Fear and Addiction

Addiction recovery stirs up many emotions, but one common emotion people with addiction feel is fear. The idea of giving up the substance that has become such an important part of life leaves many unknowns. The potential for a negative outcome is what often causes fear in people facing addiction recovery. In essence, you fear what might happen, not what is actually happening to you. While fear can have a negative impact on the process, managing fear in recovery is possible with healthy coping methods.

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managing fear in recovery is possible with healthy coping methods

Definition of Fear

What is fear? You know it when you feel it, but putting fear into words is more of a challenge. Fear ranges from feelings of uneasiness to complete and overwhelming anxiety, and it can cause panic and stress. Fear relates to your concerns about the future. It is an emotion that causes distress over the possibility of pain, danger or other negative outcomes.

The triggers that cause fear may be real or imagined threats. For example, if you come face-to-face with a rattlesnake, you will likely have intense fear based on a real threat. When you contemplate recovery and feel fear over potentially being miserable without drugs, that is an imagined threat. Your mind is creating a scenario that could happen, and your brain runs with that thought, leaving you feeling fearful for your future.

The Connection Between Fear and Addiction

Fear often arises in addiction when you think about treatment and recovery or when you are not under the influence of your substance of choice. You worry about running out of drugs or alcohol. You worry about coping without your favorite substance. You may worry about losing things, such as your loved ones, your job and your money.

However, alcohol or drug use gives you a sense of familiarity. It feels normal to you even if it isn’t healthy or normal to other people. Substance abuse may help you escape negative feelings or have a false sense of happiness. When you stop using your substance of choice, you take away that security blanket, which can leave you feeling many negative emotions.

Despite the possible negative effects of the substance abuse itself, the fear of what could happen in recovery is often more powerful. The idea of facing life without the help of drugs or alcohol is a very scary prospect. You know what to expect when you drink or do drugs, but you don’t know what to expect from treatment and recovery.

Whether you are thinking about getting treatment or are already in treatment, fear is likely an emotion you feel. While it is normal, it is also potentially harmful to your recovery. Recognizing the fear and taking action helps you take those crucial first steps.

fear can be beneficial

Negative Effects of Fear in Addiction

A certain amount of fear can be beneficial in some circumstances. For instance, fear can keep you safe in potentially dangerous situations — such as when encountering a rattlesnake. Fear also often motivates you to make changes. The fear of losing custody of your kids, getting arrested, losing relationships or having serious health issues may prompt you to consider rehab in the first place.

The problem arises when the fear becomes overwhelming or interferes with your progress. At that point, fear can have negative effects on the addiction recovery process. Fear can interfere with your decision-making process and cause negative feelings.

certain fears may cause you to relapse

If you don’t manage your fear as you enter a treatment program, you may experience the following negative effects:

  • Failure to act: Fear can feel paralyzing, making it difficult to move forward or make decisions about rehab or anything in your life. You may let your fears convince you that rehab is not the best option for you, or you may simply refuse to take steps toward your recovery because of those feelings of fear. This failure to act delays you in getting the help you need. Waiting to enter addiction treatment puts you at greater risk for experiencing a life-altering event, such as an overdose or health problem. Overcoming your addiction may become more challenging the longer you abuse the substance.
  • Poor decision-making: Feelings of fear may interfere with good decision-making. Drugs and alcohol already cloud judgment. Adding fear into the mix can also get in the way of making positive decisions that guide you on the path to recovery.
  • Stress: When you feel overwhelming fear, you may experience increased stress levels. That stress can affect your physical and mental health and disrupt your progress toward recovery.
  • Lack of happiness: Fear interrupts your ability to find happiness and pleasure in life. Addiction is serious, but that doesn’t mean you should refrain from finding happiness and joy in everyday things. When you constantly fear your addiction or the recovery process, you don’t leave room for the positive emotions that can help you succeed in recovery.
  • Relapse: Certain fears, particularly fears about how life will be when you’re sober, may cause you to relapse.

Common Causes of Fear in Addiction

Fear is common among people dealing with addictions, but the specific cause may vary from one person to the next. You may fear one particular aspect of the recovery process, or you may have a list of fears and worries that keep you from entering rehab. Some fears stick with you throughout the process, while others come and go depending on your current situation. Some fears are very intense and almost paralyzing, while others are present but not overwhelming. Pinpointing the cause of your fear can help you address it head-on to effectively overcome the feelings and ultimately succeed in treatment.

