New Year’s Resolutions for People in Recovery

two women run together as part of new years resolution
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We made it.

You made it.

Another year in the books.

The New Year is almost here.

That means it’s time to make New Year’s Resolutions. If you’re in recovery from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and/or a substance use disorder (SUD), resolutions can help you on your recovery journey. And if you’re new to recovery – meaning this is the first New Year’s Eve/Day on your recovery journey – you can align your resolutions with your recovery goals. Which means that this may be the first time your resolutions have true meaning in your life.

In the past, you hay have resolved to lose weight, go to the gym more often, or save money. Those resolutions have true meaning, of course: for some people, losing weight and going to the gym are important, life-changing goals. For others, saving money is a survival imperative. In that way, they’re like recovery-oriented goals: they can be both life-changing and lifesaving.

When we say recovery-oriented goals can be life-changing, we mean it. It’s not hyperbole. Committing to recovery can save your life. Therefore, goals you create to support recovery are more than important: they’re essential. They’re part of your long-term plan to change your life, spend your days living on your terms, and increase your chances of achieving long-term, sustainable recovery.

This article is all about how to make resolutions that can support your ongoing recovery – or help initiate your recovery journey in 2023.

We’ll talk about what kind of resolutions you have the best chance of sticking to, how to make them, and how to manage them throughout the year.

We’ll start with general statistics – from public polls – about resolutions, then introduce scientific data on resolutions, offer specific tips on how you can use the evidence we present to make resolutions that keep you on track and help you thrive in recovery, and end with a list of possible resolutions for people in – or considering – recovery.

New Year’s Resolutions: What Polls and Surveys Say

According to a survey of U.S. adults published in December, 2021, here are the top ten resolutions people made for last year, 2022.

2022: Top Ten Resolutions

  1. Exercise more (48%)
  2. Eat healthier (44%)
  3. Lose weight (41%)
  4. Spend more time with family and friends (34%)
  5. Live more economically/save more money (24%)
  6. Spend less time on social media (21%)
  7. Reduce job stress (21%)
  8. Improve job performance (20%)
  9. Quit smoking (20%)
  10. Reduce alcohol intake (18%)

While we’re at it, let’s look back the top ten resolutions for 2021 and compare. This survey of U.S. adults was conducted in late 2020.

2021: Top Ten Resolutions

  1. Exercise and improve fitness (50%)
  2. Lose weight (48%)
  3. Save more money (44%)
  4. Improve diet (39%)
  5. Pursue a career ambition (21%)
  6. Spend more time with family (18%)
  7. Start a new hobby (14%)
  8. Spend less time on social media (135)
  9. Quit smoking (10%)
  10. Do volunteer work (10%)

Since we’re writing this article in the context of treatment and recovery from AUD and/or SUD, we’ll note the following for 2021:

  • 4% of survey respondents said they resolved to reduce their alcohol intake
  • 2% said they resolved to quit drinking alcohol entirely

Before we move from this public polling and survey data to data collected and analyzed by researchers, we have one last set of poll results to share: this one is about how confident people were they’d keep their resolutions.

 A poll conducted by The Economist and YouGov in December 2021 showed the following:

  • 37% said they were very confident they’d keep their resolutions
  • 42% said they were somewhat confident they’d keep their resolutions
  • 13% said they were not very confident they’d keep their resolutions
  • 4% said they were not at all confident they’d keep their resolutions
  • 4% said they were unsure either way

When we read that poll, we realized we had another goal: we want to help people in recovery make goals they’re very confident in reaching. We don’t expect one hundred percent of the people who read this article to keep their resolutions – that’s not reasonable. However, it is reasonable to think we can help one hundred percent of you make resolutions you’re very confident in keeping.

Before we get there, though, we’ll share the lasted scientific data on New Year’s Resolutions.

Now For the Science: What Research Says About Resolutions

Published in 2020, the study “A Large-Scale Experiment on New Year’s Resolutions: Approach-Oriented Goals Are More Successful Than Avoidance-Oriented Goals” examined what factors influenced whether people kept their resolutions or not. We’ll use the results of this study to help create the list of helpful hints we’ll offer at the end of this article.

For now, we’ll remark on a curious phenomenon the authors of this study uncovered: polls for the past several years show a remarkable consistency. They report that around 44% of respondents each year say they were “likely or very likely” to commit to some type of New Year’s resolution for the coming year. The most popular resolutions each year also follow a consistent pattern: they involve physical health, weight loss, and eating habits.

This study included 1,066 people from the New York City area between 2017-2019. Researchers divided participants into three groups:

1. An Active Control Group:

    • Participants who made resolutions and then were left alone, except for three follow up emails inquiring about whether they’d kept their resolutions.

2. A Supported Group:

    • Participants who made resolutions and identified one person in their social network they’d recruit to offer them support and encouragement throughout the year.
    • This group received 12 follow up emails
    • This group received one email with information about the value of social support in keeping resolutions and general tips on goal-setting

3. An Extended Support Group:

    • Participants who made resolutions and identified one person in their social network they’d recruit to offer them support and encouragement throughout the year.
    • This group received 12 follow up emails
    • This group received four emails with detailed information and exercises on effective goal setting, the importance of social support, and detailed instructions on how to keep resolutions

Researchers collected the following data for analysis:

  • Resolutions made:
    • What did they resolve?
      • Lose weight, learn a new hobby, etc.
    • What type of resolution?
      • Approach-oriented: I will learn a new hobby
      • Avoidance-oriented: I will stop drinking
    • Adherence to resolutions:
      • Did they keep them?
      • For how long?

