The Importance of Values in Recovery

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

As you find yourself sinking into the abyss of addiction, it can start to feel as if nothing truly matters anymore. This overwhelming apathy can consume every aspect of your life, making it difficult to find meaning or purpose. In severe addiction, this sense of meaninglessness can be all-encompassing, leaving you trapped in a cycle of self-destruction and despair. It’s as if the addiction has hijacked your very essence, leaving you feeling disconnected from yourself and the world around you.

In milder forms of addiction, this feeling may be more subtle. It might show up as a growing indifference to once cherished hobbies, relationships, or personal goals. You may find yourself making choices that prioritize the addictive behavior over what once mattered to you, gradually eroding your sense of self and well-being, stopping you from reaching your potential.

In the darkness of addiction, values can serve as a beacon of hope, guiding you back towards a fulfilling and meaningful life. Values are deeply held beliefs that define who we are and give our lives direction. They are the antidote to the apathy that accompanies addiction, as they inspire us to take action and make choices that align with our true selves. In addiction recovery, reconnecting with and clarifying your values can help rebuild your sense of purpose, identity, and motivation. As you begin to live in accordance with your values, the destructive grip of addiction loosens, and you can find yourself on a path towards healing and growth.

Defining Values

In the context of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), values are considered chosen life directions that guide our actions and decisions. They are deeply held beliefs about what we consider important and what gives our lives meaning and purpose. Unlike fleeting emotions or momentary desires, values are enduring and provide a stable foundation upon which to build a fulfilling and authentic life.

Values are not prescriptive or fixed; they are unique to each individual and may evolve as we grow and develop throughout our lives. They provide a framework for evaluating our choices and ensuring that our actions align with our true selves. By connecting with our values, we can make decisions that bring us closer to the life we genuinely want to live, rather than being pulled in directions that may not serve our best interests, as is often the case with addictive behaviors.

Differentiating values from goals

Values can be compared to a compass whereas goals can be compared to destinations on a map. In this metaphor, values provide a sense of direction, guiding individuals on their life’s journey. They represent the deeply held beliefs and principles that define who we are and shape our priorities. Values act as a true north, helping us stay aligned with what truly matters to us, even when faced with challenges and obstacles.

On the other hand, goals are like a map, laying out specific destinations or milestones that we aim to reach on our journey. Goals are concrete objectives that we set for ourselves based on our values, helping us translate our chosen life direction into tangible accomplishments. While values provide the overall direction, goals give us a clear path to follow, with measurable steps to track our progress and evaluate our success.

It is important to distinguish values from goals, as these two concepts, though related, serve different purposes in our lives. Goals are specific, measurable, and time-bound objectives that we strive to achieve. They represent tangible outcomes or achievements that can be reached and completed. In contrast, values are ongoing, guiding principles that underlie our actions and decisions throughout our entire lives.

For example, a goal might be to lose 20 pounds within six months, while the underlying value might be health and well-being. Achieving the goal would be a concrete outcome of living in accordance with the value. However, values themselves are not something that can be “achieved” or “completed.” Instead, they represent a continuous commitment to living our lives in a way that reflects our most deeply held beliefs.

In the context of addiction recovery, goals often serve as milestones that help individuals make progress towards a values-driven life. By setting and achieving goals that align with our values, we can create a sense of accomplishment and momentum that supports our ongoing commitment to living in accordance with our values.

Types of values

Values can encompass various aspects of our lives and may be related to relationships, personal growth, health, career, spirituality, community involvement, and more. Some common types of values include:

Relationships: These values pertain to the connections we have with others, including family, friends, romantic partners, and colleagues. Examples of relationship values include trust, loyalty, honesty, and compassion.

Personal Growth: Values in this category focus on the development of our individual potential and may include learning, self-awareness, creativity, and resilience.

Health: Health-related values involve our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Examples include maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, and prioritizing self-care.

Career: Career values relate to our professional lives and may include ambition, work-life balance, financial stability, and job satisfaction.

Spirituality: These values involve our connection to a higher power or a sense of purpose and meaning beyond our individual lives. Spirituality values may include faith, inner peace, and interconnectedness.

Community Involvement: Values in this category focus on our contributions to the communities we belong to, whether local or global. Examples include social justice, environmental stewardship, and civic engagement.

