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Risk-Reward Analysis for Alcohol and Other Drugs

To drink or not to drink. To use or not to use. What will break the log-jam of conflicting thoughts? Let’s start by getting the risks and rewards of quitting down on paper.

“I couldn’t cope without my dope” vs “What in the hell have I done now?”

Risks: All the things that terrorize us about stopping are risks of quitting, while the risks of using are those problems that have either already happened or are possible to happen. These two categories involve the more immediate aspects of the situation.

Rewards: There must have been rewards for using or we wouldn’t have kept it up so long. To complete the picture, there are sure to be rewards for quitting. These latter two categories involve the longer-term perspective.

At SMART Recovery we encourage you to act reasonably and responsibly about your future involvement with intoxicants or any bad habit. First there are a few ground rules to consider. You are a normal human being. You got started in this by seeking pleasure or relaxation, and also perhaps to avoid some perceived distress. That was understandable. You are not defective! It’s just that certain substances or behaviors can lose their luster and eventually become a real problem for some people.

The Risk-Reward Analysis is a powerful instrument that enables you to see what you are doing to yourself and others. It also gives you a glimpse ahead at the possible impact on your life of continued use as well as the possible impact of changing your behavior.

The fourth point of the SMART Recovery 4-Point Program® is Living a Balanced Life which includes balancing long-term satisfactions against short-term satisfactions. Comparing the two may help motivate you to change your lifestyle and habits.

This exercise is an important tool for establishing motivation if you are contemplating quitting. It will also have value as you work toward quitting your substance abuse or other maladaptive behavior. During challenging situations, your Risk-Reward Analysis can be an anchor for you to refresh your memory of your reasons for quitting.

Get Started

Begin with a blank piece of paper (or get the PDF below) and organize a better understanding of your own personal situation.

Create 4 boxes: Risks of Using, Rewards of Using, Risks of Quiting, and Rewards of Quitting.

Below are examples to prompt your thinking and get you started on your own document. We believe this is where the real work starts, and that you’re worth it!

risk reward PDF Download the Risk Reward worksheet


Risks of Using


DUI or multiple DUIs
Trouble with the law
Problems with employment
Financial difficulties
Relationship problems
Loss of self-respect and from others
Health considerations
Loss of ambition
Fear of the future
Fear of AIDS
Loss of custody of a child or children

You will have some things to highlight or to add to this list for your own inventory. Be as honest and as specific as you can.

A good definition of addiction is the condition of finding yourself continuing in a behavior when you know it is against your better judgment. You find that you have been “hooked”, so to speak. That’s probably why you let things get to this stage. In SMART Recovery® we are interested first in having a clear picture of the problem. (This list of risks is a very good place to start!)

Risks of Quitting


No more getting stoned
People will think I’m different
People will think I can’t handle it
Won’t be able to resist temptation
I’ll be on unfamiliar turf
I’ll lose my secret best friend
I’ll get the shakes (fear of withdrawal)
I won’t have the “liquid courage”
I’ll begin to see my real self
I’ll have to be a goody-goody
If I fail, I’ll be worse off than before
I’ll have an empty place inside and nothing to fill it
I’ll have to stay away from usual friends and contacts
I’ll have to face the uncomfortable things that cause me to drink
Can’t think of how and where to find anything else better to do

…Once again, highlight and add things to make this list personal.

These examples are enough to get an idea of things to think about when you consider quitting. It is important to make your list as fair as you can and face the issues, rather than avoid them. Otherwise they will come back and bite you in the ass later. Also remember that many of your fears are based on faulty thinking that you may have been using to justify your behavior.

Rewards of Using


Getting stoned, feeling a rush, feeling a buzz
Weight management or loss
Social aspect, “let the good times roll”
Like the taste of it
Mask feelings of guilt
Drowning sorrow
Loss of inhibition
Escape from problems, reality, people
Avoiding withdrawal

…Once again, highlight and add things to make this list personal.

We emphasize again that to seek pleasure and to avoid pain are healthy and normal things to do. It is when the use of the substance or behavior takes over your better judgment, that you need to reassess the risks and rewards of continuing what has become a harmful habit.

If you want to end the addiction, establishing new alternative rewards is an important objective.

Rewards of Quitting


Better physical and mental health
Custody of child or children
More control over myself
No more fear of a DUI
Keep the judge happy
Increased self awareness
Peace of mind
Better job security
Improved relationships
New friends and interests
Feel optimistic
Feel self growing up inside
Not feel guilty all the time

The rewards of quitting are long-lasting. How attractive are these rewards of quitting to you, personally? This is the time to clearly see your choices. It’s up to you to decide.


Make it yours personally, think about it privately, see what’s best for you, keep it and then believe it -it’s what you really think! Keep it to remind you about your personal advantages of long-term satisfactions over short-term satisfactions.