Common fears people experience due to drug or alcohol addiction include:


Recovery can feel like a lonely place. You may have to cut ties with friends who are involved in substance abuse to allow yourself to get treatment. You sometimes feel you are all alone in the process or worry that your friends and family will abandon you. Perhaps most significantly, you worry about giving up your substance of choice — the one thing you have relied on to get you through difficult situations.

While your experience in treatment is unique, you are not alone. Reach out to friends and loved ones who will have a positive effect on your recovery. Open up to the treatment team at your selected recovery facility. Join a support group or reach out to recovering addicts who can give you support and guidance. Your addiction recovery experience is yours alone, but you have a support network ready to help you throughout the process.

while your experience in treatment is unique, you're not alone


The fear of rejection often comes into play when you know you need help, but you are worried about the reactions of your friends and loved ones. You may hesitate to tell someone you need help out of fear that they will turn their backs on you instead of giving you the support you need. You may feel you are letting someone down, so you decide not to talk about your addiction to prevent that person from being disappointed.

It’s true some people may struggle to understand what you are going through or to provide you with the support you need. Instead of worrying about those relationships, however, find the people who show you compassion, love and support. Work hard in your recovery program to show everyone in your life that you have changed.

find people who show you compassion, love, and support


After spending so much time under the influence, the idea of sobriety is scary to many people. Some people feel that a life of sobriety is boring or unsatisfying. Others worry about how they will deal when the primary coping mechanism is gone. Rehab gives you the chance to learn positive coping mechanisms that help you weather those challenging moments of sobriety. Many facilities offer a variety of activities to help you explore recreation opportunities that bring joy and happiness to your life. Take advantage of all those opportunities during your treatment. When you start dwelling on the potential negatives of sobriety, remind yourself of the potential positives of sobriety instead.


What if you try treatment but fail? This is a major concern for many people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. You wonder if you have the strength to make it through treatment. You worry that you might relapse even if you do successfully complete your treatment program. You might be afraid you will make mistakes or poor decisions along the way.


On the other side of the fear cycle, what might happen if you succeed? Some people dealing with addiction don’t feel they deserve to succeed. They feel the mistakes they made while under the influence were too great and should not be forgiven. You might feel you don’t deserve a second chance at life, or you may feel guilty for thinking successful recovery is an option for you. That fear of success may cause you to self-sabotage your recovery efforts without even realizing it. Remind yourself that success takes hard work and is not a gift handed to you on a silver platter.

success takes hard work and is not a gift handed to you on a silver platter

Unknown territory

Addiction recovery is unknown territory. It’s natural for you to fear what you don’t know. What will treatment be like? Will you be able to handle the process? What will life be like without drugs or alcohol? How will you cope? Will you be able to handle life after treatment.

Anything new is a little scary, whether you’re talking about addiction recovery, starting a new job or moving to a new city. However, embracing the idea of change rather than being resistant to it can help you overcome the fear of the unknown. You can also relieve some of your fears by talking with a specialist at a treatment facility. Learn more about the program, the methods of treatment and what day-to-day life will be like during treatment to prepare yourself for that unknown factor.

embracing change can help you overcome fear

Losing yourself

Your addiction becomes the primary focus of your life. You may not remember what it was like before you became addicted. Your substance abuse may become part of your personality. You feel confident and outgoing while under the influence. You bury negative feelings or feel less anxiety when you take drugs or drink. The idea of removing those substances from the equation is scary. You might feel as if you’ll lose those parts of yourself. Treatment and therapy help you overcome those fears and rediscover who you were before you became addicted.

Financial obligations

Some people dealing with an addiction worry about the cost of treatment. They are scared they won’t be able to afford the treatments. Losing paychecks while going through treatment can also cause fear about addiction recovery. Many facilities accept insurance to cover the cost of your treatment, though. Others offer special financing options or payment plans.

Making arrangements with your creditors may also be an option if you are worried about keeping up with your bills while you go through rehab. Additionally, remember that quitting substance abuse frees up the money you normally spend on drugs or alcohol. By recovering from the addiction, you reduce your risk of costly health problems. In the long run, attending treatment can be a financial benefit.

Career loss

Participating in addiction treatment may cause you to miss time at work. You may worry your absence could put your career at risk — but abusing drugs may actually put your job at greater risk. Performance often slips while under the influence. Facing drug-related charges or jail time may put you at risk of losing your job or having difficulty securing a new job in the future. Getting yourself into a treatment program before you land in jail or start performing poorly at work gives you the chance to salvage your job.

abusing drugs puts your job at risk

Managing Fear During Addiction Treatment

Recognizing the fear you feel is the first step in managing it. When you confront your fear about addiction recovery, you take away its power. You also learn to cope with the fear to help clear the path for a successful treatment program.