Understanding and identifying our values across these various categories can help create a comprehensive and balanced foundation for making decisions and taking action in the pursuit of a meaningful life. As individuals in addiction recovery reconnect with their values, they can find a renewed sense of purpose and motivation that supports their journey towards healing and growth.

The Importance of Values in Recovery from Addiction

Values as a compass for change and decision-making

Values play a crucial role in the recovery process, acting as a compass that guides individuals through the often challenging and uncertain terrain of change. By connecting with our deeply held beliefs and chosen life directions, we can make decisions that align with our authentic selves and steer us away from destructive behaviors associated with addiction.

In the context of recovery, values serve as a foundation for evaluating choices and determining whether they support or undermine our overall well-being. They help us prioritize our actions and create a sense of coherence and direction in our lives. By using values as a compass, individuals in recovery can develop a clearer sense of what truly matters to them and make choices that reflect those priorities.

Values fostering motivation and commitment to recovery

The process of recovery from addiction requires dedication, perseverance, and motivation. Values play a critical role in fostering and sustaining the commitment needed to overcome the challenges of addiction. When individuals connect with their values, they tap into a powerful source of intrinsic motivation that fuels their desire to make positive changes and overcome the obstacles they may face in the recovery process.

By focusing on values-driven goals and actions, individuals in recovery can develop a sense of purpose that transcends the temporary satisfaction offered by addictive substances or behaviors. This sense of purpose provides a deeper and more enduring motivation to stay committed to the recovery process, even in the face of setbacks or challenges.

Values and identity reconstruction in addiction recovery

Addiction often leads to a loss of identity, as individuals become defined by their addictive behaviors rather than their true selves. Reconnecting with values during recovery helps individuals reconstruct a more authentic and fulfilling sense of identity that is grounded in their most deeply held beliefs and chosen life directions.

As individuals rediscover and clarify their values, they can begin to redefine their sense of self and form a new narrative that reflects who they truly are and who they want to become. This process of identity reconstruction can be empowering and liberating, as it allows individuals to break free from the constraints of their addiction and reclaim their lives.

The role of values in managing cravings and triggers

Cravings and triggers are common challenges faced by individuals in recovery from addiction. Values can play a vital role in helping individuals manage these obstacles by providing a framework for evaluating and responding to the thoughts, emotions, and situations that may trigger addictive behaviors.

When faced with a craving or trigger, individuals can use their values as a touchstone to remind themselves of what truly matters and why they embarked on the journey of recovery in the first place. By connecting with their values, they can gain the perspective and motivation needed to resist the temptation to engage in addictive behaviors and instead choose actions that support their well-being and align with their authentic selves.

Additionally, values can help individuals develop healthy coping strategies and alternative behaviors that support their recovery. For example, an individual who values physical health may choose to exercise or engage in other wellness activities when faced with a craving or trigger, thereby reinforcing their commitment to their values and supporting their overall recovery process.

Identifying and Clarifying Values in the Recovery Process

The importance of a values assessment in therapy

A crucial step in the recovery process is the identification and clarification of an individual’s values. A values assessment in therapy can provide invaluable insight into what truly matters to a person, allowing them to better understand their motivations and priorities. This understanding, in turn, can help inform the development of a personalized, values-driven recovery plan that addresses the unique needs and desires of each individual.

Values assessments can also help therapists gain a deeper understanding of their clients, allowing them to better tailor their interventions and support to the specific values and goals of each person. This can enhance the therapeutic alliance and lead to more effective and meaningful therapeutic outcomes.

Techniques for values identification and clarification

Values card sort: One technique for identifying and clarifying values is the values card sort. This activity involves a set of cards, each containing a different value (e.g., family, honesty, financial security, etc.). The individual is asked to sort the cards into categories based on their importance, such as “very important,” “somewhat important,” and “not important.” This exercise can help individuals gain insight into their priorities and determine which values are most central to their lives.

Values ranking: Another approach for values identification is having the individual create a list of values and then rank them in order of importance. This can help individuals prioritize their values and determine which ones hold the most significance for them. Ranking values can also highlight potential areas of conflict, where competing values may need to be addressed and balanced during the recovery process.

