into your old problematic habits, you can make an effort to figure out what triggered you to use and how you can avoid these triggers in the future.

As opposed to letting shame spiral into a pattern of continual substance abuse, be honest with your support system about what you are struggling with and lean on them for advice on changing your ways. But if you find your mistakes spiraling into a full-blown relapse and you can’t find your way back to sobriety on your own, or with the help of support groups or less intensive forms of mental health care like regular therapy, it may be necessary to reach out to a treatment center for more intensive professional help.

More Tips for Staying Sober

  • Accept your weaknesses and faults.
  • Learn to ask for and accept help.
  • Don’t navigate your recovery alone.
  • Practice saying no to others.
  • Work with a sponsor.
  • Discover new ways to have fun.
  • Think of what giving in to your cravings will do.
  • Document your recovery and what you’re grateful for.
  • Once you nail staying sober, help others in their recovery.
  • Redefine your self-image as a non-user.
  • Celebrate every small victory to recognize your progress.

Seek Addiction Treatment with RECO Intensive

treenager suffering with depression in a conversation with a therapist

Our checklist and tips for staying sober are designed to guide you in your recovery. At RECO Intensive, we offer numerous addiction treatment programs, including outpatient, IOP, medical detox, partial hospitalization, residential care, and sober living programs. We are one of the leading addiction treatment centers in Delray Beach, South Florida. Our sober living properties enable residents to obtain long-term support and a community they won’t find at a halfway house.

In addition, we provide personalized mental health, family, and neurointegration therapies based on proven methodologies.

Get help for a friend or loved one by reaching out to us online or by calling 561-501-2439 today!


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment

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