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Fears That Can Sabotage Recovery and How to Manage Them

Updated: Sep 11, 2022

One thing that all addicts have in common when starting recovery is that they are often afraid of the process.

Such fear is nothing to be ashamed of because it is natural. Our brains are hard-wired to become uncomfortable in the face of the unknown. Simply anticipating a potentially unpleasant or stressful circumstance causes the brain to go into flight or fight mode. And since fear is always about something that might or could happen but hasn’t happened yet, it is a reaction to an imagined event rather than a real one.

Fear is always about loss; it is present only when there is desire. Fear arises when there is a conflict between what you want, need, or love and what might happen if that want, need, or love is not fulfilled. Addressing fears in recovery is important because, despite being mere flights of imagination, fears have the power to derail many of your recovery efforts.

What are Some of the Most Common Recovery Fears?

  • Fear of Change: In addition, there is often a sense of familiarity and comfort, regardless of any obvious discomforts, including physical and emotional pain. Drugs or alcohol can help a person feel more in control of complicated feelings and worry-free. But that is not because these issues are being taken care of; they are being denied or blocked from conscious awareness.

  • Fear of Feeling: Addiction is often an attempt to avoid feeling unpleasant feelings and thinking intolerable thoughts about oneself (I’m a failure; I’m not good enough; I’m unworthy and unlovable, etc.) When you become sober, these feelings are no longer suppressed, and the results can be overwhelming. Uncomfortable feelings now have to be addressed rather than avoided.

  • Fear of Shame and Ridicule: Because addicts often have shameful feelings about themselves, they often assume that others view them as shameful and inadequate. Even scarier than allowing one’s shame to be felt is the experience of feeling that others agree with your assessment.

  • Fear That You Won’t Be Able to Mend Your Mistakes: Broken friendships, shattered relationships, job loss: all these problems must be fixed, and it is a daunting task. You may also fear that old habits and temptations will be too hard to resist, and you will relapse.

  • Fear of Loneliness and Boredom: In recovery, you must let go of “using buddies” and create new, more appropriate acquaintances and friendships. There is often a fear that you may never replace these lost associations, and you may never have as much fun again—changing and restricting your access to the people and places you enjoy when addicted takes excellent self-discipline.

Addressing Recovery Fears

How do you address the specific fears and concerns related to recovery?

  • Fear of Facing Feelings: When you stop hiding feelings and face them head-on, they can seem overwhelming. But if you focus on the outcome you are trying to achieve–sobriety and a more fulfilled, authentic life–the promise of these rewards will provide the motivation you need to do the difficult work.

  • Fear of Loss and Loneliness: When you are forced to make sober lifestyle changes – Forging new supportive friendships and replacing dysfunctional “using” friendships – 12-step and peer support groups are great places to find more appropriate linkages.

  • Fear of Failure/Relapse: This fear is appropriate and reasonable. It can take more than one single attempt to gain lasting sobriety. But you learn from each setback and gain insights that help you in repeat attempts, making them easier and more likely to hold. The key is never to give up; the goal is worth it.

  • Fear of the Responsibilities of Sobriety: The fear of responsibility and accountability can be scary. You may fear that you won’t be able to handle the requirements of a job or your family responsibilities. But remember the strength and determination you had to call on to get sober in the first place. Use these same character traits to deal with daily duties; with a bit of practice, any challenges you face will be easier to handle.

Steps for Managing a Fearful Mind

All of us, whether in recovery or not, face fears. Often, the way you think about the things you fear leads to success or failure in trying to overcome them. The following strategies will help you calm a fearful mind:

  • Recognize and Acknowledge Your Fears: You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Start by admitting to yourself what you are terrified of. Sit quietly for a few minutes and attempt to fully feel what you fear most without resisting it. Remember, fear is an imagined perception, not a real thing. In truth, fear is an illusion; therefore, it cannot hurt you, even though it feels awful. Recognize that you can feel awful – you can feel afraid – and still be okay.

  • Differentiate Between Rational and Irrational Fears: A healthy fear response is an evolutionary survival strategy. However, some fears are irrational and exaggerated by our minds, and these fears often cause us the most difficulty and emotional distress. If the fear is irrational, stop allowing it to influence your behavior.

  • Focus on the Present Moment: Remember fears are future worries. When in recovery, the goal is to stay sober today and not worry about what happened in the past or what will happen in the future. It’s okay to make plans for the future and reconcile past issues. But you don’t have to be anxious or concerned about these things if you stay focused on the present.

  • Consider the Alternative: Consider the impact your fear and its associated feelings have had on your life. Has it kept you from doing things you would like, stopped you from trying, or prompted you to give up before you’ve even attempted? Has it caused you to procrastinate, make excuses or avoid testing yourself? If so, ask yourself, ‘Has this course of action made me happy?’ Then put in writing an alternative option. Complete this sentence: To face this fear and change my life I will___________.

  • Use Positive Thinking and Affirmations: Viewing yourself in a strongly negative light is equally as unrealistic as refusing to see your faults. Foster a more positive mindset by catching yourself whenever you detect negative self-reflection. Reverse the negative viewpoint with positive statements or affirmations. For example, when you chastise yourself and feel like a failure because you made a mistake, say to yourself, ‘Now I know that this option doesn’t work, so that I can try something different. I can re-focus and use this feedback to decide on a better course of action.’

  • Ask for Help and Support: Ask for help from people who care about you and your success – friends, family members, a licensed counselor, or a rehab specialist. Creating and using a support team will help you get results more quickly and easily.


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