The end of 2017 will soon be here, and our attention shifts to what the new year will bring. That naturally means talk of New Year’s resolutions, what sorts of self-improvement goals we want to achieve in 2018.
For teens and adults struggling with substance abuse, getting on the path to sobriety is the ultimate goal. Not only will it help to avoid the many dangers related to drugs and alcohol, but it also improves health, relationships, finances and life overall.
This is a mission that is far more important than the typical array of goals (lose weight, save money, etc). It could be a life-changing moment. And since we often stumble in following through on aspirations in a new year, sobriety is not something to be trivialized by merely treating it as a resolution.
Here’s a look at some tips for those contemplating stopping the cycle of substance abuse, and looking to make important changes in 2018.
The weight of the goal
Pondering a future without drugs or alcohol can be overwhelming. Eliminating something that has been a huge part of an addict’s life is a daunting prospect, like a mountain far too massive to climb. The addict’s outlook and approach can make a difference here. Neil Osterweil writes about how people fail to follow through on all sorts of New Year’s resolutions in a story for WebMD, and includes commentary from therapist Elizabeth Zelvin.
“As a therapist, Zelvin also deals with people who have substance abuse problems, and she says that the principles of 12-step programs are practical and effective guides to living, especially with their emphasis on setting attainable goals,” Osterweil writes. “‘One day at a time’ is the antithesis of making New Year’s resolutions,’ she says. ‘It’s not saying, ‘I’m going to do this and keep it up all year,’ it’s saying, ‘What can I do today?’”
There may be many things that we want to tackle in the new year — some life patterns we want to correct, and some new and positive things we want to try. They should all take a back seat for people dealing with alcohol or drug abuse, so that recovery is the top priority. As Annie Grace writes for the New York Daily News, “Don’t try to change everything about your life all at once.”
“You’ve made your New Year’s resolution to quit drinking alcohol, so don’t add ‘lose 10 pounds, run a marathon, meet your future spouse and establish world peace to the list,” she writes. “… Remember that eliminating alcohol can pave the way for all the other items on your to-do list to follow. You’re more likely to stick to your resolution if you can keep track of the small successes along the way rather than the failures.”
Don’t wait for January
Many of us look at New Year’s Day as the starting point for changing behavior. Time to get serious, time to finally do it — but not until January 1. That leaves the door open to engaging in that behavior up until that point, which can lead to trouble. The festivities that surround New Year’s Eve can be especially dangerous for those dealing with addiction issues. If getting sober is the goal, it shouldn’t be delayed. Judy McGuire writes about this for The Fix, which features comments by Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a therapist who specializes in addiction.
“People will use it [their impending sobriety] as an excuse to blow out New Year’s Eve and place their lives and the lives of others at risk,” Hokemeyer says. “And that’s not acceptable.”
Waiting for January could also be a sign that it’s not a true priority, as sober coach Patty Powers says in the story: “My tip for someone who has been struggling and says New Year’s Day will be their first day clean would be to tell them to make it New Year’s Eve or December 30th. If you really need that extra night to party, most likely you aren’t ready to stop.”
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