Passive vs. Active Recovery: Which Path Are You Taking?

Content updated on 03/29/24

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein , LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu

It is not uncommon for people to group all types of recovery into the all-encompassing phrases “addiction recovery” or “substance use recovery.” Despite committing your life to recovery, there are different levels of engagement that you can have with your recovery journey. How will you respond when you experience bumps in the road during your recovery?

The two main recovery approaches are passive and active recovery. While both methods can have their benefits, passivity may adversely impact your ability to prioritize your recovery and stay sober. Understanding the similarities and differences between both approaches is essential to maintaining an active engagement with your treatment and recovery.

What Is a Passive Approach to Addiction Recovery?

If you take a passive approach to your recovery, you are essentially just going through the motions. Regardless of the motivation to enter a treatment program — for yourself, a loved one or a court mandate — you limit your engagement with the recovery program with this mindset.

A passive approach means you attend meetings and participate in therapy but only reach the minimum requirements and expectations of recovery. You are taught practical ways to alter your habits with the guidance of mental health professionals. Still, you may not be putting forth the necessary effort to achieve or sustain sobriety on your own outside of treatment.

Having a passive approach to recovery does not always happen from the beginning. Sometimes, a passive attitude develops after several months or years following active recovery. The primary concern with passive recovery is that it leaves you feeling like your sobriety isn’t worth the time and effort that you have been exerting. Passive recovery is often accompanied by feelings of restlessness, irritability, isolation and discontent.

What Is an Active Approach to Recovery?

If you take an active approach to your recovery, you are fully invested and engaged in your recovery journey. It may look similar to passive recovery as you attend meetings, participate in therapy and work to create deeper conversations with your therapist or other mental health professionals. However, the main difference is that an individual in active recovery acknowledges and believes that they can not achieve sobriety independently. A person in active recovery advocates for their recovery.    

An active approach encourages you to make the necessary changes in your daily life to get you closer to lasting recovery. It is accepting that you need support and admitting that you want to transform yourself and your habits instead of remaining in the same place. Active recovery makes life and healing feel worthwhile.

Shifting from a Passive to an Active Recovery Approach

Recovery is a life-long journey, which makes the discussion of a passive or active approach so important. You may find yourself shifting between passive and active recovery several times throughout your recovery journey. If you find yourself in that inactive state, it is crucial to identify how to shift back to functional recovery.

Taking an active approach to recovery is valuable for several reasons, such as:

  • It can help you to achieve your goals quickly and more effectively
  • It can reduce negative feelings that often accompany addiction, such as guilt and shame
  • It can help you focus on the factors you can control in your life and empower you to make positive changes for yourself
  • It can foster more meaningful social connections during your recovery
  • It can prevent relapse more effectively than passive recovery

If you have never taken an active approach to recovery before, it may be challenging to know how to make the shift. Consider some of the following ways to help you engage in active recovery:

  • Seek help from a mentor or sponsor. If you do not have one, reach out to your local community treatment centers for resources on how to get connected with one.
  • Involve yourself more during meeting discussions. It is easy to sit back in group therapy and let others do the talking, but instead of simply attending, be an active member of the group.
  • Have meaningful conversations with your loved ones about your recovery. Your loved ones can help you hold yourself accountable, especially during days when you may feel exhausted and in need of support.
  • Be of service to others. Gratitude is an essential component of long-term recovery. Engaging in service opportunities can help you learn new perspectives and increase your sense of gratitude in life.
  • Believe in your ability to recover. One of the most challenging aspects of recovery is finding the power within you to believe that you can and will achieve long-term sobriety. You will be much more willing to actively engage in treatment and recovery when you believe in yourself.

Cliffside Malibu is an evidence-based addiction treatment center that encourages patients to actively participate in their recovery journeys. We offer several different treatment programs and therapies to help individualize patient care and encourage them to find the power in themselves to change their life. For more information about our facility or to learn more about how to engage in active recovery, call us today at (855) 403-5641.