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Creating a Recovery Toolbox


A recovery toolbox is a catch-all phrase for the resources, coping strategies, and supports that an addict collects during his treatment journey. As the world of individualized addiction treatment options continues to evolve, the importance of a comprehensive recovery toolbox remains both a necessary and universal component of the process.

Prior to establishing a healthy toolbox, addicts tend to employ coping strategies that perpetuate the substance abuse cycle and are damaging in both emotional and physical ways. The obvious culprits are drugs and alcohol, but other negative coping skills like avoidance, compartmentalizing, and denial tend to co-occur.

Just as treatment interventions vary from client to client, so do the contents of the toolbox. Below, you will find some examples that can easily be tweaked to meet your own needs or the needs of an addicted loved one.

Support System

A healthy support system is a critical component of recovery. It includes any professional and personal contacts that encourage your sobriety journey. Typical members of a support system include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Therapist
  • Addictions Specialist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Face-to-Face Support Group
  • Digital Sobriety Forums
  • Religious Leaders/Organizations
  • Mentor
  • Sponsor
  • Sober Friends
  • Family Members
  • Inpatient Treatment Team

Coping Skills

In many cases, an addict benefits from reflecting on the years prior to the onset of the addiction. What hobbies did he enjoy? What passions did he pursue? Revisiting some of the experiences that were overshadowed by substance abuse proves a great segue into establishing a list of healthier coping skills. Cravings can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable and having a written list of alternatives to drugs and alcohol can make the challenges of early recovery feel less overwhelming. Some examples include:

  • Exercise
  • Journal
  • Read
  • Arts/Crafts
  • Yoga
  • Attend a Sober Meeting
  • Online Classes
  • Continuing Education Opportunities
  • Cook
  • Play Musical Instruments
  • Listen to a Podcast
  • Surf the Internet
  • Watch a Movie
  • Garden
  • Clean
  • Sports
  • House Projects/Organization
  • Allocate Money Previously Used on Drugs/Alcohol for Something Special
  • Massage
  • Call a Supportive Friend
  • Hot Bath
  • Dessert
  • Plan a Weekend Getaway
  • Play a Mindless Game
  • Walk


What resonates with one addict might hold no weight for another. It’s important, in early recovery, to seek out materials that support your individual journey. This library of resources is another key component of your toolbox and one you can reference in all phases of treatment. A personal addiction library might include:

  • Self-Help Books/Workbooks
  • Sobriety Blogs
  • Online Addiction Forums
  • Addiction Memoirs
  • Substance Abuse Statistics
  • Addiction Success Stories

Emergency Sobriety Kit

While many contents in your toolbox are metaphorical, having a physical “grab bag” can prove useful when triggering events occur. A kit might contain:

  • A Fruity Non-Alcoholic Drink
  • Snacks (Hunger Is Often Sighted as a Common Trigger)
  • Earphones and a Device that Plays Music/Podcasts
  • A Piece of Paper with Your Favorite Sober Quote or Mantra
  • A Lotion with Your Favorite Calming Scent
  • A Copy of Your Latest Sobriety Read
  • A Journal to Jot Down Your Thoughts/Frustrations
  • A Stress Ball
  • Workout Gear for an Impromptu Session
  • A Folder On Your Phone Containing all Sobriety Apps/Forums/Contact
  • A List of Local Sobriety Meetings/Times

Emotional Coping Strategies

In addition to identifying healthier physical outlets, addicts must also explore the emotional underpinnings of addiction. Substance abuse often leads to distorted thought patterns like black and white thinking and catastrophizing. An important component of the recovery journey involves the recognition of these negative patterns and the employment of more positive ones. Healthy emotional strategies are often introduced by treatment professionals and can be incorporated into the addict’s daily routine:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Mindfulness
  • Challenging Distorted Beliefs
  • Meditation/Breathing Exercises
  • Mood Monitoring/Logging Patterns
  • De-escalation Techniques

When working with addicts, I assure them that sobriety is not a prerequisite for exploring healthier coping strategies. For those in the contemplation phase of the recovery process, this allows important steps to be taken before the commitment to sobriety has even been established. In fact, having a solid foundation of replacement behaviors identified can make an addict feel less vulnerable when he ultimately decides to quit drugs or alcohol.

The contents of a sobriety toolbox will change and expand over time. For that reason, I often encourage my clients to stage periodic “inventories” of the contents. Revisiting these lists can highlight tools that may have been neglected and can also provide an opportunity to introduce some new ones.

Blogs like Hip Sobriety have their own take on a healthy toolbox, and serve up suggestions that might merit inclusion in your own recovery journey. Reflecting on her own collection of resources Hip Sobriety’s founder, Holly Whitaker, states:

“My house is a post-it museum, my Instagram feed is a never-ending self-help book, my phone vibrates on the hour with a mantra, and I own various iPhone apps that drop some dharma once a day. Basically, my life is a motivational quote. And for good reason: words work. And they work well. At halting our behavior, at raising our spirits, at changing the story, at reminding us the truth, at pulling us up.”

As you navigate your unique recovery journey, continue to collect the resources and tools that resonate. Eventually, you’ll have healthy alternatives for any of the hurdles that come your way and a toolbox that reflects who you truly are.

jen-anderson-addiction-counselorJen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son.

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