Sober resolutions are not necessarily a decision to abstain from drugs or alcohol. Many resolutions last a few weeks, and sobriety matters too much (and requires too many changes) to end so quickly.
Sober people who make New Year's resolutions should instead make life improvements that encourage sober habits or relationships. They can rebuild their support systems, expand their treatments, or improve their quality of life. These goals are measurable and have a clear endpoint; the person with substance use disorder (SUD) will know when they succeed.
Start Small to Create SMART New Year Resolutions in Recovery
The SMART system uses an easy-to-remember acronym with the five attributes of a well-defined, achievable objective. It helps turn vague goals into concrete, realistic plans with well-defined endpoints and dates. The journey to sobriety involves many more steps, but this is a useful way to construct smaller goals that build and sustain sobriety.
A SMART goal for sobriety focuses on one aspect of a sober life. “I will attend every support group meeting possible” is more specific than “I will work to get sober.” While the latter focuses on support meetings, it is too general and impossible to measure.
A better solution: narrow down the choice to a specific time and place. “I will attend AA meetings at the church at 6:00 PM on Thursdays.”
The patient in the above example specified a concrete goal. A single meeting every few months would satisfy some patients, while others would feel inadequate with weekly attendance.
A measurable goal sets a number of meetings each month. “I will attend at least two AA meetings held at the church at 6:00 PM on Thursdays each month.”
The sober person can measure their progress with objective numbers rather than gut feelings of success or failure. If they consistently fail to make two meetings a month, they should make further changes to their lifestyle. Otherwise, they can move on to their next goal.
To make a SMART goal, a patient must decide on a tangible change in their behavior before they begin. The patient who plans to attend meetings twice a month changes their schedule to accommodate. They must set time aside for weekly meetings, change shifts at work, and alter their routine.
As the patient plans, they might realize the necessary changes aren’t possible. If so, they need to reassess the viability of their goal.
The SMART goal should seem achievable with the patient’s current resources. These resources include finances, time, willpower, energy, and a support network.
The patient planning biweekly meetings may need to work every hour possible to support their lifestyle. Their financial resources won’t permit the schedule change necessary to achieve their goal.
In this case, at least two meetings a month is not realistic. After carefully reassessing their finances, they may discover they can afford to drop only one shift each month, allowing them to attend one meeting. While not the original goal, this approach is much more realistic.
A deadline will help the patient measure their progress and hold themselves accountable. They can’t say, “I missed a meeting this week, but I’ll go next week,” with only one Thursday left in the month. The SMART goal demands one meeting monthly, not every four weeks. The calendar-based deadline forces change, though change takes time.
New Year’s resolutions often fail because they force drastic changes overnight. The sober person could give themselves a deadline—the end of January—to make the necessary changes to their work schedule or arrange transportation.
The final SMART goal is as follows: “By February, I will have made arrangements to attend one meeting at the church held at 6:00 PM on Thursdays at least once per month, each month. If I fail to meet my goal two months in a row, I will assess why I failed and decide if it was unrealistic based on my resources.”
3 Resolutions For Staying Sober
Sober resolutions help patients maintain or expand their existing sobriety resources. They can find new meetings, connect with their support network, or build a lifestyle that fosters recovery.
Maintain Support Systems
The patient decides to contact or spend time with friends, family, coworkers, and religious peers. Examples include a text every day, a prearranged phone call once a week, or dinner once a month. Time together, whether focused on accountability and sobriety or not, reinforces the strong, healthy social connections that build a support system.
The patient works to find a stable place to live or obtain regular employment. These essential parts of daily life help SUD patients build a routine that maintains sobriety and better manages co-occurring disorders.
This more involved resolution is a subgoal towards sobriety but requires additional goals itself. One resolution could involve finding job training or searching through a list of contacts to secure temporary housing to live in while working.
Each patient should define “regular” for themselves while they plan, choose an exercise they like, and decide a time to do it each day.
Extreme life changes like “I will go for a run at 6:00 AM every morning” seem exciting. But they are not realistic. A walk weekly after work is a more reasonable start. Then, the sober walker can work toward a jog and build up to a run.
Never Alone Recovery Has the Tools to Help
A successful resolution requires accountability. Anyone who wants to find others to help them work toward their goals can join Never Alone's free online support group. Other available programs include addiction recovery support, drug treatment placement, and educational resources. Never Alone Recovery posts information about life after recovery on our blog, Facebook, or Twitter/X pages.