Fear is a normal reaction to your situation. It is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide from those helping in your recovery. Retraining your brain to overcome those overwhelming fears can help you move forward.

If you are stuck in the cycle of fear and addiction recovery, try these steps to manage unhealthy fears that interrupt your progress:

Find the cause

If you haven’t taken the time to analyze your fears, now is the time to do so. Take time to figure out exactly what is causing the fear. Are you worried you won’t make it through treatment or that you will relapse? Are you scared of what life will be like sober? Instead of ignoring the feelings when they arise, listen to them to determine the source. Once you know why you are scared, you can work to dispel the fears and clear the path for recovery.

figure out exactly what is causing your fear

Share your fears

It is natural to keep your fears bottled inside, but holding on to fears can also make them seem worse. Reach out to a close friend or loved one to discuss how you’re feeling. Choose someone who will listen attentively without judging. If you don’t feel you can go to anyone you know personally, reach out to a counselor or an addiction treatment facility.

Write down your fears

If you’re not ready to verbalize your fears, write about them in a journal. Putting your fears into words can help you wrap your head around the situation and create a plan to deal with those feelings. You may feel better by simply getting those feelings out of your head and in front of you.


Meditation encourages you to be mindful of the present instead of worrying about the future. Meditation can help you see your fears from a different perspective while helping calm you. Other relaxation activities can have a similar calming effect, helping you minimize the panicky feeling caused by fear.

Build relationships

Working to strengthen relationships in your life, especially with individuals who are supportive of your recovery efforts, can help you deal with your fears. Those people who want to see you succeed will help you address your fears. You may need to distance yourself from people who feed into your fears or who don’t want you to succeed in an addiction treatment program. As painful as it is to leave people behind, you need to focus on healthy relationships that will increase your chances of success.

Use the fear as a motivator

Your initial reaction is to see the negative side of fear. Instead of surrendering to the negativity of the emotion, turn it around to use the fear to your advantage. Consider it a guide for areas you need to address and use the fear to fuel your desire to be successful in rehab.

Focus on your immediate situation

Fear is rooted in the future. You worry about things that haven’t happened yet and most likely never will. Addiction recovery is often better approached one day at a time. Instead of looking down the road to create fears that won’t likely come true, bring yourself back to the present. Identify the immediate steps you need to take to start down the path to recovery.

Ask yourself if the thing you fear is reality in this moment. Most likely, the answer is no. For instance, you’re worrying you could lose your job in the future, but right now you are still employed. Focus on the things happening right now, so you can deal with the real issues to make progress toward your recovery.

focus on what is happening right now

Practice positive affirmations

Repeating positive affirmations can help you work through your fear. As you repeat an affirmation, it slowly takes the place of the fears that run through your mind. Create an affirmation or mantra that addresses your fears or your approach to handling those fears. You might say, “I have the strength to face my fears. I will release those fears for good.”

Keep going

Push through your fears instead of letting them keep you from recovery. Even a small step toward recovery despite the fear can give you a sense of confidence. As you take those steps, the fear will start to dissipate.

Welcome new opportunities

It isn’t always easy, but approaching addiction treatment from a place of positivity helps you put aside your fears. Open yourself up to the possibility of new opportunities. Let yourself imagine a positive outcome instead of focusing all of your attention on what could go wrong.

Attend a treatment program

Don’t let fear keep you from starting your addiction treatment program. Enrolling in treatment gives you the professional support you need to face your fears about addiction recovery. A quality program provides a customized treatment plan to help you approach addiction recovery successfully. Discussing your fears early on with your counselor or during support groups helps you learn to cope.

How Addiction Treatment Can Help You Manage Your Fears

Addiction treatment, the very thing that may be causing your fears, can actually help put those feelings to rest. A rehab program forces you to confront the addiction and the fears that surround it. You get the built-in support system from your treatment team and the other people going through treatment with you. Treatment programs like 12 Keys Rehab involve loved ones as part of the treatment process, adding to the support network to help you through recovery.

As part of an individualized plan, you get customized treatment options and activities to address your specific fears and concerns. Sessions with your therapist and other key members of the treatment team give you a chance to lay out your fears and deal with them. You also get the chance to participate in recreational activities that help improve your mood while exposing you to new positive experiences that can change your outlook on recovery.

Take control of your fears about addiction recovery. At 12 Keys, our multidisciplinary treatment team is ready to help you overcome your fears to start your path to recovery. Contact us for more information.

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