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Holding On Or Getting Better ?

Nine Critical Differences

The focus of this exercise is to teach you to think and act like a person who is getting better. No one becomes a recovering person and then starts thinking like one. It works the other way around. Your thoughts will determine your behavior over the long run.

Let's use the example of someone in inpatient treatment. Staying abstinent in a protected environment usually works very well in that environment. But the transition to the “real world” after discharge is often more difficult than anticipated.

These generalized questions can help you find out if you are now thinking and acting like you are in recovery or if you are just not using (abstinent). Remember, the way you start thinking and acting sets up your recovery or a relapse .

Evaluate your Thinking and Behavior

Holding On

Getting Better


Abstinent individuals want to stop using - so their problems will go away.

Recovering individuals accept and understand that abstinence is the first step of a new life-style.


Abstinent individuals bring up memories about the excitement of using. Deep down, they tolerate abstinence because it keeps them out of trouble. They compare their abstinence to the “good old days” when they could use and still control their consequences. Their thinking is dominated by what they “have to do” now.

Recovering individuals work to keep their thoughts in the present. They focus on today. They look for suggestions about what works for others and apply it to their situation. They make a conscious decision to look for the positive side of day to day living. They work at accepting disappointments as a temporary condition that does change.


Abstinent individuals get involved in risky situations and fear they might change “too much”. In doing this they take the biggest risk of all - expecting different outcomes from the same behaviors.

Recovering individuals avoid unnecessary risks. They know unexpected risks come up and have pre-planned prevention actions to deal with them. They take prevention actions quickly, before they are at risk.


Abstinent individuals, dominated by their need for excitement and stimulation, seek contacts and activities that increase risk by exposing them to triggers.

Recovering individuals do not “flirt” with contacts and activities that are triggers. They work on accepting the slower pace and steady gains of recovery.


Abstinent individuals are likely to spend their income quickly without much planning. They continue to look for something besides their own behavior to make them feel better.

Recovering individuals keep the focus on themselves. They trust that self-work will improve their life. Their self improvements become the basis for positive self-esteem.


Abstinent individuals place blame and fault for their problems on outside circumstances such as their family’s attitude, their companions, their boss, society’s expectations, or the economy.

Recovering individuals accept responsibility for their behavior, and work to change themselves. They avoid blaming other circumstances for their behavior like “look what you made me do…”.


Abstinent individuals have no plan or purpose beyond not using in the short-term. They prefer to go with the flow of other people’s activities.

Recovering individuals are aware of the power of intention and consistently do the work to achieve specific goals. They set a daily agenda based on their recovery.


Abstinent individuals allow thinking and feeling patterns to continue unchallenged long after negative results have occurred. They complain about the results, but not the causes of their own behavior.

Recovering individuals work on improving their thinking and feelings before another round of negative consequences develop. When “soft spots” are recognized they take action before consequences happen. 


Abstinent individuals usually avoid old associates but worry about ending all contacts. They are slow to form new, recovery- based relationships. They feel unsure about new unchallenged relationships.

Recovering individuals work on ending contacts that are triggers regardless of other’s approval. They expect to make new relationships based on their new lifestyle.

So how are you doing in these 9 areas?

Copyright© Stephen Buchness 2005