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If I’m a Recovered Pill Addict – Does my sobriety have to be all or nothing?

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution? Then you may relate to what it means to talk about sobriety as all or nothing for a recovered pill addict. The major question here is whether sobriety has to be all or nothing when you enter recovery from pill addiction. Simply answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that question is not enough. Instead, it is crucial to take the time to discuss what all-or-nothing sobriety and complete abstinence mean within the context of recovery. Nearly any addiction treatment program treats recovery as a process instead of a one-time event. This is why those recovered from pill addiction describe being on the ‘road to recovery’ rather than talking about ‘the day I recovered’. This distinction significant, and defines a healthy approach to recovery.

What Recovery for a Pill Addict is All About

In this post, and in any kind of addiction treatment with our facility, you will see several themes:

  1. Sobriety is not a one-time event. It is a process.
  2. There is a difference between all-or-nothing sobriety and abstinence.
  3. Recovery takes action and proactive behavior. It is not enough to stand still.

These three themes combine to form a healthy and promising perspective for recovered pill addicts – and any kind of addict, for that matter. To be successful in the long-term, complete abstinence is a necessary part of recovery. As a recovered pill addict, this means you should probably stay away from any kind of drug at all (including everything from marijuana to alcohol). But here is the key: that is not the same thing as all-or-nothing sobriety.

What Does Recovery from Pill Addiction Look Like?

We want to tell it to you straight: recovery is hard. In fact, it may be the most difficult thing that you have ever had to take on if you are addicted to pills. When it comes to addiction recovery, it is crucial to understand that relapse is part of the recovery process. This is true for the vast majority of those looking to overcome addiction – whether it is a recovering pill addict or a recovering alcoholic. Consider these statistics:

  • Close to 80% of alcoholics will drink again, at least once.
  • At least 6 out of 10 smokers will light up a cigarette within a year of first quitting.
  • Ninety percent of recovering gamblers will place another bet at some point.
  • The average person makes the same New Year’s resolution for five years in a row before keeping the resolution for six months.

All of this should help you form a healthier image of what recovery from pill addiction looks like.

Abstinence versus All-or-Nothing Sobriety

All-or-nothing abstinence is important for long-term success in recovery – but a relapse may be part of the recovery process.

“When it comes to major behavioral changes – anything from losing weight to quitting hard drugs – few people do it perfectly the first time. For most, it’s a long and winding road.”

~ Kat McGowan, writing for Psychology Today

Abstinence-based twelve-step principles are crucial to recovery from any kind of addiction. This includes recovery from pill addiction. If you have been addicted to pills in the past, it means that you have a high chance of showing addictive behavior with other substances as well. This is why most rehab centers and even intensive outpatient programs encourage complete abstinence. Simply put, abstinence in recovery from addiction to pills makes it easier to avoid the kinds of situations that enabled addiction in the first place. It is just a good idea.

What Sobriety for Recovered Pill Addicts Means

As we mentioned above, total abstinence is crucial to recovery from addiction of any kind. But encouraging complete abstinence is not the same thing as saying your sobriety is an all-or-nothing situation. With this understanding of recovery comes a slightly shifted understanding of sobriety in recovering from pill addiction. Sobriety does not only mean that you have stopped using pills. Sobriety does not only mean complete abstinence. Sobriety does not mean that relapse is a failure in recovery.

Understanding Sobriety and 12-Step Principles

Instead, evidence-based twelve step principles can help those in recovery form both a healthy image of themselves and a healthy expectation for recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the key elements of 12-step facilitated recovery include:

  • Acceptance: Realizing that pill addiction is a chronic disease, that the addiction has caused life to become unmanageable, and that complete abstinence is the only alternative to the addiction.
  • Surrender: Giving oneself over to the principles of a twelve-step program or similar rehab program, as well as the accountability that comes with the support structure of recovery groups, friends and family.
  • Involvement: Realizing that staying sober will require continued involvement with these support structures in the months and years after starting recovery.

Committing to these elements is the essence of sobriety as a recovered pill addict. This is not all-or-nothing sobriety – it is choosing recovery and abstinence. With this in mind, sobriety for those recovered from pill addiction means adhering to 12 step principles. Doing so creates a healthier idea both of what sobriety means for the recovered addict and the kind of promise that recovery has.

The Bottom Line: Does Sobriety Have to Be All or Nothing?

When people enter recovery, one of the most common questions that they ask is whether or not this newfound sobriety has to be all or nothing. To be honest, there is not an easy answer to this question. If someone is asking whether complete abstinence is necessary for addiction recovery according to 12 step principles, then the simple answer is: yes, absolutely. But the 12 step program (and evidence-based 12 step principles) go beyond simply stating that abstinence is necessary. Abstinence is not the goal of the recovery process. It is a necessary tool for those recovering from pill addiction – or any kind of addiction, for that matter. The bottom line is this: complete abstinence is crucial for the recovery process, but it may be unhealthy to say this is the same thing as all-or-nothing sobriety.

The Key to Staying Sober for Recovered Pill Addicts

Staying sober once you are recovered from pill addiction is not necessarily easy – even when you receive treatment. But there are several strategies that can make the recovery process more manageable along the way.

  • Stay Connected: One of the most common mistakes that recovered pill addicts make is thinking that they can make it on their own. Years of experience and research have shown that this is typically not true. Instead, take the time to connect with support groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Pills Anonymous. Ask your friends and family to support you in the recovery process. These connections will help you grow and stay accountable.
  • Commit to Growth: Recovery is not just about avoiding negative habits. It is also just as much about building positive habits and opening up opportunities for self-improvement. When gardening, it is not enough to just pull up the weeds – you have to plant the flowers!
  • Check Your Self-Image: Relapse from pill addiction is common. Don’t view relapse as a failure. It does not reflect on your commitment to sobriety. Instead, use relapse as a learning opportunity as you stay committed to recovery.
  • Make a Plan: Know the situations and scenarios that you need to avoid. Create specific tools for avoiding temptations and triggers for your addiction. Rehab programs and support groups can help you in this process.

“Identifying the factors behind a relapse is only the start; the crucial step is to make an explicit plan to counteract or avoid them.”

~ Kat McGowan, writing for Psychology Today

If you take away anything, it should be this: recovery is a long road. Setbacks and relapses happen along the way for those addicted to pills. But do not let that discourage you or make you think that sobriety was all-or-nothing. You can get back on the right path as a recovered pill addict – contact us today if you need help getting started.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012, December). 12-Step Facilitation Therapy (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opiates). Retrieved from: National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012, December). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved from: