How to Set Realistic Goals for Recovery

Setting realistic goalsOnce you have committed to changing your lifestyle, consider the types of goals that will help you stay on track. Goals should be ambitious and motivate you to make important strides for your health and well-being, but they should also be reachable. We often warn against making promises to friends and family that you’re likely to break. Apply that same principle to how you set your goals. Your goals should be realistic.

Setting short-term goals can help you celebrate victories along the way to more challenging, long-term goals. Businesses talk about goal-setting in terms of creating S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely. This way of thinking can be applied to your recovery goals. Consider how you can develop realistic goals in the following areas: personal, relational, and professional.

Personal: Creating a new space

Your personal goals are the steps you take to encourage your own sobriety and set yourself up for success. These are daily or weekly commitments to making healthy decisions and placing yourself in supportive environments. Establishing a healthier lifestyle means creating a new space where it’s easier to avoid drugs and alcohol.

When you initially return home from treatment, your short-term goals may be to get rid of all drugs or paraphernalia in your room or to delete dealers’ contact information from your phone. Take those steps so that a lapse of judgment or temptation to relapse isn’t so easy to pursue. Weekly goals may include keeping any scheduled commitments, like going to AA meetings, doctor’s appointments, or even fitness activities.

Depending on your living situation, other personal goals could include finding a new apartment, saving money to buy a car, or cleaning out your current home to free it from any reminders of using. Working toward short-term goals gives structure to your schedule and purpose to new habits, helping you stay focused on recovery.


  • This week I will throw out any alcohol in my possession.
  • This month I will pay $___ toward my credit card debt.
  • This year I will move into a new apartment.

Relational: Rebuilding your community

Relational goals are the efforts you make to create, repair, or maintain relationships. Most people struggling with substance abuse wind up in toxic relationships with family or friends. In some cases, a loved one might become codependent, suffering in their own ways from the power of someone else’s addiction. Recognize that the people closest to you are on their own recovery journeys in the aftermath of your substance abuse. Repairing those relationships requires humility, forgiveness, and time.

Perhaps you lost contact with loved ones in the pit of your addiction. Maybe you lost your children or your spouse. Do you want those relationships back? What will it take to regain those relationships?

Invest your time in people who support your recovery. Avoid spending time with peers who may tempt you to slip. If you used to get high with a certain group of friends, don’t risk testing yourself in those situations. Consider developing new relationships with people who provide a positive influence and keep you accountable.


  • This week I will call each person in my immediate family.
  • This month I will go to a family counseling session with my spouse.
  • This year I will regain visitation rights to see my children.

Professional: Regaining your independence

Perhaps your substance abuse inhibited you from maintaining a steady job. Maybe chasing a high eventually made you quit or lose your job, or maybe you were in an unsafe work environment that drove you to continue drinking or using. Whatever the circumstance may be, consider what steps you can take to obtain a stable job and make enough money to meet your expenses. Use online resources like LinkedIn and Indeed to aid your job search.

As you begin starting over in other personal areas, perhaps this season of life is an opportunity to make a career change. What types of jobs interest you? What are you passionate about? Taking classes at a local community college or trade school doesn’t have to be intimidating. Challenge yourself to learning a new skill or earning a certification that can propel you to a career you want.


  • This week I will attend a job fair and introduce myself to three people.
  • This month I will apply for 10 jobs.
  • This year I will secure a full-time job.

Getting a fresh start

Whatever your goals may be, don’t just commit them to memory. Writing down your goals can help you focus your intent and clarify the details. As you move toward a healthier lifestyle, treat this season as an opportunity to get a fresh start in all aspects of your life and become the person you want to be.

Learn more ways to work toward a continuously healthy lifestyle.