Get help today 888-319-2606 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Fears That Can Sabotage Recovery and How to Manage Them

One thing that all addicts have in common when starting recovery is that they are often afraid of the process.

Such fear is nothing to be ashamed of because it is natural. Our brains are hard-wired to become uncomfortable in the face of the unknown. Simply the anticipation of a potentially unpleasant or stressful circumstance causes the brain to go into flight or fight mode. And since fear is always about something that might or could happen but hasn’t happened yet, it is a reaction to an imagined, rather than a real, event.

Fear is always about loss; it is present only when there is desire. Fear arises when there is a conflict between what you want, need or love and what might happen if that want, need, or love is not fulfilled. Addressing fears in recovery is important because, despite being mere flights of imagination, fears have the power to derail many of your recovery efforts.

What are Some of the Most Common Recovery Fears?

  • Fear of Change: In addiction, there is often a sense of familiarity and comfort, regardless of any obvious discomforts, including physical and emotional pain. In a way, drugs or alcohol can help a person feel more in control of difficult feelings and free from worry. But that is not because these issues are being taken care of; they are simply being denied or blocked from conscious awareness.
  • Fear of Feeling: Addiction is often an attempt to avoid feeling unpleasant feelings and thinking intolerable thoughts about one’s self (I’m a failure; I’m not good enough; I’m unworthy and unlovable, etc.) When you become sober these feelings are no longer suppressed, and the results can be overwhelming. Uncomfortable feelings now have to be addressed, rather than avoided.
  • Fear of Shame and Ridicule: Because addicts often have shameful feelings about themselves, they often assume that others view them as shameful and inadequate as well. Even more scary than allowing one’s own shame to be felt is the experience of feeling that others agree with your assessment.
  • Fear That You Won’t Be Able to Mend Your Mistakes: Broken friendships, shattered relationships, job loss: all these problems have to be fixed, and it is a daunting task. Not only that, you may fear that old habits and temptations will be too hard to resist, and you will relapse.
  • Fear of Loneliness and Boredom: In recovery you have to let go of “using buddies” and create new, more appropriate acquaintances and friendships. There is often a fear that you may never replace these lost associations, and you many never have as much fun again. Changing and restricting your access to the people and places that you enjoyed when addicted takes great self-discipline.

Addressing Recovery Fears

How do you address the specific fears and concerns that are related to recovery?

  • Fear of Facing Feelings: When you stop hiding feelings and face them head on, they can seem overwhelming. But if you focus on the outcome that you are trying to achieve–sobriety and a more fulfilled, authentic life–the promise of these rewards will provide the motivation you need to do the difficult work.
  • Fear of Loss and Loneliness: When you are forced to make sober lifestyle changes –
    forging new supportive friendships and replacing dysfunctional “using” friendships – 12 step and peer support groups are great places to find more appropriate linkages.
  • Fear of Failure/Relapse: This fear is appropriate and reasonable. It often does take multiple attempts, rather than one single attempt, to gain lasting sobriety. But you learn from each setback and gain insights that help you in repeat attempts, making them easier and more likely to hold. The key is to never give up. The goal is worth it.
  • Fear of the Responsibilities of Sobriety: The fear of responsibility and accountability can be unnerving. You may fear that you won’t be able to handle the requirements of a job, or your family responsibilities. But remember the strength and determination that you had to call on in order to get sober in first place. Use these same character traits to deal with daily duties, and with a bit of practice, any challenges you face will be easier to handle. 

Steps for Managing a Fearful Mind

All of us, whether in recovery or not, face fears. It is often the way you think about the things you fear that leads to success or failure in trying to overcome them. The following strategies will help you calm a fearful mind:

  • Recognize and Acknowledge Your Fears: You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Start by admitting to yourself what it is that you are really afraid of. Sit quietly for a few minutes and attempt to fully feel what you fear most, without resisting it. Remember, fear is an imagined perception, not a real thing. In truth, fear is an illusion; therefore, it cannot hurt you, even though it feels awful.  Recognize that you can feel awful – you can feel afraid – and still be okay.
  • Differentiate Between Rational and Irrational Fears: A healthy fear response is an evolutionary survival strategy. However, some fears are irrational and exaggerated by our own minds. It’s often these fears that cause us the most difficulty and emotional distress. If a fear is irrational, stop allowing it to influence your behavior.
  • Focus on the Present Moment: Remember fears are future worries. When in recovery, the goal is to stay sober today, and not worry about what happened in the past, or what will happen in the future. It’s ok to make plans for the future and to reconcile issues from the past. But you don’t have to be anxious or concerned about these things, if you stay focused in the present.
  • Consider the Alternative: Consider the impact that your fear and its associated feelings has had on your life. Has it kept you from doing things you would like to do, stopped you from trying, or prompted you to give up before you’ve even made an attempt? Has it caused you to procrastinate, make excuses or avoid testing yourself? If so, ask yourself, ‘Has this course of action made me happy?’ Then put in writing an alternative option. Complete this sentence: To face this fear and change my life I will_____________________________________________________.
  • Use Positive Thinking and Affirmations: Viewing yourself in a strongly negative light is equally as unrealistic as refusing to see your faults. Foster a more positive mindset by catching yourself whenever you detect negative self-reflections. Reverse the negative viewpoint with positive statements or affirmations. For example, when you find yourself chastising yourself and feeling like a failure because you made a mistake, say to yourself instead, ‘Now I know that this option doesn’t work; so I can try something different. I can re-focus and use this feedback to decide on a better course of action.’
  • Ask for Help and Support: Ask for help from people who care about you and your success – friends, family members, a licensed counselor or rehab specialist. Creating and using a support team will help you get results more quickly and easily.




Images Courtesy of iStock

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.