Resilience in Recovery

Responding to Challenges

You might have heard Charles R. Swindoll’s quote – ‘Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.’ Our existence is full of challenges and setbacks but we all have the power to minimise the impact that external circumstances have on us and develop the potential for success. That power is called resilience and it is defined as the ability to keep going in the face of adversity.

It has been an important part of psychology training for Army programmes. It trains soldiers to bounce back after traumas and avoid developing a sense of helplessness when facing serious hindrances. The essence of resilience is to create a frame of mind where both setbacks and successes are positive learning experiences.

Resilience in Recovery

Sillhouette of person fighting through coloured ribbonsIn the context of recovery, regardless of how long we stay away from harmful substances, there may be some stressful challenges along the way. It is then that resilience becomes an important emotional tool as it allows us to step back briefly, regroup and move forward, excluding the option of returning to use.  Likewise, if we slip up during the recovery process it takes resilience to acknowledge the relapse and then move back onto the road to recovery.

Research shows that people in recovery who lack resilience are more likely to relapse. This is due to a limited ability to handle the difficult times and work through challenging situations. Resilience is often the difference between sustained sobriety and relapse.


Rehab programmes can help support you while you build resilience.

Developing Resilience

Small flower growing though cracking mud representing resilience

Like all psychological/emotional processes, resilience can be learned and developed by introducing some new ways of thinking:

Accept that change will happen. Change might be difficult, but it is also an integral and inevitable part of life. Resiliency makes us adapt to new life conditions more quickly through the acceptance of change.

Be grateful. Instead of focusing on something stressful, we should think of all the wonderful aspects of life. Resilient people make gratitude lists. What are you grateful for?

Practise self-care. Taking care of ourselves during a crisis is particularly important. In recovery, we learn to take care of your own needs first by eating healthily and sleeping well. We can build resilience through exercise, mindfulness, and meditation.

Learn from experience. It is important to use reflection to look back at how you handled past situations to guide future behaviour. When times are tough, let’s remember the triumphs in addiction recovery that we have experienced.

Maintain a support system. Our support system is paramount to get through difficult times. We are stronger in numbers. The right people around us will help us ease the challenges that would be more difficult if we had to face them alone.

Resilience Helps Achieve Lasting Sobriety

The act of developing resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions and, like all deep self-modifying processes, it takes time, dedication and focus. It might also bring about considerable emotional distress but it is certainly worth it, as it’s a key psychological skill in the quest to achieve lasting sobriety.

The process of recovery is much more than just abstaining from drugs or alcohol. By identifying the psychology behind our actions, we can go through profound positive changes within ourselves. These, in turn, will lead to living a more satisfying life.


Resilience - key points

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