The Importance of Motivation in Recovery

Discovering internal motivation is key to a healthy and long-lasting recovery from a substance use disorder, even when times get tough.

Recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD) is a long and often discouraging process. It is easy to lose hope and slip into relapse without the proper motivation to keep you striving for a brighter future. Finding this motivation is not always simple, but when you do, it can be one of the most important factors in your recovery. Motivation can drastically help your confidence, understand your values, recognize your will power, and rebuild a new love of life that may have never before been present.

The importance of motivation in recovery is often built by finding the internal strength to want to recover. All around you, you may be getting feedback from friends, family, doctors, and peers telling you why you have to recover, but this journey is yours to make and ultimately rests on you. It begins with you building your internal motivation to want to recover for no one else besides yourself.

Internal Motivation for Recovery

Be scared and do it anyway

When you make your own decision to seek recovery, you may find that your life post-recovery starts to look a lot different. Many people who are recovering from a substance abuse disorder have to cut off old social ties, sometimes even family, move locations, find new favorite hobbies, and build an entirely new life for themselves.

Starting over is extremely scary and there will be times when you want nothing more than to go back to old habits. However, in order to stay motivated to recover, you must begin to find intrinsic motivation in yourself.
This involves looking inside, remembering why you chose to embark down this path, and fulfilling your personal goals by never losing faith in yourself.

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Every day we encounter factors that motivate us from the outside (extrinsically). Extrinsic motivators could be linked to a monetary reward, being recognized in a social group at work, at school, in a club, or in a different social setting, and receiving awards, be it for your band, artwork, athletic abilities, etc. These extrinsic motivators coincide with external motivators because they are outside of ourselves.

Many individuals battling with substance abuse disorders are extrinsically motivated to change their behaviors but are not necessarily intrinsically motivated. By remaining solely extrinsically motivated, the motivation to change rests on the laurels of an outside factor, rather than benefiting from the genuine, inward, personal desire for change. [1]Chan, G. H. Y., Lo, T. W., Tam, C. H. L., & Lee, G. K. W. (2019). Intrinsic Motivation and Psychological Connectedness to Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation: The Perspective of Self-Determination. … Continue reading

The goal of obtaining and keeping motivation to recover is therefore linked to what intrinsically motivates you towards change. If you are seeking recovery because you personally want to obtain a better life and push through any mental health issues that have been holding you down, then you are intrinsically motivated. Once you find internal motivation, then the objective is learning how to hold on to this motivation even as the road gets rocky and your hope wavers.

What Motivates One to Stay Sober?

There can be many ways you can motivate yourself to stay sober, what is firstly important is recognizing that you have a disorder and wanting to begin the healing process for yourself. [2]Neumann, L. (2011). Sober Identity: Tools for Reprogramming the Addictive MindBalboa Press. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from … Continue reading After this observation is made, you can begin the healing process.

Based on an individualistic experience, finding what motivates you to stay sober is a big part of the battle of staying sober. Since everyone is different, there is no set methodology that will work for every person besides a willpower to change. In many ways, this time it is about being open to experimenting and trying out new things in order to learn and grow as a person.

Be Realistic and Identify the Pros and Cons of Staying Clean

You may have made the personal observation that you have a problem and want change, but have you thought about the difficulties involved in this process? A substance abuse disorder does not go away overnight, and the process of recovery will be physically and mentally painful as you experience withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability, abdominal pain, and much more. In addition, you may lose social ties along the way and feel a loss of direction as you begin to build a whole new life, which on many occasions can lead to a loss of motivation and sometimes even relapse. [3]Pickard, H. (2016). Denial in addiction.Mind & Language, 31(3), 277-299.https://doi.org/10.1111/mila.12106

The cons of recovery may seem like a lot at first but with every con, there is a pro and in harder times it is important to remember why you are choosing to make this change for yourself. Some of these pros could include an increased awareness of life, a healthier body, greater ambition, and a new social circle full of loving individuals who accept who you are.

Find a Strong Support System

Find a Strong Support System That Will Support You Throughout Your Journey

Today it is easier than ever to connect with like minded individuals who are going through the same journey as you are. According to previous research, finding a support group leads to higher chances for recovery and less of a chance for relapse. These support groups can take the form of any type of social group who is there for you on your journey of recovery. [4]Pettersen, H., Landheim, A., Skeie, I., Biong, S., Brodahl, M., Oute, J., & Davidson, L. (2019). How Social Relationships Influence Substance Use Disorder Recovery: A Collaborative Narrative … Continue reading You can meet in person for counseling meetings where you will be able to open up about your personal experiences or simply listen to others, or you can connect through social media. Social Media platforms such as Facebook have a plethora of groups for individuals with SUDs to connect and bond over their recovery journeys.

In addition, friends and family are some of the most supportive groups we have in our lives. Often, spending time with people who do not have an SUD, makes it easier for you to push harder towards recovery.

Do Things That Make You Feel Good

Feeling good and taking care of your mental health are huge factors in determining your motivation to recover. Once you begin to feel good in your own skin, your desire to steer back to substances will lessen overtime.

Feeling good can be related to practicing self-care. When practicing self-care, you will improve the way your body and mind feel, which can help you feel better about yourself overall. Practicing self-care can include getting a good night’s sleep every day, eating healthy/getting the recommended dosage of vitamins and minerals in your diet, having a clean and decluttered living space that you can easily relax in, making sure you drink enough water, and staying active through regular exercise.

