Living One Day at a Time: Why the 24-Hour Rule Is Crucial for Long-Term Sobriety

November 30, 2020

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. Its purpose is to remind us to stay in the day and not think too far ahead about our sobriety. Because the saying has become so ubiquitous, it can be easy to lose sight of the technique’s effectiveness. In fact, even studies have shown that it really works. Here are some reasons why the 24-hour rule is so beneficial.

It Makes Sobriety Feel Less Overwhelming

For someone with a substance use disorder, the thought of giving up alcohol or drugs for the rest of their lives can be an overwhelming and seemingly unattainable prospect. Staying sober for just 24 hours, on the other hand, typically feels like a much more manageable task. Over time, those days add up to weeks, then months, then years of continuous sobriety.woman at computer thinking about benefits of living one day at a time

Taking it one day at a time also gives you the opportunity to consciously recommit to yourself to recovery. This can be especially helpful when life gets really challenging or when you’re forced to deal disappointing setbacks such as relapse.

It Makes Tough Tasks Seem More Manageable

In addition to making abstinence feel doable, following the 24-hour rule can help ease the weight of everyday life stressors. Personally, one of the main reasons I drank was to calm the many anxieties I had over unforeseeable events in the future. (What do I do if I mess up that big presentation next month? How am I going to get X, Y, and Z done by next week?)

Now, rather than waste energy worrying unnecessarily about things that may or may not happen, I focus only on the problems I have to deal with today. Tomorrow’s issues can be handled tomorrow—it’s not like they’re going anywhere. Even the biggest life challenges feel much more manageable when I tackle them like this, one day at a time.

It Encourages Mindfulness

When you live with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, it’s impossible to enjoy the present. This can create uncomfortable feelings that trigger the temptation to drink or use. Utilizing the one-day-at-a-time technique can help mitigate this discomfort. After all, it requires us only to be concerned with the current 24 hours at hand. It’s much easier to ground yourself and stay sober when you’re living mindfully in the present, rather than wistfully in the past of fearful of the future.

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