Throughout much of the world, January 1 is associated with new beginnings – which is why 45% of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year. Unfortunately, only 8% successfully carry them out. In fact, 36% don’t even make it through the month of January. So how do you keep a resolution to have a sober new year?

Let’s start with why we make resolutions. We make resolutions primarily because New Year’s resolutions are merely a psychological construct associated with starting over (kind of like leaving the dentist with sparkling white teeth and vowing to do a better job of brushing and flossing). And big personal changes – especially those related to substance abuse and recovery – need more than just a psychological construct. Resolving to have a sober new year take much more work. 

If you’re fighting substance abuse, a New Year’s resolution is good for motivation, but it doesn’t specify how you’re going to have a sober new year. It doesn’t tell you how to recover from a rough day at work without having a drink. It doesn’t tell you what to do when the resolution that once seemed so inspiring starts feeling like an unwelcome obligation. And it doesn’t tell you what to do when you get bored with it all.

The start of a new year is as good a time as any to begin your addiction recovery, but it’s not some magical date. It’s not going to be miraculously easier to quit on January 1 than on December 31. Regardless of the date on the calendar, getting clean requires a plan and a support network. 

So if your list of New Year’s resolutions includes recovering from substance abuse disorder and having a sober new year – congratulations! You’ve already taken the first step, and that first step is one of the hardest. But don’t stop there. Put some plans in place now so that, when the calendar flips to January 1, you’ll have the tools you need to make your recovery stick.

  • Tell somebody. And not the people you’re sharing cocktails with at the office holiday party. Tell people who love you and who will hold you accountable. And don’t just tell them – get a commitment of support for the times when you start to slip.
  • Find a treatment program. You’ve already done the hard part – admitting to the important people in your life that you have a problem. Now that you’ve got that out of the way, there’s no reason to struggle alone. There are many treatment centers out there, with many different approaches and philosophies. Whether you decide to go residential or out-patient, you’re more likely to succeed when a network of recovery professionals have your back.
  • Treat any underlying issues. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, as many as 9 million Americans with a substance abuse disorder also have co-occurring mental health disorder. And, looking at it from the opposite perspective, about 25% of Americans who have a serious mental condition like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder also struggle with addiction.

When you think about it, it makes sense – whether you’re struggling because of traumatic events in your life or physiologically based medical diagnoses, self-medication can be tempting. Recovery will be much more likely to succeed if you take a holistic approach, simultaneously treating any conditions that contribute to your addiction.


  • Set yourself up to succeed. Whether it’s the places you go, the people you hang out with, toxic relationships in your life, or other stressful situations, you’re probably aware of the situations in which you’re most likely to abuse. If possible, avoid those situations and people altogether. If that’s not possible, ask an ally to be with you – someone who will remind you of why you committed to sobriety and who will intervene when needed.
  • Know that relapse is a possibility, and keep it in perspective. Unfortunately, relapse is common in addiction recovery. But it also involves an overlay of blame that you just don’t see with relapses in conditions like hypertension, diabetes, or asthma, despite the fact that all of those conditions share similar relapse rates.

Nobody would consider someone (or themselves) a failure for having an asthma relapse. Neither would an asthmatic see a relapse as a reason to give up and resign themselves to a lifetime of suffering. Like asthma, addiction is a chronic illness. There will be times when you’ll do great, and there will be times when you’ll have “symptom flare-up.” The key is to recognize it for what it is – symptoms of a medical condition that is currently poorly controlled – and get the treatment you need. For most people, addiction recovery isn’t a “one and done” endeavor.

Yes, making a New Year’s resolution is a psychological construct, not a magic potion. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. It just means that, if you want your resolution to have a sober new year, and to succeed, you need a game plan. It’s not a one-time decision to stop substance abuse on January 1. It’s a day-by-day (sometimes hour-by-hour) pattern of making small decisions that support your recovery rather than undermining it. Recovery isn’t a promise for the coming year. It’s an achievement that you look back on with pride and gratitude the next December 31, when you take stock of how much better your life is.

Through each step of sobriety, there is hope and our team can help. Talk to us today: 888-358-8998