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The Role of Accountability in Sobriety

Accountability can be a powerful tool in motivating us to make permanent changes in our lives, especially in relation to sober recovery. Finding a way to incorporate a reliable accountability plan into your sober recovery program can be a challenge, unless you know where to start.

Accountability Keeps You on Track to Staying Sober

Before figuring out how to integrate accountability measures into your sober recovery plan, you must first know exactly what behaviors or outcomes you need to be held accountable for. For example, if someone who is trying to lose weight does not have to be accountable to anyone else about sticking to a diet and exercise plan, then this person may never lose any weight. There is no accountability in place within the diet and exercise program to give real meaning to this person’s efforts. Similarly, if the accountability partner for an alcoholic focuses solely on sobriety, but does not hold the person accountable for making lifestyle changes like staying away from the people and locations associated with prior use, sobriety likely will not be achieved. Accountability is the measure or mechanism that keeps you on track.

Accountability Comes in Many Forms

When most people in sober recovery programs think of accountability, they think of an accountability partner – someone who asks you on a regular basis if you did the thing you are committed to doing. This type of “partner” would include the concept of sponsorship in 12 step programs and communities where former addicts give back to the community by supporting those new to sobriety. This type of accountability partnering or sponsoring is also commonly seen the in Evangelical Christian community. For example, in the Promise Keeper program, men commit to keeping certain promises and report back on their progress to a small group. Many programs focused on life change have an element of accountability through a partner.

Accountability is not limited to making verbal reports of progress and having conversations with program partners and sponsors. Accountability can be formed through a variety of new technologies, including online sobriety meetings or 12 step chat groups. A person in sober recovery may be accountable to an online community that meets and shares stories of progress in a computer-based forum. If we want to find reliable accountability, it may mean looking beyond our traditional support network and embracing the assistance of a “virtual” group member we may never meet. Before beginning a search for accountability, be open to the possibility that it may come in a form that is different from what you were expecting.

Finding Accountability Partners

Accountability partners typically fall in three general categories: strugglers who help strugglers, overcomers who help strugglers, and professionals who help strugglers.

Strugglers who help strugglers are easy to find. This group of accountability partners includes anyone sitting in a self-help group who is not a sponsor. This can mean other chat room participants, and anyone complaining about the same personal challenges that plague you. To turn one of these other strugglers into an accountability partner, you simply need to ask if they are interested in working with you in this way. It is more likely to be a successful accountability arrangement if there are clear expectations on both sides and if an accountability plan is put in writing. Unfortunately, since the partner is also a struggler, they may not have a lot of insight as to how to overcome the problem.

Overcomers who help strugglers may be more helpful, but they are less plentiful. To find an overcomer, you can search 12-step groups’ sponsor lists, Craigslist, and bloggers. If you are a member of a faith community, a leader may be able to connect you with another member who has struggled in the past with the sticking to a sober recovery program or overcoming a similar problem. If you know someone who is recovering from addiction and is successfully managing sobriety, tell them you are seeking a way to integrate accountability into your sober recovery plan and ask for recommendations. They may volunteer themselves as an accountability partner or suggest someone who helped them along the way. The strugglers and overcomers are both volunteers, which means reliability may be an issue.

Professionals who help strugglers are perhaps the most reliable of the three categories, as their reputation and livelihood are contingent upon providing quality accountability. Professionals may also be the easiest accountability partners to find. As a first step, check out life coaches who specialize in accountability. Life coaches are trained to assist persons in overcoming obstacles, creating clear goals, and following through. Accountability life coaches typically meet with clients by phone. The frequency of those meetings may vary from once a month to daily. Coaching can be fairly pricey. New coaches often offer free sessions for a limited time. Another affordable alternative may be counseling.

Counseling differs from life coaching in that counselors are able to provide treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders. While counselors have a skill set similar to life coaches, the focus of a counseling meeting is different. Counselors may explore how the past has impacted your current struggles and will likely deal more with the root causes of the struggles. Counseling is often more affordable than life coaching because all or a portion of the fees may be covered by health insurance (if the client is struggling with a mental health or substance abuse disorder).Counselors typically provide accountability by way of weekly checking in on progress and assisting via brainstorming solutions to help overcome setbacks or hiccups along the way.

Finding Accountability for Your Sobriety Online

The Internet and a wide range of applications for smart phones are making it easier to inject some accountability into your sobriety program or other life-change programs. Just a few minutes ago my phone told me to “Have a healthy snack” and “Click to log in foods,” thus holding me accountable for sticking to my food plan. If I am successful in reaching my food plan goals, the application rewards me with praise and digital “stickers.” Smart phone applications–many of which are free–are widely available. If you search the Google play store for the term “accountability,” the majority of the applications are for those struggling with addiction to pornography. If your behavior-change goals or needs lie elsewhere, use a more specific term in your search. Applications exist for paying bills, doing chores, and exercising, as well as for ending a wide range of bad habits including: gambling, smoking, substance abuse, and overeating.

There are traditional websites that can also provide excellent accountability. Perhaps the most effective is Stickk is different because it holds members financially accountable for reporting on their goals. Stickk will make a donation to a non-profit or political organization of your choice if you do not report that you followed through with a task by a certain time. Members typically choose non-profits or political organizations they do not like for extra motivation.

Using Other Technology to Build in Accountability

A variety of devices can hold one accountable for health-related habits. There are scales with WiFi connections so you cannot lie about your weight. There are watches that monitor your blood pressure, the number of steps you took, or calories you burned. Anklets can measure alcohol in sweat. There are even toothbrushes with timers to ensure you brush your teeth for the recommended time. If you are interested in technology, one of these devices may be more effective for you than working with an accountability partner.

If you are using technology as a form of accountability, a key component of your success lies in researching the technology and making certain it is convenient to you. No technology is effective if it is not used.

Accountability Must Have Due Dates

When seeking accountability, setting a specific date to start can be key. Otherwise, you could be seeking the perfect accountability partner or application for weeks or months. If you have Internet access, some form of accountability can be available to you within days. It may not be a perfect solution for you, and it may need to be modified in the future, but the Internet allows you to get started–and getting started can be the most difficult hurdle. Just get started.


Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching. She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

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