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Complacency in Recovery: How to Recognize It and Change Course

Once you enter a sobriety routine and tackle numerous struggles without a drink, you might begin to take it easy. It’s easy to “rest on your laurels,” as the Big Book suggests, and become complacent. There’s a desire to cut back on the elements that helped us reach the point of mastery. We begin to believe “we’ve got this.”

The feeling of comfort is hard-won and signals that we’ve come a long way. The ability to achieve successes and overcome obstacles sober is a quality we’ve not had in a long time. So this point of recovery shouldn’t be taken for granted or feared.

The comfort, however, can give a belief that we don’t need recovery activities as much. We start:

  • skipping prayer
  • attending fewer meetings
  • reaching out less often to a sponsor
  • calling fewer people in our network
  • becoming more irritable and losing serenity
  • entertaining the idea of drinking or reminiscing over the past

When the fire of personal struggles isn’t lighting our pants on fire, the motivation may not come as easily.

Below we’ll look at the mind frame and behaviors that signal that we could be cutting back more than is healthy. Recognizing these signposts early can help us get back on track. Cutting back isn’t necessarily a bad thing altogether, especially when our only focus in early sobriety was recovery. More exciting benefits, such as career and growth prospects, have entered our lives that demand time and attention.

The goal is not to decrease recovery actions to the point that we no longer have protection against the first drink. And this is a fine line that demands our attention no matter how good we feel since the temptation to drink can arrive subtly.

Not contacting your sober network and sponsor as frequently

I’m putting this one as the first bullet because it is the most frequently cited symptom that precedes a relapse. The storyteller often highlights decreasing contact as one of the first signs before a drink.

Where we once called out to people in our network daily, we now feel like the phone is 200 lbs. We reach out to other people in recovery only once or twice a week. And we often keep the conversations more superficial than we once did. We no longer have meaningful conversations that might have helped us resolve the daily obstacles. Phone calls turn into quick check-ins that feel more mandatory and less interesting.

Skipping meetings

Another often cited reason for relapse is decreasing meeting attendance. While meeting frequency alone doesn’t ensure long-term sobriety, they play a role in keeping us connected with others and reminding us why we came into recovery in the first place.

Early sobriety usually entails attending a lot of meetings, usually daily and multiple meetings per day. While this is understandably not sustainable as our lives become more whole, it’s vital that we still attend them no less than weekly or several times per week.

Meetings are an excellent grounding for sobriety. People begin to expect us at our regular meetings and want to hear how we’re doing. Meetings also protect us against loneliness and provide answers to problems we may be facing.

Letting your sponsorship lapse

Losing touch with our sponsors is a sign we’re cutting back to a dangerous point. Our sponsors may be confused if they’re still sponsoring us at all when we decrease contact enough. We may even enter a long stretch of not having a sponsor at all.

Without a sponsor, we rationalize that the meetings and other attendees are our real sponsors. However, without a single point of contact, we lose our ability to level honestly with another soul and face our problems. We may only brush over what’s bothering us at meetings and not find answers that a frank conversation one-on-one provides.

We can correct this by increasing phone calls to our sponsor. If we feel stagnant with our current sponsor, we can ask someone new who has a style that brings back the spark of recovery.

Engaging in new self-destructive behaviors and vices

One symptom of losing touch with recovery is picking up old behaviors and vices that get us out of ourselves. Examples include:

  • Starting a tobacco habit we didn’t have before.
  • Staying up later than is healthy.
  • Video game addiction.
  • Promiscuity.

These behaviors are signs that we’re no longer comfortable in our skin. We’re seeking out external activities to bring us a sense of comfort, even if they bring destruction and chaos into our lives.

We may be holding back secrets or problems from others that become monkeys on our backs. We carry them with us throughout the day in such a way that they wear us down. It’s recommended we remove them at once so that we get back to a state of serenity that makes vices seem unnecessary.

Seeing sobriety as less critical than other pursuits

Sobriety should always stay number one in our list of priorities. Many people become distracted by their other goals in life. While plans are healthy, they shouldn’t become overriding aspects that crowd out sober activities.

For example, pursuing money, a high career title, and material possessions are typical pursuits. We begin to devote more time in the day to these goals more than any other. There’s little time for much else, including meetings and step work.

