Is it wrong to be selfish in early recovery?

Is it wrong to be selfish when you’re newly clean and sober? Yes. And no. We review both sides of the argument for and against selfishness in addiction recovery here.

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Selfishness in addiction recovery

Many people talk about putting yourself first in order to recover from drug, alcohol or chemical addictions. For some people, early recovery may be a necessary time of self-reflection and time spent alone. Others, however, cannot really afford to shelter from the storm of life, and must press on. We’ll attempt to talk here about prioritizing the “self” in early recovery by offering thoughts on both sides of the fence.

What do you think? Please share your feedback and comments below.

1. No, it is OK to be selfish in early recovery

The most important thing that you have to do in recovery is to stay clean. For some people, selfishness is a survival mechanism in early recovery. In fact, selfishness is not even a choice but is a mark of where you are in your psycho-spiritual development. If you’re not capable of doing else than being selfish, but you can stay clean and sober, then continue doing what you’re doing. But, be sure to define “early recovery” within a certain time frame (up to 1 year seems good)…and try not to use selfishness as an excuse to do bad things. Do what you can, and put effort into growing up and out of selfishness as you accumulate clean time.

2. Yes, it’s wrong to be selfish in early recovery

In active addiction, addicts and alcoholics are by nature selfish. Addiction is a self-centered disease, which not only feeds on the mental, physical, and spiritual elements of the self, but drains the lives of loved ones. Responsibilities and obligations do not matter to the active addict, but should become more important to an addict in recovery. Otherwise, it is unfair to the people that have been “taken hostage” during addictive periods. Continued selfishness in early recovery can be a refusal to grow out of an immature state of mind, and needs to be overcome.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Havent the loved ones of addicts been ignored enough when they were active? For a recovering alcoholic to selfishly and completely ignore loved ones with the excuse that they need to “focus on my sobriety” just adds to the feelings of anger and resentment in loved ones that may have very well been destroyed by the addicts original selfish behavior. And if rehab facilities are suggesting this selfishness, they should have their licenses revoked.

  2. I think there is a difference between self centered “selfishness ” and self care. Self care focuses on the goals of recovery and seeks to make them a priority with well balanced intention and consideration of the needs of self and others.

  3. So, a completely selfish addicts/alcohol is expected to be rational, realistic and mature miraculously in early recovery? Almost all the countless addict I know/alcoholics were missing in my life at a very young age, teenage youth, and never reached maturity.

  4. Many factors come into play when discussing how individuals in early recovery think, feel, and act. For instance, what was the age of first use, age of dependent substance use, is there substance dependence in either parent/siblings/other relations, is there a co-occurring mental health/physical health disorder, what drugs were used, what substances is the individual dependent upon, what is/was the length of the dependency, and the list goes on and on. We cannot generalize what early recovery looks like. Doing this will be putting a square peg in a round hole, which does not assist individuals to find recovery. There are more than likely many sub-types of substance dependence that may or may not show a generalizable or typical early recovery response. Also, we need to remember that in any given year only around 1.1% of substance dependent individuals attend treatment. 1.1% is too small of a sample size to attempt to describe recovery for the incredible number of people finding recovery daily without any clinical intervention.

  5. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. From my perspective on the other side of the fence (husband in recovery from dual addictions) the very selfish nature of the addict/alcoholic needs as much treatment as the disease itself.

    Certainly, selfishness is necessary to the extent the one in recovery must put their recovery needs in front of all else. However, receiving constant reinforcement that selfishness is a good thing from “professionals” can lead to justifying being selfish in unhealthy areas.

    I read the term “mature selfishness” on another website. So, the totally selfish addict/alcoholic is expected to become magically rational, realistic and mature in early recovery? Nearly all the innumerable addict/alcoholics I’ve known in my life were lost at a very young age, preteens to teens, and never attained maturity.

    Unfortunately, they won’t have the luxury of having another few years to grow up and become responsible adults. Once considered rehabilitated they will be thrust out in the world and expected to act their age. The trouble is the physical age may be 42 while the mental and emotional age may be 12!

  6. I am a recovering alcoholic, over 10 years clean and free. My opinion is yes, it is wrong to be “selfish”. I completely agree, that in the early stages you must be very careful with what you do, where you go, who you see and so forth. However, this can be done without being “selfish”. The key is to be open and honest with those closest to you. You must have a plan upfront, and some common understanding of what is needed to make the journey. If your loved ones are truly your loved one and friends are real friends, they will understand and support you. However, I can stress enough that you have to be transparent in these situations. You can state, “I need to stay away….” or “I need some time alone for this reason….”. If you are transparent and also remain accountable (do not just disappear and state you needed time), you can accomplish both agendas, the focus and growth without a selfish attitude. That was my experience.

    Just my $0.02 worth! Great blog by the way.


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