When you first enter recovery, your goals may revolve around simply getting through the day without using. But once you’re past the initial hump of quitting a substance, setting goals for long-term sobriety helps you stay focused on recovery while improving your life on many fronts.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, many people forget what their pre-addiction goals were.1 They may have forgotten what once brought them joy and meaning in life. Setting goals helps to rekindle those old inspirations and ignite new ones. Striving to reach your goals gives you purpose, and achieving them improves your self-confidence. These go a very long way toward helping you stay sober for the long-term.
Long-Term, Mid-Range and Short-Term Goals
Goals for long-term sobriety aren’t just about abstaining from drug or alcohol use for the next few years. Your long-term goals can be about anything you want to achieve. The point is that setting goals has been shown through a large body of research to help you get where you want to go by keeping you focused on the things you want to achieve.
There’s an art to goal-setting, and it starts with looking ahead to the next five years or so and thinking about where you would like to be and what you would like to be doing. These are your long-term goals, and each one should be broken down into the essential steps you need to take in order to achieve it. These, then, are your mid-range goals. Break each mid-range goal down into the essential steps you need to take to achieve it, and these become your short-term goals.
For example, if your long-term goal is to have a degree in five years, your mid-range goals will bring you closer to that degree. These may include getting accepted to a school and finding a way to pay for it. Breaking each of these mid-range goals into short-term goals gives you a road map to follow. The short-term goals in this case might be to gather information about admissions and financial aid and fill out applications.
Setting Goals for Long-Term Sobriety the SMART Way
Once you have your short-term goals, the next step is to apply the SMART framework to them. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Specific.
Specific means the goal is exact, such as “fill out one grant application each week” or “call the admissions office to find out what I need to do to get accepted.”
Measurable means that you can measure the progress you’re making. “Get accepted into a degree program” is not a measurable goal, but “fill out all application paperwork and submit it to admissions by October 15” is.
Achievable means that the goal is realistic. Filling out one grant application a week is realistic, but filling out ten a week may not be.
Relevant means that meeting the short-term goal will propel you that much closer to reaching the mid-range and long-term goals.
Time-specific means that you have a deadline to complete the task so that you stay on track to reach your goals.
Choosing Your Goals for Long-Term Sobriety
Maintaining long-term sobriety requires having a sense of purpose and meaning in life. The happier and more fulfilling your life is without drugs or alcohol, the easier it will be to abstain from substance use, according to an article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.2 Think about your inherent strengths and values, and think about what would give your life more joy and meaning. Then, set SMART goals for long-term sobriety to get you there.