6 Self-Defeating Behaviors to Avoid In Recovery

These six behaviors can hinder your recovery and keep you from establishing a healthy sober life for yourself.

Certain behaviors, (called self-defeating behaviors) when repeated over and over, can prevent you from creating the best life for yourself after addiction. But sometimes, it feels impossible to change our behavior and do something different. In fact, we may not even realize how these harmful behaviors are affecting us and those around us. 

Related post: Why Is Making Amends Important?

In many cases, these behaviors almost become like automatic responses that we don’t even think about. We just do them. Harmful behaviors like these are called self-defeating behaviors and they are common with addiction.1 As a result, they can become major roadblocks in recovery.

What Common Self-Defeating Behaviors Should I Avoid In Recovery?

Self-sabotaging behaviors can keep you trapped in your addiction and distract you from your goals in recovery. Here are six of the most common self-defeating behaviors you should avoid.

1. Blaming

Blame is one of the most common self-defeating behaviors associated with addiction. People who struggle with addiction often blame themselves for some traumatic occurrence or situation in their lives. In turn, they use drugs or alcohol to cope and become addicted. In many instances, they take on the victim mentality and ultimately believe that they’re just an addict and will never be anything else. Of course, this type of mentality is very dangerous and completely untrue. But it fuels substance abuse and can easily keep someone trapped in a life of addiction.2

On the flip side, someone who is suffering from a substance use disorder may blame someone else for their addiction. Perhaps they were wronged in their past and they blame their addiction on that. That event or circumstance typically becomes a trigger and abusing drugs or alcohol becomes the only way to satisfy it.

The key to freeing yourself from blame is to take accountability for your actions as well as the things that have happened in your life. Although you can’t always control what happens to you, you can control your actions and how you respond to them. This, in itself, is empowering and will help you create a healthier life for yourself as you shed the blame and work toward a sober life in recovery.

2. Perfectionism

Not only can perfectionistic behavior contribute to addiction, but it can also inhibit recovery. Extreme perfectionism may lead to addiction when a person sets impossibly high standards for themselves, feels like they need to be flawless, craves others’ approval, and constantly criticizes themselves. This can cause feelings of shame, frustration, and failure that make it seem impossible to live down past mistakes. As a result, some people just give up and rely on drugs or alcohol to avoid uncomfortable feelings.

Maintaining a perfectionist mentality in recovery will only cause problems. Instead, giving up the idea of striving for perfection in life means you’ll need to ask for help (and be open to accepting it) and set more realistic standards for yourself. As you work through an addiction treatment program and  attend recovery meetings, you’ll also learn that no one is perfect, including you! And that’s okay. Letting go of your past mistakes and recognizing that your goals may also need to change will help you shed perfectionistic behaviors and thought patterns that can hinder your recovery.

3. People-pleasing

Doing things to please others, especially at the cost of your own happiness or health, is not good for you and it won’t do you any favors in recovery. People-pleasing is often an unconscious behavior that is developed early in life. It may seem trivial, but it actually causes a lot of harm.

Not only is constant people-pleasing extremely stressful, but it can lead to depression, passive aggressive behavior, and people may be more likely to take advantage of you because you allow it. Many people who struggle with people-pleasing also tend to neglect their own needs and goals, which is incredibly self-destructive.

If you struggle with people-pleasing behavior, you can work with a therapist or counselor during IOP and after you complete addiction treatment. Working with a professional will help you come to terms with your people-pleasing tendencies,  identify the root causes of those behaviors, and eventually, overcome them so you can create a healthy life of sobriety for yourself. 

4. Guilt

Guilt is another self-defeating behavior that is commonly experienced by people who are recovering from addiction. Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve good things in life because of all the bad things you’ve done? Guilt can make us feel this way sometimes. Although guilt can be a good thing that motivates you to apologize or correct your behavior, if you dwell on that guilt, it can turn into shame and internalize those feelings about yourself.

Even after you get sober, if you continue to dwell on feelings of guilt and shame, you end up punishing yourself for your past mistakes, such as something you said to someone while you were drunk or how you treated your family while you were addicted. Although it’s easy to be overly critical of yourself, the best way to move beyond guilt and shame is to recognize that these feelings are counter-productive.3

Instead, acknowledge that you’ve made mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and make amends where you can. Let go of the things that are outside of your control (including your past) and focus on making better choices today.

5. Pride

Refusing to ask for help is a major issue for anyone who is recovering from addiction. If you are too proud to admit your mistakes, you’ll quickly get “stuck” in your recovery and you could even relapse. Additionally, if you find that you’re struggling in your sobriety but you can’t ask for help, how will you develop the support system and tools you need to stay sober long-term?

Getting rid of excessive pride is absolutely essential if you want to stay sober. In order to gain new knowledge and grow personally, you’ll need to set aside your pride along with many of your preconceived ideas and beliefs. 

Conversely, being humble and teachable will allow you to gain many new skills and live by principles that will improve your life and help you sustain your recovery. You’ll be able to ask for help when you’re struggling, you’ll be able to admit when you don’t know something or when you’re wrong, and as a result, you’ll be better able to learn, grow, and change.

6. Procrastination

Procrastination might not sound like a major self-defeating behavior, but it is a serious problem, especially for people in early recovery. There are many reasons why someone might procrastinate, such as:

  • Avoiding uncomfortable self-reflection and self-improvement work.
  • Being afraid of the unknown in recovery.
  • Becoming complacent after achieving some success in sobriety. 

Other issues like being afraid of failure or having poor time management skills can also make a person continually put things off until the last minute.

Regardless of why you might struggle with procrastination, it can be very harmful in recovery (especially the earliest stages). For example, if you start getting off track in your recovery but delay getting help, you could suffer the consequences in the form of relapse. 

Self-guilt can also play a role in procrastination. For example, if you feel like you don’t deserve good things in life because of your past mistakes, you might put off doing the work that will improve your life and sustain your recovery. This behavior only hurts you and the people who care about you because it delays your own happiness and success in recovery.

To overcome the self-defeating behavior of procrastination, you can work with an addiction treatment professional to develop time management skills and reframe tasks as things you want to do instead of things you have to do. A professional can also help you dive deep to discover the root causes of your procrastination issues and work to resolve those.

Related post: 11 Practical Steps to Self-Improvement In Recovery

How to Overcome Self-Defeating Behaviors in Addiction Recovery

Fortunately, if you feel stuck by any of these self-defeating behaviors, there is a way to break the cycle. It starts with asking for help. Working with a therapist in residential rehab and IOP can help you identify harmful behaviors in your life and recognize patterns. By working with a mental health professional, you can gradually learn how those behaviors came to be in your life and establish methods to change so you can create a better, healthier life for yourself.

Research shows that continuing your treatment after rehab can help you sustain long-lasting recovery.4 It is an essential part of the process of overcoming self-defeating behaviors. Aftercare looks different for everyone, but it may include an intensive outpatient program (IOP), individual therapy, regular attendance at 12-Step meetings, medication, or a sober living program. Most often, it includes a combination of some or all of these things. 

Regardless of what aftercare looks like for you, seeking out continued treatment in recovery is one of the best ways you can identify self-defeating behaviors in your life and work to overcome them so you can sustain long-lasting sobriety.

Get Help and Support to Stay Sober

If you need help and support to stay sober, contact Eudaimonia Recovery Homes today to learn more about our recovery support services, IOP, and sober living programs.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128093245065512 
  2. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-a-victim-mentality 
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24159911/ 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2670779/ 

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