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Playing cards offer winning hand for recovery

September 1, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Sober Cards

Looking for ways to remain sober after spending 30 days in treatment for alcohol and drug addictions in 2010, entrepreneur Chris Rosburg discovered that two aces up his sleeve made the perfect pair.

While in treatment, Rosburg received sober slogans from his caregivers, messages he describes as “quick and quirky.”

“I spent a really good amount of time on the weekends home alone, memorizing those sober slogans and making them a part of my daily and nightly routine, and trying to figure out how they applied to my life,” he tells Addiction Professional.

Needing a way to keep himself occupied on Friday and Saturday nights, a time Rosburg felt he was most at risk for falling back in with the wrong crowd and relapsing, he developed a love for playing cards.

Eventually, a light went on for Rosburg: By combining two resources that have helped keep him sober, he could create a new tool for others. Thus, he developed Sober Cards.

Rosburg’s plight—the risk of relapsing out of sheer boredom—is not uncommon. Boredom was cited as a top reason for relapse in a study of more than 300 addicts who had completed a treatment program, according to an article published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2008.

But the utility of Sober Cards goes beyond games of solitaire to keep individuals occupied. Besides the hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs one would find in hands dealt at a poker table, each of the 52 cards in the Sober Cards deck features one of the slogans that has inspired Rosburg, such as “Sobriety is a journey, not a destination” and “Play the tape out.” Treatment centers and 12 Step programs have incorporated the cards into their programs, using their sayings in meditation and group therapy sessions, Rosburg says.

Hope House, a residential and intensive outpatient facility in Augusta, Ga., for women over the age of 18, began using Sober Cards in November. Decks are given to new patients, as well as alumni who have completed a treatment program. Hope House Development Director Paige Miller says that while the cards have been useful for relaxation during free time, providing inspirational messages can also help give reassurance to women in recovery for the first time.

“You’ll see a lot of ladies write the quotes out for signs on their door so they have that constant reminder throughout the day,” Miller says. “It’s something they’ve embraced, and it’s been helpful for them.”

Meanwhile in Rosburg’s hometown of Kansas City, Welcome House, a not-for-profit, sober living program for men, experienced similar results when it began giving the cards to residents in late 2015. Welcome House Executive Director Jamie Boyle says offering cards with the messages found on Sober Cards “was brilliant” because it created another opportunity to keep the themes of recovery top of mind.

“Recovery is a really interesting thing,” he says. “You never know what will have an impact or create that lightbulb moment for somebody.”