Building Mental Resilience to Overcome Addiction


Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenging situations. It’s the attribute that keeps us going after we hit rock bottom.

Without resilience, people with substance use disorders wouldn’t be able to get sober after relapsing. Thus, resilience plays a crucial role in long-term sobriety.

Many addiction recovery treatments place an emphasis on resilience, as they are designed to help people with addiction deal with difficult emotions without turning to drugs.

This applies to most therapeutic models, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling, family therapy, and group therapy.

When we lean into resilience as part of the recovery process, we put ourselves in a much better position to tolerate the stressful situations that we will face.

In fact, studies have shown that improving resilience consistently helps people with alcoholism to manage their cravings without using alcohol.

10 Tips for Building Mental Resilience to Overcome Addiction

Resilience isn’t something that develops overnight. We need to adopt a range of strategies to work on building resilience, and our progress will not be linear.

However, when we prioritise resilience alongside sobriety, the results can be incredible. Here are Rehab Recovery’s top 10 tips for building mental resilience, based on working with thousands of people with addiction all over the UK.

1: Forgive Yourself

If you slip back into old behaviours, before assessing why it happened and coming up with a prevention strategy for next time, forgive yourself.

This doesn’t mean you should downplay relapse, but that you should be kind to yourself when it happens. Realistically, the majority of people with addiction are going to relapse, so it wouldn’t be fair to expect perfection.

Striving to never relapse is certainly advisable, but if you mess up, take a deep breath and remember that tomorrow is a new opportunity to try again. Resilience is built on a foundation of high self-esteem, and forgiving yourself is the first step.

2: Set Clear Goals

Anyone would struggle to stay on track if they didn’t know what they were aiming for. Too many people wonder why they keep relapsing, but they never stop to set clear goals for their sobriety.

We recommend setting a range of goals, from daily goals to lifelong goals – ideally, realistic goals would dominate your list.

To give an example, a daily goal might be to not text the old friend you always go drinking with, and a lifelong goal could be to never touch a drop of alcohol again.

With these goals in mind, you have something to aim for every second of the day. When you feel down, you can remind yourself of the expectations you set for yourself.

Even if you don’t reach all of your goals, you become more resilient after setting expectations, as it’s easier to return to positive behaviours than it is to start from scratch.

3. Choose a Mantra

Getting advice from experts is always recommended when you suffer from addiction, but why not develop your own mantra (or positive affirmation) as a reminder that you’re staying resilient for yourself?

Having a personal mantra works wonders, as it’s something you can hold close to your heart when you’re struggling.

What’s more, you know yourself best, so you can come up with the most effective mantra that’s going to keep you grounded when you’re battling temptation.

Some examples of mantras we love are:

  • My body is a temple
  • I am becoming more resilient every day
  • I am capable of long-term sobriety
  • I am courageous

4. Rely On Your Support System

You don’t have to learn how to be resilient alone. While it’s important to take care of yourself, it’s normal to crave support from those around you. By reaching out to loved ones for support, you can bounce back from difficult times much more easily.

What’s even better is having someone in your life who’s also determined to develop more resilience. When you work with someone on a common goal, you can be held accountable in your low moments, and this can prevent you from falling off the wagon.

5. Get Moving

Lying in bed and analysing your mistakes isn’t going to make you more resilient. As much as self-reflection helps with improvement, sometimes you need to get moving to get out of a rut.

Next time you find yourself stuck on a negative thought pattern that isn’t going anywhere, get up and moving. You will condition your brain to view regular movement and/or exercise as a solution, so it’s more likely that you’ll get moving next time you feel stuck.

The movement might mean rigorous exercise, but it could simply mean going for a walk, practising your hobby, or meeting a friend.

Any type of physical activity is better than doing nothing for extended periods (though we all do this sometimes).

6. Structure Your Life

Structure is key for resilience. When you know what you need to do and when, it’s much easier to get through challenges, as you have something to prepare for on the other side.

When you start planning more, make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself by filling up your entire diary with work or social plans. Leave room for solo activities, sleep, rest, and reflection.

It’s also a good idea to take it slow and focus on your daily routine to begin with. Think about which tasks would make you feel content on a daily basis, from restful activities to powerful motivators.

7. Help Others

Have you ever felt too anxious to do something, but then found yourself stepping in for a friend who feels anxious?

We often find it easier to help others than ourselves, so take advantage of this in your journey to building mental resilience.

As you help people with difficult emotions, you will in turn learn how to manage your own. It’s also an opportunity to be distracted from your inner world for a short period, which is sometimes just what we need when addiction is so all-encompassing.

8. Educate Yourself

Learn about building resilience. Learn about how it helps with addiction recovery, and how it hurts to not be mentally resilient.

The more you know about resilience, the more motivated you will be to grow this attribute.

Let’s start with this fact: positive affect and self-esteem mediate the relationship between resilience and perceived stress. In other words, if you work on your affect and self-esteem, you will find it easier to push through stressful times.

9. Celebrate Milestones

Often, when someone with a substance use disorder relapses, it’s met with extreme frustration, self-hatred, and hopelessness.

With this in mind, we need to make sure we’re celebrating recovery milestones as much as possible. As relapse is so disappointing, maintained sobriety should feel like pure relief. Let’s pay attention to positive emotions, instead of solely zoning in on the negative.

Don’t take your sobriety for granted. Remember that you could’ve relapsed at any point, and the fact that you haven’t is proof of your resilience. Why not find a supportive community in your area and celebrate these key moments together?

