You CAN live a SOBER LIFE again - CALL NOW for treatment options

Examining Your Relationship with Drugs and Alcohol: The Timeline Approach


relationship – noun (re·la·tion·ship \-shən-ˌship\): the way in which two or more people or things are connected

According to Merriam-Webster, your drug or alcohol addiction is a relationship. In fact, it’s quite common to hear those in recovery circles refer to their sobriety as a “break-up” with drugs or alcohol. After all, there were likely some blissful years – a honeymoon period of sorts – before things got rocky. And once they got rocky, there were disagreements, lies, mistakes, and the inevitable reconciliations.

Eventually, though, the lows began to outweigh the highs and you got the sense that it was time to end things. But regardless of how toxic the circumstances have become, you know that ending a relationship is never easy. Frankly, you’ve grown accustomed to having your addiction around. Even imagining a life without it invokes panic and fear.

Timelines are a powerful way to explore the history of your relationship with substances. Getting the details in writing can afford you with a more objective standpoint and can also bring unexpected insights to the surface. The following exercise is one I suggest to many clients who are contemplating sobriety, and I found it quite useful in my own “break-up” with alcohol as well.

What You’ll Need:

  • Blank page (or two) for timeline
  • Notebook/Journal
  • Pen/Markers (several colors)
  • A quiet space that’s appropriate for reflection

Step 1:

Create a timeline (just like those you recall from your middle school history books) that covers your year of birth to the present.

Step 2:

Select a new color and write in remarkable dates. They don’t have to be exact, but should include both positive and negative markers in your life. Consider births, breakups/divorces, moves, deaths, weddings, accidents, vacations, graduations, awards, injuries, and any other monumental periods that surface as you reflect.

Step 3:

With a new color, jot down the history of your relationship with alcohol or drugs, beginning in childhood. Consider these questions as you reflect:

  • When was I first aware that drugs/alcohol existed?
  • What role did substances play in my childhood?
  • When did I first try alcohol/drugs?
  • Was there a period where I moderated my use?
  • When did I first begin using substances in a problematic way?

Step 4:

With a different color, write down feelings you associate with the events you’ve included in your timeline. Don’t limit yourself to “sad” and “happy” during this step. Consider feelings like loneliness, anger, pain, fatigue, and anxiety as well.

Step 5:

With your notebook/journal, write a reflection on Steps 1-4. Write freely about your impressions, but also consider the following questions as you process the exercise:

  • Did anything unexpected surface in this process?
  • Is it clear, from my timeline, when my substance use became problematic?
  • What feelings surfaced most regularly on my timeline and how do they reflect my current relationship with alcohol or drugs?
  • Has my substance use fluctuated, plateaued, or progressed in adulthood?
  • What insights can I carry from this exercise into my recovery efforts?

By creating a visual of your history with substances, you can gain a firmer grasp on when and how your relationship devolved into troublesome territory. Processing your timeline with a therapist, support group, or sober confidant can afford you with additional insights.

There is no one-sized-fits-all approach to ending an abusive relationship. But by closely examining your personal history with drugs or alcohol, you will be more empowered to seek the solutions that work for you. Take comfort in the fact that the events you explored today are behind you. The remainder of your timeline is in your hands. You choose what comes next.

jen-anderson-addiction-counselorJen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), sobriety coach, former alcohol enthusiast, and writer living in Florida.

Related Articles

10 Best Movies About Drug Addiction When you’re in recovery from or drug addiction, you want to feed your soul things that nourish and inspire you. A great way to be encouraged in your recovery and be entertained at the same time is to ...
Veterans, Substance Abuse, and PTSD: Help is Available People who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have a higher rate of substance abuse than those who do not. The traumas they have experienced may seem too overwhelming and heavy, so they...
How to Involve Family in Your Addiction Recovery There is an art to hiding addiction. I liken it to a snapshot that is continually being Photoshopped. The original image is marked with scars, bruises, cuts, and dark undereye circles. As the addictio...
Helping Your Addicted Loved One Through the Holidays Jingle Bells piping through every speaker system in the city. Families laughing in Santa hats as the ham gets carved. Children tearing open gifts as they squeal with joy. The holidays are here again! ...
Dr. Oz: ‘The Face of Addiction Has Changed’ Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the nationally syndicated “The Dr. Oz Show,” was recently the headline speaker at the UNITE to Face Addiction rally in Washington D.C., where he said “the face of addiction in A...
Monthly Injection Vivitrol Helps Fight Opioid Addiction Vivitrol, a monthly injection of naltrexone, is making significant strides in helping addicts to stay clean from opioid drug dependence and addiction. The drug, a long-acting formulation of naltrex...
College Alcoholism: Signs and How Parents Can Help With Spring break in full swing, many parents are concerned that their college-age child is engaged in risky behavior, including destructive drinking patterns, which may lead to alcoholism. Every pare...
Managing Chronic Pain While in Recovery According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, doctors treat more than 100 million patients in the U.S. for chronic pain, including some in the recovery phase of addiction treatment. The challenge...
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 opt...
Addiction: The Disease of ‘Escapism’ I drank and used almost everyday for a full decade of my life. I picked up my first drink at 11 years old, in an act of rebellion towards my mother who had been clean and serene in Narcotics Anonymous...
The Struggle of Being a Parent in Recovery When I first began my recovery journey, I was the mother of two young children. At six and two-years-old, my kids were my number one priority. I was so grateful that they seemed to be spared from most...
Prescription Drug Addiction and the Workforce Prescription drug abuse comes in second only to marijuana as the United State's most prevalent illicit drug problem. Unfortunately, a large number of people naively abuse or become addicted to prescri...