Let’s take a look at what they found.

New Year’s Resolutions: The Results

First, here’s a list of the kinds of resolutions participants made. This list is similar to the informal public poll data we shared toward the beginning of this article.

Resolutions by Kind/Type

  • Physical health-related resolutions: 33%
  • Weight loss-related resolutions: 20%
  • Eating-related resolutions: 13%
  • Self-improvement-related resolutions: 9%
  • Mental health/sleep-related resolutions: 5%

Next, we’ll share the data on the rates at which participants kept their resolutions, and how long they kept them. The percentage indicates the share of people on track with their resolutions at the end of the month indicated.

Resolutions Kept: Month By Month

  • January: 88.8%
  • February: 80.9%
  • March: 75.1%
  • April: 74.4%
  • May: 73.6%
  • June: 67.8%
  • July: 71.1%
  • August: 71.6%
  • September: 73.7%
  • October: 69.4%
  • November: 66.2%
  • December: 54.7%

Those results are both self-explanatory and logical: as time passed, more people let go of their resolutions.

Now let’s look at the detailed data, which is more interesting. We’re curious about the impact of social support and goal-setting training on the participants, as well as the impact of the type of goal on adherence over the course of the year.

Here’s what they found.

The Impact of Social Support and Resolution Category

  • Social Support:
    • Group 2 – the social support + minimal goal setting advice group – kept their resolutions at the highest rate
    • Group 1 – the no support/no advice group – kept their resolutions at the second highest rate
    • Group 3 – the social support + detailed goal setting advice group + frequent reminder group – kept their resolutions at the lowest rate
  • Resolution Category:
    • Total: 58.9% of participants who made approach-oriented resolutions considered themselves successful
    • Total: 47.1% of participants who made avoidance-oriented resolutions considered themselves successful

That first set of results is somewhat surprising. The group with the most support and coaching on goal setting kept their resolutions at the lowest rate, the group with a small amount of coaching and at least one person offering support kept their resolutions at the highest rate, and the group with no coaching or support at all finished in between the two. That tells us useful information: social support matters, some good advice on setting goal matters, but too much support and too much advice/information may be counterproductive. We can relate: we like to know what we’re doing and have someone in our corner, but we also like to feel independent in our daily actions and behavior.

The second set is not surprising. Approach-oriented resolutions, elucidated and framed with positive language and perspective, are more effective than avoidance-oriented resolutions, which are elucidated with negative language and perspective. Think of it this way: resolutions conceived as “I will…” are more effective than resolutions conceived as “I will not…”

How can people in recovery use this approach – when most people think of the essential concept of recovery as an “I will not…” as in “I will not drink or use drugs.”

We’ll tell you now.

Recovery-Friendly Resolutions: How to Make Them

Using an “I will…” approach to resolutions is not hard: it’s a matter of changing perspective. We’ll use a non-recovery example to give you a basic idea of how to do it.

For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, here’s one way to make your resolution:

I will not eat snacks with processed sugar this year.

That’s obviously the I will not approach. Here’s the alternative:

I will eat apples, oranges, and bananas for all my snacks this year.

According to the data, the latter approach is superior to the former. We’ll take that approach in the list that follows.

New Year’s Resolutions for People in – or Considering – Recovery

1. Health-Related

“I will be more active this year.” To keep this resolution, I will:

    • Find a gym near me and join
    • Go on walks every day at lunch
    • Ride my bike on Saturdays
    • Spend at least an hour outside on Sundays

2. Social Support-Related

“I will be more social this year.” To keep this resolution, I will:

    • Call my sponsor every day
    • Go to AA/NA/community support meetings as often as possible
    • Answer the phone when friends call
    • Say yes to invitations to sober-friendly activities

3. Work-Related

“I will be more productive at work this year.” To keep this resolution, I will:

    • Arrive at work on time every day
    • Stay focused on tasks while at work
    • Listen to the advice of my more experienced coworkers
    • Check social media after work hours

4. Family-Related

“I will improve my relationship(s) with my family this year.” To keep this resolution, I will:

    • Attend family holiday gatherings this year
    • Call my parents or significant relatives at least once a week
    • Help my family members when they ask for help
    • Volunteer to do the dishes/clean up at family gatherings

5. Recovery-Related

“I will seek support for my opioid use this year.” To keep this resolution, I will:

    • Research the facts about medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder
    • Find a list of treatment centers near me and start making phone calls
    • Talk to friends who are in recovery about recovery
    • Commit to a full assessment from a medical professional to determine my level of need for SUD treatment

Those first four resolution ideas are for those of you who are already in recovery. Those are good, durable resolutions, framed in a way that maximize your likelihood of success. We don’t expect you to adopt these resolutions as-is, but rather, use them as templates for what you want to achieve in 2023.

That last resolution is for those of you who are not in treatment or recovery, but thinking about it. Taking those steps will help give you an idea of what your recovery journey might look like, without forcing you into something you’re not ready for – yet. We’ll end with one last message to anyone considering recovery but not there yet:

The sooner you get help for an alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD), the greater your chances of achieving sobriety and thriving in a life of recovery.