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Complacency in Recovery – Avoiding the Relapse Trap

Much like other areas of life, when we first enter recovery, it’s new and exciting. Unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, living life in sobriety after years spent toiling away in addiction is exhilarating and we strive for more. But what happens after the novelty of recovery wears off? Complacency in recovery is not uncommon but can become dangerous if you let it take control.

Riding the Pink Cloud

As newcomers in recovery, we are bombarded with revolutionary ideations and overwhelmed by the return of experiencing the full spectrum of emotions. This experience is what’s known as “riding the pink cloud”.

Because we hadn’t felt anything in so long as a result of our self-medicating, the degree at which we feel these feelings is intense. Excitement and joy overcome us and we revel in gratitude for our new opportunity at life in recovery.

This “pink cloud” of joy and excitement for the program gives us the initial motivation to really delve into our programs. Those that have already gone through recovery tell us to ride the pink cloud for as long as possible since they know that a startling impact with reality is sure to come.

Returning to Reality

Whether our trip on the pink cloud lasts weeks, months, or even for those lucky enough to experience it for years, it inevitably comes to an end. Much like breaking in a new pair of shoes, the newness eventually wears off and it becomes just another comfortable pair of sneakers. It is this descent into “comfortability” in sobriety that is all part of the growing process.

While we still are practicing our program, attending meetings, step working, and calling our sponsors, the appeal may be slightly less prevalent than those first few months. It is during this stage that we are edging closer to complacency in recovery. Complacency is the playground for relapse.

Complacency in Recovery –  What is it?

So what is complacency in recovery exactly? Essentially, we get so accustomed to our new lives in sobriety that we begin to put time and distance between ourselves and the negative experiences of active addiction. This separation of reality and memory makes us less inclined to do what we were doing in the beginning of our sobriety in order to not pick up a drink or drug.

Complacency is insidious; it descends upon us gradually. Before we know it, if we’re not careful, our meeting attendance sharply declines from every day to five times a week, then to once a week, and then finally to one meeting per month. Our daily updates provided to our sponsors become weekly chats in passing, and our step work begins to collect dust in the corners of our rooms. We begin to encounter familiar feelings of emptiness or desolation.

We have become prime targets for relapse.  According to a study by the American Bar Association, the percentage of people who relapse within the first year is recovery is approximately 75%. After five years, that number drops to 7%. But what many fail to realize is that just because we have spent time in the program, it doesn’t exclude us from the potential to relapse. It’s actually during these times of complacency that we are most susceptible.

What Can I Do?

In order to circumvent complacency in recovery, there a few things you can opt to do. Utilizing these tips and the multitude of tools presented to you in sobriety, you can prevent or overcome your complacency and successfully evade relapse.

1.    Recognize You’re Complacent

They say pain incites change. When the discomfort of complacency in recovery becomes enough, it’s time to take action. Before you can begin to employ any methods to relieve your complacency, you must recognize that you’re complacent in the first place.

I justified my complacent ways by repeatedly citing the fact that I had years in recovery and did not need to work as diligently as someone who had only been sober for a few days. This is not the case. Just because time has separated you from your last drink or drug, doesn’t mean that you’re free from your addiction.

If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. Accept the fact that you, like many other alcoholics and addicts in recovery, have found yourself in complacency so that you can move forward.

2.    Start Setting Realistic Goals

Recovery is just like anything else; we get more inclined at it through consistency and practice. After encountering a period of complacency in recovery, no matter how brief or extensive, we can start getting ourselves back on track by setting realistic recovery goals for ourselves.

However, remember not to overdo it. Overwhelming ourselves with commitments and meeting attendance can actually be counterproductive.

We start small: commit to two meetings a week and calling your sponsor every other day. As we get back into the routine of recovery, we can begin slowly adding more to our plate like a bodybuilder adds weights to the bar.

3.    Pick Up the Phone

Support during times of complacency in recovery is crucial. Many times, our friendships in the program fall to the wayside much as our meeting attendance. This distance often creates a feeling of being alone, and this isolation can make it very difficult to make our way back to the program.

Being honest with those you care about in the program about your complacency and asking for help are the best ways to overcome desolation. More likely than not, your complacency is no secret to your support system and they’ll be overjoyed to have you back! By picking up the phone and humbling yourself enough to ask for help and support, you can begin surrounding yourself with the love and camaraderie the program so generously offers.

4.    Get Accountable

Just because you reached out to your support system and have begun attending meetings again doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods of complacency. In recovery, it’s all about sustaining. You can’t live on yesterday’s recovery and thusly you can’t justify any slips back into complacency by recounting a meeting you went to two weeks ago. You need to stay adamant in your recovery regimen.

Ask others in your support group to keep you accountable to your program if you don’t feel you’re up to the task. Having your friends and your sponsor help keep you in check when it comes to battling complacency in recovery can be a lifesaver. If left up to your own devices, you’ll likely end up falling back into lackadaisical recovery practices.

5.    Plug Back In

Similarly to early recovery, it is imperative you find your way back to the “middle”. Being in the middle basically means involvement in both your personal program as well as the recovery community. Actively step working at a realistic pace and participating in a home group by taking on a commitment are all facets of earnestly engaging in recovery.

Complacency in recovery happens to the best of us, but it doesn’t have to be the end of us. Relapse is always optional, but so is fighting for your sobriety. If you’ve found yourself in complacency, as I have numerous times across my years in the program, it is not a death sentence.

It is an opportunity to reinvent and reinvigorate your adoration for recovery and possibly even grow more than if you hadn’t fallen into a complacent spot! Look at it as a chance to flourish once more and find that pink cloud you had in the beginning.

If you or someone you know is currently struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, give Ocean Breeze Recovery a call 24/7 at (866) 563-0736 and speak with a knowledgeable and caring addiction professional and get the help you need today!


Stephanie T.

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