Resilience in Recovery: What It Means, and How To Build It

Coach reviewed by Kerri J. Reyes, MPH, LCDC on September 6, 2022

Table of Contents

Resilience and recovery from alcohol addiction go hand in hand. Because in those moments when you feel overwhelmed or triggered, resilience is what keeps you on track and moving forward. But what exactly is resilience, and how can you develop it?

Read on to learn everything you need to know about resilience and recovery, including what it means, the research, and its role in establishing permanent change. 

What Is Resilience?

boy jumping framed by large window
Photo by Vlad Chețan on Pexels

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”1 In sobriety, this doesn’t just mean bouncing back after challenges. It also means actively dealing with obstacles as they come.

Mental health issues, financial struggles, relationship turbulence, and all of life’s other ups and downs are common when you get sober. Resilience in recovery means adapting to these changes, problem-solving, and healthily processing your emotions. And if you don’t feel like you’re very resilient right now, that’s okay—because resilience is something you can build over time.2

What Characteristics Do Resilient People Possess?

Can you think of someone who radiates calmness and self-assurance? Someone who, no matter what they go through, always seems to overcome their challenges and come out stronger? This is someone with high resilience.

Whether they know it or not, people like this have built up certain traits that make them more resilient. And they weren’t necessarily born like this. In fact, you likely already possess many of these qualities yourself. These include:

  • Self-awareness. This allows you to be realistic and honest about where you’re doing well, and where you could improve. 
  • The ability to embrace life’s changes. Resilient people have a “roll with the punches” sort of attitude. They know that they can’t completely control everything that happens in life—so they make the best out of the inevitable ebbs and flows.
  • Optimism. Optimism can help you focus on positive outcomes and the routes you can take to get there.
  • Equanimity. Equanimity is a sense of composure and calmness that allows you to stay steady, even in troublesome circumstances.
  • Determination. For highly resilient people, setbacks are never the end of the road. When something knocks them back, they find ways to get back up and continue forward.
  • Meaning. Resilient people find meaning in the changes they’re making. It might be rooted in religion or spirituality, helping others, or simply being present for the people they love.
help with alcohol addiction ria health
Need Help or Have Questions?

Schedule a private call with a Ria Health team member and we can help you get started.

What Is the Role of Resilience in Recovery?

Recovery is not a perfectly smooth ride, and that’s why resilience is essential. You’ll have plenty of highs and lows, from celebrating milestones to dealing with triggers, and everything in between. The good news is that the lows become much more manageable with resilience.

Research shows that “acquired resilience” (or resilience you learn over time) is linked to a lower risk of relapse.3 In other words, when you grow your resilience, you may be less likely to cave into drinking later on. A review from Alcohol Research: Current Reviews notes that optimism, focus, problem-solving skills, and social support may all be helpful building blocks for better resilience.4

So, what does this look like for those in recovery? When faced with stress, someone with resilience will actively problem-solve instead of using avoidance or drinking. They’ll consciously choose healthy coping skills, like reaching out to loved ones, planning solutions, and reframing to focus on the positive. As a whole, skills like these allow you to maintain composure and improve your success in recovery.

How To Develop Greater Resilience in Recovery

woman sitting on blue yoga ball smiling
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels

The research is clear: When you’re dealing with alcohol use problems, greater resilience can help you stay on track. But how can you develop this quality?

It takes time, but there are certain methods that can make it easier. Here are some of the best areas to focus on if you want to become more resilient:

1. Self-Care

Practicing self-care can help you manage stress, sadness, and other difficult emotions. And by managing your emotions, you can become more resilient to relapse. Here are some self-care tips to help you get started:

  • Practice healthy habits such as exercise, eating well, and journaling.
  • Prioritize your sleep.
  • Enjoy de-stressing activities like warm baths, reading, and unplugging from social media.
  • Give yourself permission to ask for help when you need it.

2. Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations can help you reaffirm to yourself that you can withstand your obstacles. They may also help you feel more optimistic and lean into healthier habits.

3. Social & Professional Support

Building strong connections with loved ones and friends means you’ll have people to lean on during challenging times. Support can also come from professional sources, such as therapists, counselors, or coaches. Professional support resources may understand and specialize in the concepts, benefits, and importance of building resilience when trying to maintain healthy changes within our lives.

4. Develop a Growth Mindset

Developing a growth mindset can help you build resilience by reframing the way you see yourself. But what is a growth mindset? It simply means you see your abilities, traits, and intelligence as things you can grow and improve upon, rather than being fixed or permanent. Having a growth mindset allows a person to persevere and actively seek and use resources, time and again, to support their success—without the threat of potential “failure” holding them back.5

5. Meditation and Mindfulness to Build Focus

Improving your focus through meditation and mindfulness can also build your resilience. Stronger focus can make you better at solving problems in each moment, which is helpful if you’ve struggled with avoidance in the past. The practice of meditation and/or mindfulness takes time to master and feel comfortable with. Therefore, consistent application, support, and repetition are very important when attempting to add this into your toolbox of building resilience and focus.

6. Acknowledge Your Strengths

When you look at your strengths, you’ll realize that you already have a foundation for resilience. For example, maybe you’re courageous, or good at finding solutions to everyday problems. Or maybe you’ve persevered through bad mental health days in the past, even when you thought you couldn’t.

Give yourself credit for your strengths, and don’t hesitate to draw upon them when you face challenges.

Read more: Staying Sober Long-Term

Resilience and Recovery: What to Remember

When you develop resilience in recovery, you can bounce back from rough days and become more confident in your ability to persevere.

Things that can help include self-care, positive affirmations, social support, and developing a growth mindset. Resilience-building takes time—but with the right habits, you can make remarkable progress.

Looking for More Support?

Ria Health is an online treatment program that can help you reach your alcohol-related goals, whether you want to drink moderately or quit entirely. When you sign up, you’ll gain access to medical professionals, recovery coaches, peer support groups, and more—all from your smartphone.

Learn more about how it works or get started today.


Have questions about online alcohol treatment?

or call (800) 504-5360

Written By:
Alicia Schultz
Alicia is a Minnesota-based freelancer who writes for Ria Health and various other brands in the health and wellness space. Beyond addiction and recovery, she also covers topics relating to general well-being, mindfulness, fitness, mental health, and more. When she’s not writing, you can find her relaxing with her three-legged cat, trying new workout routines, and spending time with her loved ones.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
Coach reviewed by Kerri J. Reyes, MPH, LCDC on September 6, 2022

Table of Contents

More Topics to Read
Have questions about online alcohol treatment?

or call (800) 504-5360

Is My Drinking Normal?

Take our short alcohol quiz to learn where you fall on the drinking spectrum and if you might benefit from quitting or cutting back on alcohol.