Why the 24-Hour Rule Is Crucial for Long-Term Sobriety
The one-day-at-a-time mantra is used frequently in the world of recovery, particularly among people who follow the 12-Step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Its purpose is to remind individuals in recovery to stay in the present, focus on today, and not think too far ahead about sobriety. Because the saying has become so ubiquitous, it can be easy to lose sight of the technique’s effectiveness. In fact, according to a recent study that looked at brain scans of individuals with an alcohol use disorder, the brain takes a long time to normalize, which can make each day a struggle, especially initially.1 Here are some reasons why focusing on 24 hours at a time can be beneficial:
It Makes Sobriety Feel Less Overwhelming
For someone with a substance use disorder, the clinical term for a substance addiction, the thought of giving up alcohol or drugs for the rest of their lives may seem overwhelming and seemingly unattainable. However, remaining sober for just 24 hours can feel like a much more manageable task. Over time, those days add up to weeks, then months, then years of continuous sobriety.
Taking it one day at a time also gives individuals the opportunity to consciously recommit themselves to their recovery. This can be especially helpful when life gets really challenging or when individuals are forced to deal with disappointing setbacks, such as relapse.
It Makes Tough Tasks Seem More Manageable
In addition to making abstinence feel doable, following a 24-hour rule can help ease the weight of everyday life stressors.
I drank to calm the many anxieties I had over unforeseeable events in the future. I would think, “What do I do if I mess up that big presentation next month?” or “How am I going to get X, Y, and Z done by next week?”
In recovery, I no longer waste energy worrying unnecessarily about things that may or may not happen. I focus only on the problems I have to deal with today—and I don’t turn to alcohol to manage my stress. Even the biggest life challenges feel much more manageable when I tackle them like this, looking at what I can do today and only today.
It Encourages Mindfulness
Being mindful means being aware of your external surroundings as well as your inner experience, including your responses to what is going on around you. The very foundation of the practice of mindfulness focuses on increasing an awareness of the present moment, increasing time spent in the present moment, and being in control of one’s own mind. It requires self-discipline to focus only on the present and not get caught up on thoughts surrounding your past or future.