How Resentment Can Derail Sobriety

Resentment can become a type of emotional bondage, ultimately, leading to relapse.

Feelings of resentment can be toxic when they’re allowed to fester and grow. The Big Book itself states, “Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” As a result, it’s important for people in recovery to take notice of resentment, use it as a learning tool, and handle it healthily to put it to rest. Otherwise, resentment can derail sobriety by becoming a type of emotional bondage, ultimately, leading to relapse.

Related post: 6 Self-Defeating Behaviors to Avoid in Recovery

What is resentment?

Resentment is best described as feelings of anger and indignation that stem from unfair treatment. For example, most of us are likely to feel resentful if others try to tell us how to live our lives, act like they are superior to us, or behave in hypocritical ways. 1

People who feel resentment toward others often feel annoyed, ashamed, and may also want to get revenge. Someone who feels they have been treated unfairly may be too mad or ashamed to share their true feelings. Instead, they might hold a grudge against a person, allow feelings of resentment to grow, and act on their anger.

Signs of resentment

Feelings of resentment can come out in several different ways, depending on the person. Some signs you might be harboring resentment are:2

  • Recurring negative feelings
  • Being unable to stop thinking about the event that triggered the negative emotion
  • Fearing or avoiding conflict
  • Experiencing regret or remorse
  • Having tense relationships
  • Feeling inadequate or less-than
  • Being unable to let go of anger

What are some common causes for resentment in recovery?

Some common examples of things that can cause resentment for individuals in recovery include:

  • Feeling like family, friends, or other people in general interfere too much in your life
  • Believing that loved ones still don’t trust you, even after weeks or months of sobriety
  • Feeling like no one gives you credit for all the effort you put into your continued recovery
  • Seeing others do “better” than you in their recovery
  • When a person or people in your life don’t behave the way you anticipated
  • Feeling that life in recovery is more difficult than you anticipated

How can resentment contribute to relapse?

Early recovery is often an emotional time for people but resentment is one emotion that’s most likely to contribute to relapse. Resentment is particularly dangerous because people tend to focus on others’ behavior instead of their own, which is only self-harming in the long run. Constantly feeling resentful toward people can also become a trigger for drug and alcohol use. Living like that in recovery is emotionally uncomfortable, so someone might be more likely to pick up a drink or drug of choice to relieve the discomfort.

Also, it’s difficult to create a new life when you’re focused on holding onto resentments from the past. Carrying this weight around with you day in and day out will make it difficult to find a life of peace and contentment in recovery, let alone build healthy relationships. According to the 12-Step Program and Big Book, if you hold onto your resentments, you won’t be able to progress forward in your recovery. You’ll be stuck where you are and your personal and spiritual growth will be very limited. All of these things make relapse much more likely.

Helpful ways to deal with resentment in recovery

Getting sober doesn’t mean you’re suddenly free of any resentment you carry. On the contrary, you’ll still have to deal with many negative emotions. In some instances, resentment toward your past mistakes can serve as a good reminder for why you got sober, but it’s not healthy to dwell on this. Eventually, it’s best to resolve feelings of resentment. Or, instead of using feelings of resentment as an excuse to drink or use drugs, you can learn how to handle them healthily and use them as a learning tool to move forward in life. 

If you’re holding on to resentment in recovery, here are a few helpful ways you can manage and release it.

Attend 12-Step meetings.

If you’re regularly attending 12-Step meetings and working the program, you’ll be asked to work Step 4, which involves creating a personal inventory. Creating your inventory and sharing it with another person can be extremely therapeutic and may help you let go of some of your resentment. Additionally, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share and hear from others at meetings, which may help you process and see your resentment from a more objective point of view.

Get help in addiction treatment.

If you haven’t completed an addiction treatment program already, it’s a great idea to do this! Rehab isn’t just about getting physically sober. Instead, it’s primarily a time to work on the life skills that will help you stay sober after detoxing. During rehab, you’ll work closely with counselors, therapists, and recovery specialists who will help you dig deep with cognitive behavioral therapy and defuse resentment with practical tools from the 12-Step Program, like writing down your resentments, examining your role in the resentment, freeing yourself from the resentment, and establishing positive concern for the other person by praying for them.

Seek support in recovery.

If you’re trying to do recovery on your own, you’re bound to face issues with resentment. One of the best ways to get structured support after rehab is to enroll in a sober living program. These programs provide safe, substance-free homes for people in recovery, as well as support options like:

  • Individualized recovery support program
  • Certified peer recovery support specialist program
  • Regular drug and alcohol screening
  • Volunteer, job, and education assistance
  • Access to individual therapy

Practice mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is a type of mediation you’re likely to learn during rehab. However, you can also learn how to meditate using apps, YouTube, or by working with your AA sponsor. In practicing mindfulness meditation, you’ll learn how to be more objective about your thoughts and feelings. A positive result of this is the ability to deal with negative emotions, like resentment, more easily.

Continue seeing a therapist or counselor after rehab is over.

Working through feelings of resentment takes time, but working with a therapist or a counselor after rehab can help you adjust to a sober lifestyle and address feelings of resentment that may be holding you back from growing as a person.

Related post: How to Cope With Social Anxiety in Recovery

Get recovery support today with Eudaimonia Recovery Homes

At Eudaimonia Recovery Homes, we provide safe, sober living homes for men, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals in recovery. We also offer a variety of recovery support services aimed at helping you adjust to your new sober life and practice essential skills and behaviors you learned in rehab. If you’re struggling to stay sober due to feelings of resentment, we’re here to help support you. Call (512) 580-3131 or contact us online to get started today.


  1. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/resentment 
  2. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-resentment

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