Many people who struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol struggle with feelings of defeat, self-doubt and hopelessness. While these are completely normal feelings, hopelessness can derail early efforts in recovery and in some cases, can be a primary reason that people don’t even START the journey. For these reasons, it is important to combat feelings of hopelessness in order to begin, and maintain, your journey towards sobriety.
Here are 10 research-backed reasons to be hopeful about addiction recovery:
1. Most people who become addicted to drugs stop using
Research conducted over the past several decades indicates that substance use disorders (the clinical term for a drug or alcohol problem) shows that most people with these disorders do eventually achieve sobriety. Large studies that have been conducted in just the past twenty years have found that remission rates range between 50-60% for people who had a drug or alcohol problem (1, 2). These rates of remission are incredible, given that the remission rates for most other mental health conditions hovers around 33% (3).
2. Treatment for substance use disorders improves the likelihood of remission
While some people are able to get and stay clean without treatment, research shows that receiving treatment greatly increases the likelihood of long-term sobriety. In one large study, people who received treatment were more than 20% more likely to have stayed sober after three years than those who did not (3). This study included both formal treatments like inpatient rehab and outpatient addiction treatment programs, as well as self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, proving multiple types of treatment can be effective. Staying in treatment long-term is also associated with higher rates of long-term sobriety (4).
3. Relapses don’t have to be forever
While it is true that as many as 80% of people who get clean experience a relapse at some point in their recovery, a relapse doesn’t have to be forever (4). In fact, many people who have relapsed report being able to more easily establish their sobriety because of the skills and knowledge they learned from doing so before, especially for those who sought treatment. Relapse can feel defeating, but those who make an effort can reclaim their recovery, and often have learned valuable lessons that help strengthen their recovery and their commitment to being sober.
4. Relapse rates drop over time
As people achieve longer periods of sobriety, their rate of relapse goes down significantly. The vast majority of relapses occur within the early weeks and months of recovery, and sharply decline over time. This helps to prove that the most difficult challenges in a person’s recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction tend to come early on in the process, and that maintaining sobriety gets much easier over time. Early on in the recovery process, people often experience cravings, urges, and uncertainty about whether or not they want to stay sober or even whether or not they can. Fortunately, these experiences tend to fade as a person moves through the withdrawal process, begins to heal their brain and body, and as they experience the benefits of a drug-free life.
5. The brain is constantly rewiring itself according to a person’s behavior
Many experts on addiction refer to addiction as a disease of the brain. This comes from recent brain-imaging studies that prove that over time, addiction pathways form in the brain. These pathways create strong urges and cravings, making it harder for a person to stop using, even when they know that their drug or alcohol use has become problematic. It is important to note that forming new, healthier habits that take the place of drug use can also cause new pathways to form in the brain. The brain is always learning from a person’s behavior, strengthening the pathways used most often and pruning out the old, unused pathways, including the old addiction pathways.
6. Sober people are happier than people who continued using
One common fear that people in early recovery have is that they will not be able to be happy without drugs, and that sobriety means settling for a life that is boring, uninteresting, or unsatisfying. According to research, the opposite is true, with people reporting higher levels of life satisfaction after achieving one year of sobriety (6). While early recovery can be difficult, stressful, and emotionally trying, there is clearly hope for those who make it over these hurdles. As your brain rebalances itself and learns to produce the chemicals it once relied on drugs or alcohol for, most people notice significant improvements in their mental health.
7. Increasing “recovery capital” improves the likelihood of sobriety
The term “recovery capital” is used to describe the amount of resources and supports available to a person in recovery. Recovery capital includes inner resources like optimism and a strong belief system, as well as external resources like support systems, access to treatment, and even having basic needs like food and shelter met. The more recovery capital a person has, the more likely they will achieve long-term recovery (7). By accessing treatment, attending self-help meetings, and working towards becoming more stable and independent, a person can increase their recovery capital, and also increase their likelihood of staying sober.
8. There is living proof that recovery is possible
While it is one thing to read research and statistics on rates of recovery from a drug addiction, it is another to see this proof for yourself, and there are no shortage of examples. Those who are looking for inspiration can often find it locally at any 12 step, SMART recovery, or other recovery group, where there will be people with lived experience overcoming addiction. Being in the presence of people who have overcome this issue can be incredibly inspiring to people in early recovery, reminding people that it is possible to overcome an addiction, no matter how bad it is.
9. Sobriety pays people back
People who have struggled with addiction often have a long list of things they have lost because of drugs or alcohol. These might include relationships, financial assets, a job, and things they once took for granted, like their physical and mental health. Over time, getting sober helps people regain these losses, re-establishing the relationships, assets, and opportunities that meant the most to them. These gains may begin immediately, or they make take time, but they tend to keep paying people back for many years after they begin their journey towards recovery.
10. Recovery gives people freedom to live differently
Being in active addiction is a lot like being in constant survival mode, always focused on chasing the next high, even at the expense of building the life they really want. Recovery offers a life where people are able to think bigger about who they want to be, what they want to do, and how they want to live their lives. Freed from the constant cycle of cravings, highs, and crashes, people in recovery are able to focus on the things that matter the most to them, instead of letting this cycle become their entire existence.
People struggling with overcoming an addiction have many reasons to be hopeful, no matter what stage of recovery they are in. Those who haven’t started the journey can find hope in the fact that most people with addictions are able to stop using drugs and alcohol and can work to find living examples who can become mentors to them.
Those who are in early recovery can find hope that it does get easier, and that they will be able to rebuild a life where they can be happy, even without drugs. Those who have already established their sobriety can look behind them at the progress they’ve made, know that the hardest part is behind them, and can begin finding ways to rebuild their lives according to their own design, instead of settling for the life that drugs or alcohol offered them.
- Predictors of initial and sustained remission from alcohol use disorders: Findings from the 30-Year follow-up of the San Diego Prospective Study.
- White, W. L. (2012). Recovery/Remission Recovery/Remission from Substance Use Disorders from Substance Use Disorders.
- Salzer MS, Brusilovskiy E, Townley G. National Estimates of Recovery-Remission From Serious Mental Illness. Psychiatr Serv. 2018 May 1;69(5):523-528. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201700401. Epub 2018 Feb 1. PMID: 29385961.
- Moos RH, Moos BS. Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders. Addiction. 2006;101(2):212-222. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2006.01310.x
- Time to relapse after short- or long-term treatment of severe premenstrual syndrome with sertraline.
- Hagen, E., Erga, A. H., Hagen, K. P., Nesvåg, S. M., McKay, J. R., Lundervold, A. J., & Walderhaug, E. (2017). One-year sobriety improves satisfaction with life, executive functions and psychological distress among patients with polysubstance use disorder. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 76, 81-87.
- Laudet, A. B., & White, W. L. (2008). Recovery capital as prospective predictor of sustained recovery, life satisfaction, and stress among former poly-substance users. Substance use & misuse, 43(1), 27-54.