Values journaling: Encouraging individuals to journal about their values can provide them with an opportunity for self-reflection and deeper exploration of their beliefs. Journal prompts may include questions such as, “What values are most important to you?” or “How do your values influence your daily life?” By reflecting on these questions, individuals can gain a clearer understanding of their values and how they manifest in their actions and decisions.

Values visualization: Visualization exercises can be a powerful way to explore values and their significance. In this technique, individuals are guided to imagine their life unfolding in alignment with their values, envisioning the choices they make, the relationships they cultivate, and the accomplishments they achieve. This process can help individuals connect with their values on an emotional level and develop a clearer sense of how living in accordance with their values might look and feel.

Values-based storytelling: Storytelling can be an effective tool for values identification and clarification. Individuals may be asked to share stories from their lives that exemplify their values or recount experiences where they felt a strong connection to their values. By reflecting on these narratives, individuals can gain insight into their values and how they have influenced their lives.

Values interviews: Conducting values interviews with individuals can help them explore their values through guided conversation. Therapists may ask open-ended questions such as, “What gives your life meaning and purpose?” or “What do you want to be remembered for?” These discussions can help individuals clarify their values and better understand their motivations and priorities.

Navigating conflicting or changing values during recovery

Throughout the recovery process, individuals may encounter situations where their values conflict or change. This can present challenges, as they may need to reevaluate their priorities and make difficult decisions about how to balance competing values.

Addressing conflicting values: When faced with conflicting values, individuals can benefit from a structured approach to exploring the nature of the conflict and identifying potential solutions. This may involve reflecting on the importance of each value, considering the potential consequences of prioritizing one value over another, and exploring ways to balance or integrate the competing values.

Embracing changing values: As individuals progress in their recovery journey, their values may evolve and change over time. This is a natural part of personal growth and development, and it is important for individuals to recognize and embrace these changes as they occur. By staying open to the possibility of shifting values, individuals can remain adaptable and responsive to their evolving needs and desires.

Reassessing values periodically: To effectively navigate changing or conflicting values during recovery, individuals should periodically reassess their values to ensure they continue to reflect their true selves and chosen life directions. Revisiting values assessments, journaling, or engaging in values-based discussions with a therapist or support group can be helpful in maintaining a current understanding of one’s values and priorities.

Seeking support: Navigating conflicting or changing values can be challenging, and individuals may benefit from seeking support from therapists, support groups, or mentors who can provide guidance and perspective during these times of uncertainty. By engaging in open and honest conversations about their values, individuals can gain valuable insights and guidance to help them make informed decisions that align with their true selves.

Balancing values in decision-making: When faced with decisions that involve conflicting or changing values, individuals can benefit from a balanced approach that considers the potential consequences of each option and weighs them against their values and priorities. This may involve engaging in a thoughtful decision-making process, such as creating a pros and cons list, seeking input from trusted sources, or engaging in mindfulness practices to cultivate clarity and self-awareness.

Integrating Values into the Addiction Recovery Plan

Creating a values-based recovery plan is a powerful way to ensure that the recovery process aligns with an individual’s deeply held beliefs and priorities. By grounding the plan in personal values, individuals can develop a sense of ownership and commitment to their recovery journey. To develop a values-based recovery plan, individuals should:

Identify and clarify their core values: As previously discussed, identifying and clarifying personal values is a crucial first step in developing a values-based recovery plan. Utilize the techniques outlined in Section V to gain insight into what truly matters and prioritize values accordingly.

Assess current alignment with values: Reflect on current behaviors, relationships, and life circumstances to determine how well they align with identified values. This assessment can help identify areas where changes may be needed to better align with values and support the recovery process.

Create a vision of a values-driven life: Develop a clear vision of what a life aligned with personal values looks like. This vision should encompass various life domains, such as relationships, health, career, personal growth, and community involvement. Consider how values can be integrated into daily life and inform decision-making.

Identify obstacles and challenges: Recognize potential obstacles and challenges that may arise during the recovery process and develop strategies for addressing them. Consider how values can be utilized to navigate these challenges and guide decision-making during difficult times.

Setting SMART goals aligned with values

With a clear understanding of personal values and a vision for a values-driven life, individuals can begin setting goals that support their recovery journey. Goals should be SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. SMART goals can help individuals create a structured and realistic roadmap for their recovery process. To set SMART goals aligned with values, consider the following steps:

Identify specific actions and behaviors that align with values: For each value, determine specific actions and behaviors that support living in accordance with that value. For example, if a person values health and well-being, they might identify actions such as exercising regularly, eating nutritiously, and getting adequate sleep.