10. Make Time for Yourself

Burnout is the enemy of emotional resilience. It leaves you feeling so exhausted that you might not even want to entertain the idea of bouncing back. Fortunately, you can prevent burnout by making time for yourself on a regular basis.

Some people call it self-care, others me-time. Whatever you call it, it’s essential that you do it. Even the biggest extroverts need some alone time – especially as you’re navigating something as intense as addiction recovery.

A recent study found that people in early addiction recovery often want to engage in activities such as gardening and exercising, but they don’t feel ready. Try your best to fight this mindset by just getting started, as these activities are excellent ways to practice self-care.

Things to Avoid If You Want to Build Mental Resilience

Sometimes, it may feel like every natural tendency you have is linked to low resilience. This is simply because addiction is so closely connected to low resilience; it doesn’t mean you aren’t strong enough to recover from addiction.

If you know which habits to avoid in order to be more resilient, you’re one step closer to staying sober for life. We recommend avoiding the following.

1. Isolating Yourself

Although we have advised you to make space for alone time, don’t take it to the other extreme by isolating yourself. This is practically a one-way ticket to low resilience.

You will start to believe that the only solution to stress is avoiding everything. This is an incredibly detrimental mindset to have, as it means you won’t learn how to manage stress, and therefore your stress levels are likely to remain consistently high.

2. Shaming Yourself

Some people believe the best way to stay resilient is to shame themselves into being strong. The opposite is true. If you’re kind to yourself when you get things wrong, you will have a positive mindset, and this will propel you to push through trying times.

The same can be said for allowing other people to shame you for your failures. The more supportive people you have in your life, and the more critical people you distance yourself from, the more resilient you will become.

Keep in mind that unrealistic goals are linked to self-shaming. When you stick to achievable goals, you’re giving yourself a good chance of meeting your expectations, and this helps to avoid unnecessary shame.

3. Having Poor Sleep Hygiene

We all know that it’s much harder to cope with stress when we’ve had a bad night’s sleep. Having poor sleep hygiene is bound to lead to low resilience, as you won’t be physically prepared to deal with any stress or change.

This is particularly crucial for people with addiction, as you need to give your body time to heal from the damage it has suffered. What’s more, poor sleep increases the risk of relapse, as it has a negative effect on your cognitive functions.

FAQs About Resilience in Addiction Recovery

Below, we provide FAQs about the addiction and recovery process:

1. Are Some People Naturally More Resilient?

Yes, some people are naturally more resilient than others. Resilience is based on various factors including genetics, developmental systems, neurobiology, epigenetics, culture, family, politics, and economy (3).

This means it’s possible that some people have avoided addiction due to a high level of resilience, and others with low resilience have been prone to addictive behaviours.

However, a lack of resilience is certainly not a major cause of addiction. We mustn’t worry that we can’t recover from addiction due to not being resilient. It’s a trait that can improve drastically over time, as it isn’t completely limited by our genetics.

2. Are There Different Types Of Resilience?

There are many different types of resilience, including physical resilience and psychological resilience.

The main type of resilience that is needed for addiction recovery is psychological resilience. However, someone with lots of physical resilience may find it easier to cope psychologically, as they may experience an easier detox, fewer cravings etc.

3. Will Rehab Help With Resilience?

Rehab certainly helps to build personal resilience. The 28-day programme that most patients follow will introduce the group to different coping mechanisms for addiction.

When you turn to healthy coping mechanisms instead of addictive behaviours, this is a key sign of resilience.

In terms of physical resilience, rehab is also extremely effective.

Most patients get a medically assisted detox, which means they only start therapy after they have had a chance to withdraw from drugs or alcohol. At this stage, their body is much more robust than it was when they were still taking drugs.

For more information, contact an alcohol rehab helpline or support organisation, such as Turning Point – Smithfield Detox or Rehab Recovery’s alcohol rehab in Manchester.

Some closing words

In conclusion, building mental resilience is a fundamental component of overcoming addiction and maintaining long-term sobriety.

Resilience empowers individuals to bounce back from setbacks, navigate challenging emotions, and resist the urge to turn to substances. It is a quality that can be developed and strengthened over time, significantly enhancing one’s chances of successful recovery.

Throughout this article, we have explored ten valuable tips for cultivating mental resilience in the face of addiction. These tips, ranging from self-forgiveness and goal-setting to the creation of personal mantras and seeking support from loved ones, provide a practical roadmap for those on the journey to recovery.

Embracing physical activity, structuring one’s life, helping others, and educating oneself about resilience can further fortify one’s ability to cope with the challenges of addiction recovery.

It is crucial to celebrate milestones in the recovery process, shifting the focus from self-criticism to self-appreciation. Each sober day is an accomplishment and a testament to one’s resilience. Establishing a supportive community can amplify this sense of achievement and provide a network of encouragement.

While building resilience is vital, it is equally important to avoid certain habits that undermine this crucial attribute. Isolating oneself, engaging in self-shaming, and neglecting proper sleep hygiene can erode resilience and hinder the recovery process. Instead, individuals should strive for a balanced approach to alone time, self-compassion, and quality rest.

Lastly, it is worth noting that resilience is not solely an innate trait but can be nurtured and enhanced through various means, including addiction recovery programs. These programs, such as rehab, offer the tools and support needed to develop healthier coping mechanisms, reinforcing one’s journey towards resilience and lasting sobriety.

In the battle against addiction, resilience emerges as a beacon of hope, guiding individuals towards brighter, substance-free futures. By embracing these strategies and avoiding detrimental habits, individuals can cultivate the mental resilience needed to overcome addiction and thrive in recovery.