August 3, 2015

How to Find New Meaning: There’s More to Life than Alcohol

Alcohol has a tendency to take over drinkers’ lives. It usually starts socially, then becomes an “after work beer.” Once alcohol use has become a daily part of life, it’s a slippery slope that leads to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Unfortunately, part of the disease of alcoholism is that alcohol becomes a primary motivation in life. Many alcoholics spend most of the time either drinking, or planning the next time they’ll be drinking. Alcohol dominates their thoughts, social lives and finances.

Anyone who wishes to free themselves from the grip of alcoholism embarks on a journey towards lasting recovery. While most of this journey will be ridding your life of alcohol, filling your life with meaning will also be important. Without replacing the void left by alcohol, you’ll find yourself more prone to relapse.

How to Find New Meaning

Along with seeking medical and psychological treatment to overcome alcoholism, searching for meaning can help build a new lifestyle that will facilitate lasting sobriety.

What exactly is meaning? According to Barbara Fredrickson, a psychological researcher who specializes in emotional studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, meaning is defined as an orientation to something bigger than the self. Fredrickson explains that people can evaluate their sense of meaning by asking a few questions:

  • How often do you feel that you belong to a social group or community?
  • Do you feel like you contribute to society?
  • Do you possess a sense of direction in your daily life?

Asking yourself these questions regularly will help you evaluate the level of meaning you feel in your life. Meaning is one of the reasons why 12-step groups and support groups are so successful – they provide a social environment and many prescribe believing in something bigger than the self. In fact, according to a study published by the US National Library of Medicine, support groups have been shown to prevent relapse.

How can you go about finding meaning in your own life? The questions discussed above can be used as a guide and can be narrowed down to help you find a good starting part:

  • What social issues or charitable causes are you drawn to? Do you ever wish you could help stray animals, homeless people or provider mentorship? Finding the right cause to get behind will help you feel like you are contributing to society.
  • Are there any long term goals, dreams and ambitions that were disrupted by alcohol usage? Revisiting them now will certainly add meaning to your life.
  • Do you have any passions or interests that lend themselves well to social groups and communities? Signing up for a baseball league or getting involved with community-focused yoga will do wonders for your daily sense of meaning.
  • The search for meaning is an ongoing quest and you shouldn’t expect results overnight. It will likely be trial and error; you’ll have to try different things to see what really clicks. However, even just searching for meaning will help you recover from alcoholism and regain sobriety.

    The Path to Meaning Begins Now

    You don’t have to wait until you’re completely sober to start seeking meaning. Start trying to new activities and pursuing new interests in an early, long-term effort to seek sobriety. As you go through other treatment methods, your path to meaning will undoubtedly provide constant encouragement and motivation.

    There’s no need to wait until after rehab to start seeking meaning. Start now and you’ll be prepared for what lies ahead.


    1. Emily Esfhani Smith, Meaning Is Healthier Than Happiness, The Atlantic, August 2013,
    2. Rudolf H. Moos, Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders, US National Library of Medicine, February 2006,

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