Fighting against substance use can feel a little like a roller coaster. The fight has its ups and downs, twists and turns, high moments and low moments. And ultimately, it can take a lot out of you. Even individuals winning the fight against substance use can feel the weathering effects of the day-to-day battle. That’s why it’s so important that anyone fighting to overcome substance use set definitive, concrete goals that can be measured and tracked.

Setting goals is a relatively simple task. However, it’s a transformative process, one that can mark the difference between sustained abstinence from substance use, and slipping back into damaging drug and alcohol practices. It’s important that goals be kept concrete and attainable, that victories are celebrated as much as setbacks are recognized, and that accountability be maintained from individuals who care about your well-being.

Keep goals simple, concrete and realistic

Especially if you’re not sure how to set substance use goals, there are three characteristic benchmarks that can help: keep objectives simple, concrete and realistic.

First, keep your goals simple. By simple, we don’t mean “easy to accomplish;” rather, we mean that you should strive to achieve the simplest version of your goal. Don’t add caveats or qualifying details. Instead, see if you can consolidate your goals to be expressed in one or two sentences, so that you can easily track how you’re progressing.

It’s also important that goals be kept concrete. Abstract goals like “I want to stop using drugs and alcohol” typically fail not because they’re unrealistic, but because they’re not concrete. When you’re setting concrete goals, include qualifying details like dates, times of the day, lengths of time or activities. This way, you’ll know exactly when and how goals are accomplished, and you can closely identify which best practices led to goal fulfillment. On the contrary, you’ll also be able to identify any activities that came between you and your goals. 

Lastly, keep goals realistic. If you’re just beginning to distance yourself from damaging substance use practices, it’s likely not a good idea to set the goal of “I will not think about drug or alcohol use for 30 days.” Instead, set more realistic goals, objectives that better describe what you can achieve in the moment. As you slowly develop a better grasp on your situation, there is always time to set and achieve more lofty goals.

Celebrate victories as much as you recognize setbacks

Too often, goal-setting when it comes to drug and alcohol use is terribly one-sided. In other words, individuals trying to end substance use practices are quick to judge themselves whenever a setback occurs, but they allow small victories to pass without any celebration. We’re here to tell you that it’s just as important to recognize your victories as it is your challenges!

After you set concrete, realistic goals, you set about accomplishing them. And when you do – because you will – take the time to really celebrate. We’re not talking about a pat on the back; take the time to actually congratulate yourself on achieving your goal. This step is also important because it forces you to identify creative, healthy ways to reward yourself for positive behavior. Where before you may have fallen into drug or alcohol use as a means of celebration, you now must define new ways to recognize goal achievement.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t also recognize setbacks. However, when setbacks occur – and they will – criticism doesn’t mean degradation. Beating yourself up for a failure does nothing to help you push toward further success. Instead, take the time to identify why you were unsuccessful in realizing your goals. Identify which activities specifically contributed toward the setback, and guard against them in the future. When setbacks happen, take the time to assess them, but then make sure you set a new goal. Reset the timer, and begin progressing toward a new goal.

Allow loved ones to keep you accountable for your actions

Too many individuals try to solve substance use issues on their own. When you find yourself fighting against consistent drug and alcohol use, don’t be afraid to let beloved family members and friends know. And when you’re ready, invite them to fight alongside you, and to keep you accountable for the decision you make (and don’t make) along the way.

Give loved ones the permission to ask you how your fight against substance use is progressing, and how your journey toward goals is going today, this week and this month. It’s important that when you speak with loved ones keeping you accountable, you maintain honesty. While family members and friends by no means take the place of licensed therapy and treatment for substance use, they are immensely helpful at every step in the journey from substance use to sustained freedom and recovery. Your accountability team and cheering section alike, friends and family members can keep you on the right track toward accomplishing concrete objectives you’ve set.

Make sure you receive the treatment you need

Setting concrete, realistic goals, recognizing victories alongside setbacks and allowing loved ones to keep you accountable are great first steps toward distancing yourself from substance use. But it’s also important that you receive the professional help you need during this time. Offering PHP, IOP and outpatient treatment for substance use disorders, Real Recovery Clinical helps you find unique ways to make recovery more possible than ever. Even if you thought full recovery was never a possibility for you, Real Recovery Clinical offers evidence-based addiction treatment that helps restore health and zeal for life.