At the start of recovery, abstinence might feel impossible. If you’ve been using drugs or drinking day after day and suddenly end your substance use, it might even feel shocking. However, slowly, little by little, a person can eventually learn to leave substance use behind them. A person can slowly learn to change their lifestyle and create a life of sobriety, recovery, and healing.

In fact, according to a Harvard University research study, if a person can stay sober for five years, they are more likely to avoid relapse. The study followed 268 male Harvard undergraduates and 456 inner-city male adolescents to examine their alcohol use and their patterns of addiction, relapse, or recovery. The men were followed all the way through their elderly years. The researchers surveyed the men every two years with a questionnaire, and every five years with a physical examination. Later in their lives, some of these men continued to use alcohol and showed signs of alcoholism. Interestingly, the Harvard graduates showed signs of continued alcohol abuse while many of the men from the inner city learned to stop drinking.

However, the research also found that after five years, those who had stopped drinking showed that they were firm in their recovery and didn’t return to drinking. In fact, George Vaillant, professor of psychiatry, who headed the research, commented, “After five years of sobriety, however, relapse was rare. Before this study no one knew how long an alcoholic has to be sober to be cured.”

Knowing this timeline might give a recovering addict a goal to shoot for. If a person can keep their recovery going for five years, then they might reach a point of security in their sobriety. They might feel as though they are past the hardest part. At five years, a person might feel confidence in their recovery.

If you’d like to get to this place, there are some specific steps you can take to strengthen your sobriety and reach a five-year point. For instance:

  1. Learn relaxation techniques. When a person learns how to relax, they will tend to feel less anxious and overwhelmed by life’s stresses. And in turn, they will be less likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
  2. Have a network of support around you. When people feel supported, they have hope, courage, and inner strength with which to face challenges.
  3. Know your triggers. When a person is triggered (by certain people, places, or things) they may turn to substances to cope with their feelings. However, if a person knows ahead of time what their triggers are, they can prepare ahead of time as well as utilize the support they have.
  4. Take care of yourself. When a person eats well, gets enough sleep, and exercises, their psychological along with their physical well being is better supported.
  5. Look at who you’re spending time with. If you’re hanging around those who are still using, or talking about using, then you might be influenced by that. However, if you spend time with those who are sober and who are striving towards sobriety, you’re likely to be influenced in that way too.


The above tips are suggestions for staying sober longer. If you can reach the five year point, you might find that your chances of relapse are slim to none.

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