The highs from our achievements are fleeting. We start dreaming up more and more goals for maintaining our comfort. If we become caught in this cycle, it’s crucial to recognize it and put these pursuits in their rightful priority.

It’s helpful to remember we are now sober and have plenty of time without alcohol sucking down our days. We shouldn’t feel pressured to rush into fortunes and fame. They will come in time if we maintain our goals in a balance.

New frustrations at yourself for failing to achieve goals outside recovery

As an extension, we start to tie our self-worth with the successes we have. We lose sight that each day sobriety is the biggest miracle we have going for us. Everything else will fall into place, even if it’s not on the time frame we prefer.

When we fail at achieving success, such as losing a job or not getting the promotion we wanted, we might drift into despair and self-pity. What’s happened is that we’ve become too focused on external rewards to feel good. We’ve lost touch with the spiritual tools of recovery that can bring us peace from within and with our higher power.

We can’t safely put our serenity in the hands of other people. They’ll let us down or not give us the things we want eventually.

New relationship issues, especially ones created by ourselves

We start getting in more fights with others. A large part of recovery is learning to relate to others in healthy ways. When we aren’t learning those skills, old ways of relating come to the forefront and cause the old issues we’re all too familiar with.

We become overly frustrated at others for failing to live up to our expectations. We start to view them as either obstacles or tools for our goals. We don’t bring empathy and tolerance to our interactions, which makes for more conflict and misunderstandings.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll probably see that we caused the new relationship issues.

Cutting back on step work we did before

Like cutting back on meetings, we cut back on the routines of step work that helped us. Examples include skipping prayer and meditation, especially in the morning.

If 10th step inventories were a part of our day, they begin to fall off as well. We also tend to stop sponsoring others and stop accepting service commitments.

Usually, after a while in recovery, we’ve built up a routine of step work that fulfilled us. The work punctuated certain parts of our day. But we begin filling this time with non-recovery activities, such as consuming news and entertainment.

Feelings of despair and losing respect for ourselves

We may start carrying more of the world’s troubles on our shoulders. With all the tragic news, we think there’s no more good in the world. Our perspectives become more warped towards despair rather than hope.

If we stay in despair too long, we may see ourselves less as agents working towards good in the universe. We may see ourselves as useless against the ails of our world. But our viewpoint needs rearrangement, which frequent attendance to recovery can bring back once again.


As a result of all the bullets listed above, we start feeling more lonely. And deep down, we know there’s little reason to end up in a state of loneliness. We have one of the most potent programs at our disposal to kill the feeling, one that ordinary people dream of.

With a bit of additional action, we can put ourselves back into the stream of recovery, where we reconnect with people who miss our company and want to help. While we might wallow in the feeling, it’s a sign we’ve cut back too much. Once it takes hold, we enter a dangerous place where recovery no longer seems worthwhile, and old drinking haunts feel attractive.

Entertaining the Idea of Drinking and Reminiscing over the Past

The most obvious sign we’ve become too complacent is that we start thinking about drinking more. We also start remembering the good times that happened when we were drinking.

These feelings are really the end result of losing serenity as a result of cutting back on recovery. Before the thoughts to drink occur, we’ve likely already built up new resentments, frustration at our situation in life, or constant irritability during the course of the day. So the feelings to drink are the symptom of taking less action and letting problems pile up.

The obsession to drink again is a dangerous place in sobriety and should shake you into thinking that you may be off course.

As you look back over the past few months, you’ll likely see that you’ve engaged less in recovery, such as letting commitments and schedules lapse. Instead, you’ve become more involved in affairs that seem more important, such as building wealth, getting into a relationship, or excelling in a career.

Alternatively, we may see that we’ve built up excuses for not attending to recovery as much. For instance, we may be avoiding certain annoying personalities at meetings or having to listen to the same stories again. We always have “something better to do” instead.

However, it must remain a constant that we keep sobriety first, lest we lose all the good we have from a relapse.


The bullet points above roughly outline the behaviors and mind frames that signal we’re removing too much from our recovery. We don’t always know what aspects of recovery keep us sober, so we must keep the pillars in place no matter how busy our lives get.

Recognizing the signs early can motivate us to return to an activity level that makes us feel serene, avoid relationship conflicts, and protect against feelings of loneliness and despair.

We can’t drift into the belief that our accomplishments are protective against the first drink. The activities that got us sober can keep us sober long term if we stay engaged.

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