At times, recovery can seem like a long, grueling process. Luckily, patience is something that people can develop with practice and can make recovery easier.

Good things usually take time. This is especially true when it comes to addiction and recovery. The recovery process can take a long time, and people will get through it more easily if they have more patience. The good news is that patience can be developed and practiced.

Patience is the ability to deal with problems or stress in a calm manner and not give up. People who are patient are better able to recognize that they can’t get everything they want right away and are willing to wait and put in effort in the present because they believe that the future reward will be worth it. Having patience in recovery can help people avoid relapse, learn to deal with difficult situations in a healthy way and help them make steady progress.

Why Is Patience So Important in Recovery?

Drug or alcohol use can affect the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is responsible for decision-making and self-control. Substance abuse can weaken a person’s self-control and make them more used to giving in to wants or cravings in the moment rather than waiting for a better time or considering the long-term consequences. People in recovery often have to relearn what it’s like to be patient. Practicing it early and often can help people stay on the right track.

While going through rehab or other drug or alcohol treatment, it’s important for a person to have patience with themselves, with others, and with the recovery process as a whole. People should be patient with themselves because it’s common for treatment to take longer than someone expects. People can often get frustrated because they have to take time away from their daily life or from activities they enjoy in order to focus on healing. Having patience may not make the process go by quicker, but it can make it more manageable.

It’s also important for a person to be patient with the people around them. Not everyone will be supportive of the recovery process, and some loved ones may not believe that the person will change. Being patient and understanding that rebuilding trust takes time can help people who are recovering not be as frustrated with the process. Patience may also be needed with peers who are in recovery. It might make someone feel angry or defeated to see others moving at a faster pace. However, recovery happens at different speeds for everyone, and moving at a slower pace might work better for someone in the long run.

In the long run, learning how to have patience in recovery can help a person with relapse prevention. People in recovery not only have to learn to live without substance use, but they also need to figure out how to address the underlying reasons why they turned to drugs or alcohol in the first place. Often, stress is a factor in why people start using; someone may have been overwhelmed with work, school or family responsibilities. Learning patience can be a good stress management skill. Other benefits of patience include:

  • Helping people manage unexpected challenges
  • Encouraging people to live in the moment
  • Giving people more strength to resist cravings
  • Allowing people to become more accepting of themselves

How to Develop Patience in Recovery

Developing patience can take a while, but there are things a person can do to get better at it. Someone dealing with addiction and recovery can talk to a counselor or peers in a support group to get more ideas about how to develop patience.

Practice Waiting

Practice is one of the best ways to get better at being patient. Someone can practice this during addiction recovery by assuming that things will take longer than expected and being willing to be flexible and make changes to treatment plans based on current needs.

Other ways to practice patience include finding a hobby that requires a lot of waiting. This might include spending time gardening and waiting for plants or flowers over time, learning how to fish, or taking on an art project that involves several steps that all have to be completed in order. Practicing gratitude can also help people focus on the things they do have instead of being frustrated by the goals they haven’t reached yet. People trying to learn how to practice patience can keep a notebook or journal with them and write down three things they’re thankful for every time they feel impatient.

Keep a Journal

A big part of patience is learning how to manage emotions. Journaling in recovery can help with this. Often, writing things down that cause negative emotions like fear, anger or frustration can help a person figure out how to deal with them, and can even sometimes help them go away. When people force themselves to wait and when they think before acting, they can stop themselves from making decisions that they later regret. Other benefits of journaling in recovery may include being able to track moods and cravings more accurately, which can help people understand their triggers.

Practice Mindfulness

Many people have heard the phrase “focus on the journey, not the destination.” When someone focuses on the things that are around them in the present moment, this is called mindfulness. Mindfulness in addiction recovery can be very helpful when the end goal seems very far away. Focusing on the present rather than the past or the future can help reduce a person’s feelings of guilt or anxiety. Many studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help people in recovery prevent relapse. People can practice mindfulness in recovery by practicing yoga, meditation, deep breathing or relaxation techniques. The simplest way to do this, however, is to regularly look, listen, feel and experience what is going on!

Set Realistic Goals & Expectations

If someone thinks that their life will immediately improve after they go through detox, they will probably be disappointed. Recovery is a long process, and expecting to get better right away will often lead to frustration, decreased motivation, and depression. It’s also important to note that about 40-60% of people going through recovery for drug or alcohol use end up relapsing.

This doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless, though. It just means that people need to be realistic about the challenges that they will face while being in recovery. Talking to a counselor or peer support group can help people set realistic addiction recovery goals.

That way, when people reach their goals, they can benefit from increased self-confidence and motivation. Goal-setting in recovery is an ongoing process. It’s important for people to be flexible and change their goals if they realize a plan was too ambitious or if their priorities change. It’s also good to recognize that every single person has bad days in recovery, and finding healthy outlets for frustration or other negative emotions can help. These may include getting some exercise, venting to a friend or deep breathing.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, The Recovery Village can help. Contact us today to learn more about our variety of treatment programs that can help people learn the skills they need in order to stay sober.

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Editor – Rob Alston
Rob Alston has traveled around Australia, Japan, Europe, and America as a writer and editor for industries including personal wellness and recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Maureen McNulty
Maureen is an academic researcher with a passion for science communication. She has a bachelor's degree from The Ohio State University, where she majored in Molecular Genetics and minored in English. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drugs and the Brain.” Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, Updated July 2018. Accessed September 18, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment and Recovery.” Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, Updated July 2018. Accessed September 18, 2019.

Priddy, Sarah E. “Mindfulness meditation in the treatment […]linical implications.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, November 16, 2018. Accessed September 18, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.