Published On: April 9, 20211631 words8.2 min read


The meaning of values in sobriety is non-negotiable. Values form the root of recovery. People with a drinking problem have often lost touch with their innate values.

What exactly are values and why do recovery coaches harp on about them? Well, values are what keep us going, what ground us and what make us who we are as people. Values nestle within our integrity, ethics and an ethos for a good life.

I believe that humans are innately good, but that the many curved balls thrown at us affect us all uniquely. Anger, sadness and fear can turn us into demons and force our values to lie hidden for years. Especially when we are addicted to alcohol.

Board the Values Yacht

It requires hard work to find out what our values are. When we decide to stop drinking and embrace sobriety, we need to re-establish our values around living again. Knowing our values is vital towards the ultimate attainment of our goals in life.

Our values are our rudders, and our goals are our billowing sails. Finding the meaning of values in sobriety is like boarding a yacht to the Med, sails billowing, wind in your hair!

For many almost alcoholics, or people with an alcohol-use disorder, the attainment of values is something shoved aside and forgotten. But values are so necessary in recovery because they allow you to find direction.

Think about it: when your life has value, it has meaning. You have a reason to get out of bed happy in the morning and you have something to strive for. Values bring structure and routine to what may be empty days. Values bring health to our lives: not only regarding nutrition and diet, but also regarding relationships in family, community, work or school.

Family and Connection

A healthy family has strong values – they may be unspoken but they steer and ground the family into something loving and supportive. It is sad, therefore, that many people suffering alcoholism have compromised their family relationships – or maybe they are simply oblivious about the importance of having normal, healthy relationships in life?

Reaching for a wine glass or a beer bottle or a tot of whiskey pushes family away: it is a relationship with a toxin that removes all meaning from life. The alcohol cons the brain into wanting more, and the addicted drinker believes that the alcohol is far more important than the people in their lives.

Did you know that more than 35 million people globally are suffering some kind of substance use disorder right now? Only 1 out of every 7 of these people seek help. If you are part of this statistic, now is the time to seek help. Have you ever thought about the meaning of values in your life? Have you ever thought about sobriety?

Psychology Today sums up values as “qualities or principles that people consider to be important and wish to personify. Your values represent what you view as most meaningful in life. Values often translate to the standards of behavior a person wants to demonstrate—to him- or herself, as well as to others. Our values help define the kind of person we want to be and the kind of life we want to live. When we live in accordance with them, our values influence our priorities, our thinking, our choices, our decision-making, and our actions.”

The Compass that Keeps us on Track

Many people, sober or not, forget to really think about their values, to write them down and to steer their ships in that direction. Values are like a subconscious mentor, reminding us about integrity, kindness and the people we care about in our lives.

Our personal values can be like a compass that keeps us on track. The meaning of values in sobriety therefore is deep: our values determine our behaviour and keep us on track as good people.

A chronic alcoholic, for example, can be rudderless and angry, losing touch with all meaning in his life: his values! People with integrity have deep values which they keep close to their hearts.


Integrity is all about being deeply honest. The simple act of taking responsibility for personal actions reveals honesty in a person. It’s not always easy to take responsibility for things that happen, but it is the right thing to do. For me, Mahatma Gandhi was a man filled with integrity. He abstained from all toxic substances and relationships.

Yes, people with integrity:

  • choose to do the right thing, even when this is very hard to do (such as forgiving someone who has hurt them)
  • put the needs of others above their own needs or desires (without thinking about applause or admiration
  • show respect for all people in their humanity (from the down and out beggar to the wealthy businessman)
  • know what they are good at and yet what they need to strengthen and work on (always trying to do better)
  • will never let you down at the last minute if they can help it
  • are consistently kind.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.” — Mahatma Gandhi

We can admit that the loss of integrity is all tied up in addiction. We also know that the opposite of addiction is connection. Most people who choose sobriety start to reconnect with their loved ones and with new friends and communities. In this way, the former addict finds meaning in values and starts to rebuild a lost integrity.

