Staying sober can be incredibly difficult.
However, there are ways to do it.
Here are my 20 simple tips to stay sober.
1. Get Treatment for Any Underlying Problems
There’s something you need to keep in mind — if you’re struggling to stay sober in the first place, it’s an indication that there’s a deeper problem.
I hate to say it, but normal people don’t struggle to stay sober.
They just don’t.
Let’s talk about some of the underlying problems that could cause you to struggle to stay sober:
- Mental illness
All of these things can keep a person from staying sober. I think most of them are obvious except maybe the last one.
Everything else you can get treatment for.
2. Get Treatment for Mental Illness
Mental illness is one of the main reasons people struggle with sobriety.
In my case, I suffer from so many mental illnesses it wouldn’t even make sense to list them all here.
I can tell you that one of the biggest reasons I use to use and drink was because my mental illness was so bad — drugs helped me to feel normal.
So if you’re going to get sober and want to stay that way (and I’m assuming you want to stay that way), then you need to get serious about taking care of your mental illnesses.
You might need to do go to therapy (which we’ll talk more about later), take medication, or a combination of both.
Some mental illnesses, like borderline personality disorder or PTSD, can’t be treated effectively with medication, and others, like panic disorders or anxiety, can only be treated with addictive drugs like benzodiazepines, which aren’t going to work if your goal is staying sober.
Regardless, this requires the help of a professional, so you need to get therapy or medication or both from a psychiatrist or a Master’s level clinician.
3. Staying Sober With Chronic Pain Is Tough, so Find Ways to Deal With Physical Pain
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen struggle to stay sober because they were in physical pain.
This is especially hard when painkillers become simple to get when you have legitimate physical pain.
Chronic pain is one of the major reasons, in my experience, that people end up using and drinking excessively, even people who aren’t alcoholics or drug addicts.
I know that this can be hard or impossible — some chronic pain just can’t be dealt with. However, if you can focus on healthy ways to deal with your chronic pain, you’re going to have a better chance of staying sober.
Some methods of doing this include:
- Physical therapy
- Mindfulness / meditation
- Acupuncture / dry needling
- Nonaddictive medications (anti-inflammatories or some antidepressants)
- TENS units
4. Spend Time With People Who Are Mentally Healthy (or Just Good for You)
This can be hard, especially if you’re in an abusive relationship or your parents are horrible people (which I’ll talk about in a bit).
Try to find people who lift you up, who are winning at life, who have healthy habits and want to see you thrive.
I’ve come across a lot of great people like this in AA, but you can find them just about anywhere. More people are well than sick in the world.
So maybe this means connecting with old friends, or maybe it means you do go to AA meetings and meet some people who have long-term sobriety and work a good program.
Maybe it means you join something like a soccer league. Maybe it means you’re spending more time with your family.
Whatever it looks like, it can do wonders for your mental health to be around people who are healthy and want to see you get healthy too.
5. Find Ways to Deal With Your Guilt and Shame
There are several ways you might deal with this, but it’s clear to most that it needs to be dealt with. If you’re reading this, you likely understand what I’m talking about — many people use or drink because a) they’re ashamed of something that they’ve done or has been done to them or b) they feel guilty because of something they’ve done or that has been done to them.
This might mean anything from being violent toward someone to committing a crime to being rude to a stranger on the street to being sexually assaulted or molested as a child.
All of this means that you’re going to have to take somewhat serious steps, if not very serious steps, to deal with it.
You might need years of therapy, for example, or you might be able to deal with it by confessing in a church or confessing during a 5th step in alcoholics anonymous.
6. Learn to Deal With Your Insomnia (or Get Treatment)
This one is extremely tough, I think, because many of the medications that can help with severe insomnia are addictive.
For many, drinking heavily is one of the only ways they can sleep. For others, it’s taking opiates or smoking weed.
Severe insomnia can make a person absolutely insane. I’ve experienced it many times in my life, and I know how horrible it can be and how it can drive a person to drink or use.
Dealing with this means going to a doctor who specializes in sleep problems. It may be the case that you need help in other areas of your life, like help with guilt or shame that keeps you up at night.
It might be the case that you need therapy, or you just need to change your nightly routine or exercise more. Whatever the case, if you have insomnia, you need to do something about it if it’s a part of why you drink and/or use.
7. Avoid People Who Are a Bad Influence
One of the biggest problems that I had when I was drinking and using was that I was hanging out with some horrible people.
Now, keep in mind that I was one of those horrible people, but they were just as bad.
These people were drug dealers. Some of them were violent. All of them were drug addicts or alcoholics.
All of them enabled my using and drinking.
