Goals & Outcomes in Decision Making


Choice making, or Decision making, is a skill that is learned over time, and this is based upon: 

  • Experience
  • Knowledge, and 
  • Trials

Sometimes, choices must be made in the moment and they are not always the best, but may be the best choice for that individual instance.  Many times, we get bogged down with regret about the decision we made, but try to remember these choices are what we made with the knowledge and the experience we had at the time!  Hindsight, looking back and reflecting, and we ask ourselves; “Why or why not was my decision a good one?”

This is the fundamental way humans learn.  From childhood, this was how we learned to ride a bike, tie our shoelaces, climb a tree.  Carrying on into adulthood, we upgrade to a car,  create new inventions, climb mountains.   But when we introduced psychoactive substances like alcohol or drugs into our systems, our brains were hijacked along with our ability to choose.

Our  choices in active addiction or alcoholism are motivated by our brain  directing us to find more, consume more, protect our use.  Our brain will no longer function normally without the drugs, and this imbalance can take time to heal. Much of the damage caused by drug abuse can be reversed with prolonged abstinence; however, some of the side effects may not heal entirely.

In Recovery, we must learn to live without drugs and alcohol; we need to allow our brain time to heal and re-stabilize, and begin the process of normalizing our transmitters to respond naturally.   We also need to learn to ‘re-train’ our brain to not intervene to stimuli triggers, and consciously control our actions and behaviors.  

Remember that recovery is action, meaning that we need to consciously not put drugs or alcohol back into our bodies.  We remove from us obvious triggers to return to use, such as drugs and drug paraphernalia, we remove ourselves from drinking and using people as much as we can.  But because addiction and alcoholism are brain diseases, we also need to control what we do with thoughts as they enter into our head.  This also means to pay attention to how we make and respond to decisions.  

In addiction, our decisions are ‘need’ based, either consciously or unconsciously, with the results being to use.  In recovery, our goal becomes not to use, and how we think and reason is new to us.  And like any new, good habit, we return the basic decision making skills inherent to us:  Experience, Knowledge and Trial.  

Experience and knowledge are brain driven, and because drugs and alcohol have compromised our system, we need to put in the extra effort to ensure that our decisions are now recovery based, not ‘pleasure’ or ‘satisfaction’ based.  

Consider these questions:

  1. What are my values?
  2. What matters to me in life?
  3. What are my goals-my objectives? 

Decisions are a daily fact of our lives; we decide when to get up and when to go to bed.  What to eat, what to wear, where to go, who to see.  Each one of these decisions reflect who you are, what is important to you, and what you want to accomplish.  

While we are in active addiction, our values and what is important to us takes a backseat to what we value and what is important to us-these are overshadowed by the physical and emotional need to get more of the substance to keep us from withdrawal and stress, (which ironically is what the drug and alcohol use bring).  

Recovery means we are taking back our lives, our thoughts and our actions.  We are willing to participate in our life and that includes making decisions-choices-that are good for us, in our best interest.  This takes time to learn, and build new memories and habits, but it gets easier every time you practice this.  

To begin, identify your values and what is important to you.  Get to know yourself in recovery-you are no longer to be defined by your disease, instead, you will be defined by who you are.  


Here is an example:  

I want to go to a movie tonight; it’s the first showing and I really want to see this, and my old friend from highschool called and has tickets.  But, I promised my sponsor that I’d go to the 7:30 meeting.  What should I do?

1.  Does this choice align with these values?

One of my values is integrity, and in this instance, that means doing what I said I would do.  Going to a movie instead of doing what I said I would do does not line up with my values. 

2.  What is important to me about this goal (Staying Sober or objective, purpose, bottom line of the choice)? 

I haven’t seen my friend for a while.  We used to get pretty drunk together and always went to the first night showing of a movie.  It’s kind of a ritual. 

3.  How does it connect to a recovered life? 

Going to a movie really doesn’t connect with my recovery life.  Hanging with a friend who I used to drink with and do the movie thing  is something I did while I was drinking, not sober.

4.  Does this choice move me closer to that goal (Staying Sober or objective, purpose, bottom line of the choice)?

No-this might actually really trigger me to want to drink.

5.  Does this choice help me keep my promises to myself and others?

No.  I had already kind of committed to the group.

6.  Is this choice about instant gratification and how does it impact my future?

Instant gratification.  I would feel bad for skipping the meeting, not keeping my promise, and even maybe allowing myself to get triggered. 

Decision Tree

A decesion tree is a tool that is used in many formats and business around the world.  In recovery from substance use disorders, it is especially helpful because our brains are in a healing mode, our thoughts are somewhat foggy, and our priorities have changed the moment we decided to stop using drugs.

Our brains are still looking for and waiting for the substances we used, so we need to protect our new sobriety and re-train our responses to just about everything.  You are reclaiming yourself, mind and body!

A decision tree can be of help.  Below is a simple example, but these can be used in any way that you find helpful.  Identify your values and what is important to you in your life.  Always remember that recovery must be your first priority- without your recovery, you cannot be of service, give of yourself, or receive love completely the way you deserve and were meant to.  In the boxes below are several more examples, which can be downloaded and printed.  

Example of a decision tree template by Venngage

Decision Tree

This first Decision Tree akkows you to place the ptoblem at the top, and 3 choices; then allows you to think about 6 possible outcomes.  Somehow being able to view your situation on paper keeps us grounded and on point.  I found this on Templateroller.

Decision Tree-Another Style

I love the colors and clarity of this fun decision tree.  I found this on Pinterest.  This format is aimed for questions, which is generally how we start!


One More Decision Tree

This decision tree is a bit more complicated, with multiple decisions and outcomes.  This is from word/excel/powerpoint.

One Last Decision Tree

I think this may be my favorite; it is from NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse).  I personally have used this.   

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