Straying from Values in Addiction

People in active addiction, such as alcoholics, have strayed so far from their values that they are lost and sad, angry and depressed. Rudderless and sail-less. The obsession, the compulsion, the self-absorption destroys any values that were there before.

Addicts mix with the kind of people who bring them even further down – people like them who have lost all touch with their inner value systems. The meaning of values in sobriety can therefore be a huge stimulant to get better and to form attainable goals. To look from within to without and to look away from the ego towards community.

What is the meaning of life? Think about your days as a drinker. You felt discontent, regret, unhappiness, not so? You built mountains of shame and guilt – causing stress, distress and intense emotional pain. You knew you were violating your values but you needed the alcohol more than the meaning?!

Values Steer Recovery

Rediscovering values when leaving addiction behind is the driving force behind recovery. Because as we rediscover our innate meaning in life, so we start to reconnect with other people, community and family.

The core values that guide recovery are these:

  • Recovery begins with hope
  • Recovery begins and ends with the individual who seeks it
  • It must be individualized to succeed. There is no one direct path that fits every person
  • Recovery is a holistic process that works to improve all areas of life, including physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual
  • Family, community, and peer support play invaluable roles in recovery
  • Playing healthy roles in groups is vital for recovery to happen
  • Treatment is influenced by culture and should be culturally based
  • Trauma must be addressed
  • Recovery involves personal responsibility
  • Recovery is based upon respect

Do this Values Interpretation exercise for your own sobriety goal-setting. When you look at this list of values, find those that ring true for what you want to live by. Values reinforce all the decisions we make, often subconsciously.

Choose all the values that you feel apply to you. Then highlight the TOP 5.

  • Being with people
  • Being loved
  • Being married
  • Having a special partner
  • Having companionship
  • Loving someone
  • Taking care of others
  • Having someone’s help
  • Having a close family
  • Having good friends
  • Being liked
  • Being popular
  • Getting people’s approval
  • Being appreciated
  • Being treated fairly
  • Being admired
  • Being independent
  • Being courageous
  • Having things in control
  • Having self-control
  • Being emotionally stable
  • Having self-acceptance
  • Having pride or dignity
  • Being well-organized
  • Being competent
  • Learning and knowing a lot
  • Achieving highly
  • Being productively busy
  • Having enjoyable work
  • Having an important position
  • Making money
  • Striving for perfection
  • Making a contribution to the world
  • Fighting injustice
  • Living ethically
  • Being a good parent (or child)
  • Being a spiritual person
  • Having a relationship with God
  • Having peace and quiet
  • Making a home
  • Preserving your roots
  • Having financial security
  • Holding on to what you have
  • Being safe physically
  • Being free from pain
  • Not getting taken advantage of
  • Having it easy
  • Being comfortable
  • Avoiding boredom
  • Having fun
  • Enjoying sensual pleasures
  • Looking good
  • Being physically fit
  • Being healthy
  • Having prized possessions
  • Being a creative person
  • Having deep feelings
  • Growing as a person
  • Living fully
  • “Smelling the flowers”
  • Having a purpose

When you have chosen your top 5 values, write each one down and then ask yourself:

  1. What do I want to happen with this value?
  2. What am I going to do about it?

So, if you chose “family” for example, you may say a) “I want my family to stop arguing with me about my drinking;” and b) I must stop drinking. The bigger question is HOW do you aim to do this?

Which I leave up to you.

In conclusion, the meaning of values in sobriety can never be over-emphasized. Many drinkers cannot define even 3 values when they stop drinking. But as they probe and dig they realise just how many values they have allowed to fall by the wayside. Think about your reactions to daily stress and other people: are you irritable, aggressive, resentful and tactless? Or are you kind, compassionate and humble?

Take a listen to our Tribe Sober podcasts to find out more …


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