Self-care can even extend to focus more on your individualistic values, such as your spirituality and coping mechanisms. This might be through reading a religious text, mediating, or attending a religious gathering.

Try to Stop Comparing Your Progress With Others

This journey is solely yours and despite the fact that you may meet others who are battling with the same disorder, their experience is not your experience. Do not be discouraged by statistics or the negative comments/judgment made by society. Instead, focus on yourself and always remember that you are unique and special in your own way. You have the motivation inside of yourself to steer your life in a new and better direction, but in order to get there, you must believe that change is possible through your own individual strength.

The secret to getting ahead is getting started

Seek Out Helpful Motivation for Recovery Quotes

You are not the first person to seek recovery from a substance abuse disorder. Many have come before you and have fought their way to a healthier and more fulfilling life of sobriety. Seek out books, testimonies, blogs, and anything else you can find from both experts and those who have experienced victory over similar struggles. You may find several inspirational quotes or helpful mantras that will carry you through the difficult times.

How to Combat a Lack of Motivation in Recovery

It is no secret that choosing to embark on the path of recovery is not easy. Whether you choose to attend a rehabilitation facility for a length of time or are choosing to go the individualized route, there will be times where you feel like giving up or begin to wonder why you are even trying at all. It is important to acknowledge that these feelings are normal, and they are bound to occur from time to time.

Difficulty Coping

As you make your way to recovery, you will encounter triggers. These triggers can be anything from an old familiar face, maybe a former dealer, or a song that you listened to while taking substances. Triggers can bring back some negative emotions and may stir up cravings for substances. In these trying times, it may be increasingly difficult for you to cope with your cravings and the memories associated with substance abuse in the past.

To combat these feelings, try to remove yourself from the triggering situation. If a song is playing, turn the radio off, if you get a text from an old friend with whom you used to use substances, consider blocking the number. Of course, not every trigger can be avoided but coping with your life being different can help you build a new life filled with less painful reminders from the past.

Romanticizing the Past

It is easy to romanticize the life you once lived while using substances. Maybe it was filled with adventure and carefree days with friends who understood you or maybe you felt like you belonged in that world and not in the new one you are living. Recovery is a huge life change and life can often feel duller as you begin to recover. You may feel like you are stuck in the same routines, have less friends than you used to, or are struggling to find a purpose.

This is common, but it does not mean it lasts forever. By romanticizing the past, you are letting yourself forget why you decided to recover to begin with. When dealing with these wavering thoughts, think again of your list of pros and cons and remind yourself of the reality of what has brought you towards change.

Making Difficult Choices

Sometimes addiction calls for you to make some of the most difficult decisions that you will make in life. These decisions can involve ending relationships/friendships, diving into a new career field, or moving out of an old town. All of these choices may not be what make you the most comfortable, but they could still be the right decisions for your recovery. If you stay in a relationship, job, or town that influences you to use, then sometimes the right decision is to leave these situations and start anew for your own personal benefits. [5]Khosravi, M., & Kasaeiyan, R. (2019). Attachment Style and Its Relation to the Quality of Life and Readiness to Change Substance Use Behavior: A Causal-Comparative Study.Archives of Pharmacy … Continue reading

To combat the reluctance you may experience in making these decisions, think about how these factors may be negatively influencing you and remind yourself of your own intrinsic motivators, such as wanting to be healthier and live longer so you can see your child grow up.

Are You Ready to Get Motivated?

Are You Ready to Get Motivated?

By taking the leap into recovery, you have already made the hardest move. In many cases of substance use disorders, the abuse prolongs because of an inability to see a problem and to accept responsibility for any bad actions that come from this disorder. Having made that stride, the next step is finding the internal motivation to not quit and to keep fighting everyday for a better life.


1Chan, G. H. Y., Lo, T. W., Tam, C. H. L., & Lee, G. K. W. (2019). Intrinsic Motivation and Psychological Connectedness to Drug Abuse and Rehabilitation: The Perspective of Self-Determination. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(11), 1934.https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16111934
2Neumann, L. (2011). Sober Identity: Tools for Reprogramming the Addictive MindBalboa Press. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://books.google.es/books?hl=en&lr=&id=SWeWAGPOHWsC&oi=fnd&pg=PP3&dq=what+motivates+one+to+stay+sober&ots=tsJSrhWGc_&sig=Z4tx1CcVrdVurHsMnCOijMv9qgg&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=what%20motivates%20one%20to%20stay%20sober&f=false
3Pickard, H. (2016). Denial in addiction.Mind & Language, 31(3), 277-299.https://doi.org/10.1111/mila.12106
4Pettersen, H., Landheim, A., Skeie, I., Biong, S., Brodahl, M., Oute, J., & Davidson, L. (2019). How Social Relationships Influence Substance Use Disorder Recovery: A Collaborative Narrative Study. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment. https://doi.org/10.1177/1178221819833379
5Khosravi, M., & Kasaeiyan, R. (2019). Attachment Style and Its Relation to the Quality of Life and Readiness to Change Substance Use Behavior: A Causal-Comparative Study.Archives of Pharmacy Practice,1, 35. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mohsen-Khosravi-2/publication/342534273_Attachment_Style_and_Its_Relation_to_the_Quality_of_Life_and_Readiness_to_Change_Substance_Use_Behavior_A_Causal-_Comparative_Study/links/5f32587c92851cd302eee7ab/Attachment-Style-and-Its-Relation-to-the-Quality-of-Life-and-Readiness-to-Change-Substance-Use-Behavior-A-Causal-Comparative-Study.pdf
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