Create measurable objectives: Develop concrete objectives that can be tracked and evaluated. For example, instead of setting a vague goal like “improve my health,” set a measurable goal such as “exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times per week.”

Ensure goals are achievable: Set goals that are challenging yet attainable, considering current resources, limitations, and circumstances. Setting unrealistic goals can lead to frustration and demotivation, while achievable goals can boost confidence and encourage continued progress.

Align goals with values: Ensure that each goal is relevant and aligned with personal values. This alignment can help individuals maintain motivation and commitment to their recovery journey.

Establish time-bound deadlines: Set deadlines for each goal, providing a sense of urgency and encouraging timely progress. Deadlines should be realistic and flexible, allowing for adjustments as needed during the recovery process.

Strategies for living in accordance with values

Living in accordance with personal values requires ongoing effort and mindfulness. The following strategies can help individuals integrate their values into daily life and maintain their commitment to a values-driven recovery:

Practice mindfulness: Cultivate present-moment awareness through mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing, or mindful movement. Mindfulness can help individuals become more attuned to their values and make conscious choices that align with their priorities.

Develop a daily values check-in: Create a routine of checking in with personal values each day, reflecting on how choices and actions align with those values. This practice can help maintain focus and intentionality throughout the recovery process.

Cultivate supportive relationships: Surround yourself with individuals who share and support your values. These relationships can provide encouragement, accountability, and inspiration, as well as help you navigate challenges and setbacks during the recovery process.

Create a values-driven environment: Design a living and working environment that reflects and supports personal values. For example, if an individual values creativity, they might create a dedicated space for artistic expression or surround themselves with inspiring artwork.

Develop healthy habits and routines: Establish daily routines and habits that promote living in accordance with values. For example, if an individual values physical health, they might incorporate regular exercise and meal planning into their daily schedule.

Seek ongoing support and guidance: Engage in therapy, support groups, or mentorship programs that focus on values-based living and recovery. These resources can provide invaluable support, guidance, and encouragement throughout the recovery journey.

Monitoring progress and adjusting the plan as needed

As individuals progress in their recovery, it is essential to monitor their progress and make adjustments to their values-based recovery plan as needed. Regular progress monitoring can help identify areas of success and growth, as well as pinpoint areas where further support or intervention may be needed. To effectively monitor progress and adjust the plan, consider the following strategies:

Regular self-assessment: Periodically assess progress toward SMART goals and alignment with values. Reflect on successes, challenges, and areas where additional support or intervention may be needed.

Involve support systems: Seek feedback from therapists, support groups, mentors, or loved ones who can provide an outside perspective on progress and areas for improvement.

Celebrate successes: Acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments and milestones in the recovery process. Recognizing successes can boost motivation, build confidence, and foster a sense of pride in one’s recovery journey.

Revise goals and strategies as needed: As individuals evolve and grow throughout their recovery journey, their goals and strategies may need to be adjusted. Remain flexible and open to change, revising the values-based recovery plan as needed to better support ongoing recovery and personal growth.

Reassess values periodically: As previously mentioned, values can change over time. Periodically reassess values to ensure they continue to reflect an individual’s true self and chosen life direction. Adjust the recovery plan as needed to align with any changes in values.


Values play a critical role in the recovery process from addiction, serving as a compass for change and a foundation for personal growth. By identifying and clarifying personal values, individuals can develop a strong sense of purpose and motivation, which can help them navigate the challenges of recovery and maintain their commitment to the journey. Integrating values into the recovery plan allows individuals to create a personalized, values-driven approach that addresses their unique needs and desires, fostering a deeper connection to their authentic selves.

Through various techniques and strategies, such as setting SMART goals, cultivating supportive relationships, and engaging in ongoing self-reflection, individuals can align their daily lives with their values, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and meaningful existence. As values evolve and change over time, it is essential to remain adaptable and responsive, continually reassessing and adjusting the recovery plan to better support ongoing growth and healing. By embracing the importance of values in the recovery process, individuals can create a solid foundation for lasting change, empowering them to build a life that is true to their beliefs and priorities.

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Struggling with an addiction?

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Other Mental Health Resources

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