Even some of the people who weren’t as bad were still enablers, or were mentally ill, or meant well but enabled my drinking/using, or even were just toxic people (narcissists, liars, cheaters).
If you have people like this in your life, you need to cut them out. It’s super hard to stay sober if you stay around these people.
I know that this can be easy to say and hard to do, but finding new friends can be done, especially if you combine getting sober with going to AA meetings.
8. Stay Sober by Spending Time With Sober People
Being around people who can just be sober without any problem can help you feel the courage you need to feel sober too.
It’s been my experience that, to find these people, I had to go to AA meetings. I just never had friends who either weren’t alcoholics/drug addicts.
However, you might have great friends who don’t drink or use. Find the time to reconnect with them, and see if they want to hang out and do some fun sober activities (of which there are many).
9. Go to AA or NA Meetings
I’m sure if you’re reading this that you’ve come across this advice before, but if you want to stay sober, for many, going to AA or NA meetings is the only way to go.
I got sober in AA. I’ve been sober since 8/11/11. AA has worked very well for me. I also went to CA meetings for a long time for my cocaine/drug issues, and that worked well for me too.
If you’re a serious alcoholic or drug addict, if you can’t quit on your own no matter how hard you try, if you’re ruining your life by drinking and using, then you should consider one of these 12-step groups.
It could make all the difference in the world.
10. Take Up New Hobbies (Or Go Back to Old Ones)
This is something that I did that made a huge difference in my life. Going back to some of my old hobbies (specifically, writing, reading, and playing video games) helped me so, so much when I struggled in the beginning of my sobriety.
The reason, I think, is not only that they gave me something to do, but they gave me a sense of completion. Yes, even video games.
They brought me back to better times in my life, in a way. Writing became an obsession, but it’s a good one. I feel so good when I complete a piece of writing, especially if it helps someone.
Think about what your hobbies are, what you used to love and care about before you started drinking or using.
Go back to that. It can give you a sense of purpose. It can fill those empty, boring hours that once caused you to drink or use. If your hobbies involve other people (like sports), it can be a great way to connect with healthy people too.
Starting to see how all this stuff is connected? When you start doing one, others can follow. Healthy habits pile up, and life starts to get better.
You start staying sober, and staying sober starts to feel okay.
11. Staying Sober Often Means Getting (And Talking to) a Sponsor
If you’re in AA, getting a sponsor is critical to sobriety.
One of the main reasons for this is that it gives you someone to talk to who is sober and living a good life.
A good sponsor is going to focus on getting you through the 12 steps, but they’re more than that in my experience.
They’re someone to call when you’re struggling, no matter what it is that you’re struggling with.
Working the 12 steps is great, but having someone in your corner who is rooting for you to succeed is potentially greater.
They can also introduce you to other sober people, help you find sober activities, and even help you to feel less lonely.
And if you work the 12 steps, you’ll probably end up dealing with your guilt and shame in a healthy way (if you’re someone who needs to do that).
12. Exercise and Eat Better
It’s hard to stay sober when you feel like shit all the time.
The main reason I used to use and drink was that I felt like shit mentally and physically. If you fix the physical element of this, you’ll find that staying sober can be easier.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a huge burden, and eating better doesn’t have to be either.
If you eat fried food all the time (which usually means fast food or takeout), then how hard is it to find healthier restaurants to get food from?
Hell, this might just mean trading in Chick-fil-A for Chipotle.
Getting exercise doesn’t have to be a burden either. This might just mean going for a light hike (getting out into nature can help a lot with staying sober too, especially if it’s as part of a hobby you used to enjoy).
Even just going for a walk around the block and getting some sunlight can be better than nothing.
13. Get Better Sleep
Even if you don’t have insomnia (which I don’t today), you might still have a shitty sleep schedule.
This might mean that you don’t go to sleep as early as you need to so that you’re always tired in the morning.
Or maybe it means that you’re drinking before bedtime so that you don’t sleep as well as you should (alcohol affects your sleep).
You’ll likely have to change your sleep habits by doing things like limiting screen time or not drinking before bedtime. I want to say here that staying sober doesn’t have to mean staying sober all the time.
For some people, staying sober all the time isn’t necessary — just long enough to stop causing problems in your life.
So limit your alcohol intake before bed, and do other things like go to bed at the same time every night.
14. Staying Sober Can Be Easier When You Practice Gratefulness
How can it be so powerful? I wish I knew. All I can say is that making simple gratitude lists (and I don’t write these down — I do them in my head) does wonders for my mental health.
And when my mental health is good, I don’t want to drink.
Make a gratitude list. Think of all the good things in your life. Studies show that this can have a profound effect on your thinking and can help you avoid cognitive distortions.
15. Set a Reasonable Schedule (And Stick to It) to Help You Stay Sober
I say “reasonable” here because, if you set a schedule that is hard or impossible to stick to, then you’re not going to stick to it. Period.
I’ve done this so many times in the past. I set the bar way too high (for anything, really), and then I find myself getting super negative and not being able to do what I’ve set out to do.
My schedule crumbles, and I find myself in a horrible state of mind — the exact same state of mind that makes staying sober almost impossible.
When I have a reasonable schedule, and I stick to it, it makes me feel accomplished.
My blog is a perfect example. Instead of setting an impossible publication schedule, I try to publish a minimum of once a week.
Once a week is doable. It’s very doable. And if I do more than that, of course, I feel great, but I don’t beat myself up if I do one post a week.
Make a schedule that you can stick to, that doesn’t make you feel like shit if you miss it.
16. Deal With Negative Thinking and Cognitive Distortions
Negative thinking can be one of the biggest reasons that addicts and alcoholics relapse and that people drink and use.
Negative thinking can go like this”
“I’m not good enough. I’m stupid. Nothing is good in my life. I don’t look good. I’m a bad person who can never be redeemed.”
This can lead to horrible shit like self-sabotage. When we don’t allow ourselves to see the good, positive things about ourselves, then we can see many reasons why getting high or taking a drink is a good thing, why staying sober isn’t worth it.
Deal with your cognitive distortions by seeking therapy. Many times, I’ve found that therapy with a Master’s level clinician can help me to stop looking at the negative and focus on the positive.
17. Deal With Resentments
Anger is one of the major reasons that I used to drink and get high. When I would get pissed, even about something small, I would want to get fucked up.
I don’t know why I thought this way — I just did. When I was irritable even, that would be enough for me to get high/drunk.
For me, I deal with resentments through the 12 steps. For others, therapy is the way to go. I know I’ve mentioned therapy over and over in this list, but it can truly be a method of getting free of alcohol and drugs.
Resentments can keep anyone from being able to function normally if they’re deep enough. They can make you a mean, angry person, someone who feels like a victim, someone who isn’t able to function in society.
That’s what they did to me until I dealt with them.
18. Staying Sober by Going to Therapy
I’ve probably said this a dozen times in this article, but going to therapy probably saved my life.
It gave me someone to talk to about problems I just couldn’t talk to anyone else about.
But more importantly, it gave me someone who would listen without judgment, and then, if I wanted, offer real solutions.
My therapist was an incredibly intelligent man who was able to help me see the truth behind so much of what I was struggling with. Without out him, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.
And when I dealt with many of the underlying issues, I found that drinking and getting high lost their appeal. It helped me to deal with resentment, guilt, and shame.
It was life-changing.
19. Create Goals (And Chase Them!)
When I started setting major goals for myself in life, I think my life got exponentially better for a simple reason.
I started to have a sense of purpose.
For me, the first goal that I set when I got sober was to go back to school so that I could get a better job.
School became something of an obsession (I have OCD, so I get obsessed easily), but it honest to god gave me a sense of purpose.
I loved it. I didn’t love all of it, but I loved most of it. I worked hard, I put in the hours, and I reached my goal.
When I finished my bachelor’s degree, I set another goal — get a master’s. When I finished that, I set another goal — write a book.
I set goal after goal, and with each one, I felt my sense of purpose grow. My current goal is to get a book published, and though that might never happen, working toward it gives me a sense of purpose that I just didn’t have when drinking and using.
It’s helped me stay sober because I don’t have idle hands anymore. Boredom used to be a huge trigger of mine. When I have something to work on in my off time, boredom fades away.
Also, make sure your goals are achievable. I knew that my goals were something I could achieve, but my goals are not for everyone.
If you set the bar too high and you fail, it can fuck you up and drive you to drink or use.
Staying sober often means keeping ourselves busy. Set a goal you can achieve and work toward it. You’ll feel amazing when you achieve it.
20. Fulfill Yourself Spirtually
Anyone who’s in AA knows that the basis of the program is to connect with a power greater than yourself.
For many people, this means going to a church/mosque/temple etc., but for many others, this just isn’t spiritually satisfying.
What can you do if these things aren’t enough? Maybe you need to do some meditation. Non-religious meditation can do wonders for anyone and help them to feel spiritually fulfilled.
For others, simple things like doing yoga once a week or reading spiritual books can help.
I can tell you that when I feel spiritually fulfilled, I don’t feel the need to drink or get high.
That’s worked for me for many years.
It can work for you too.
Want More Tips on Staying Sober? Here’s 11 More
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