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Tommy Recovery Coaching

Sobriety Chips: How They Work & Why They’re Important in Recovery

For many mental health professionals who focus on addiction recovery, the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the late 1930s was one of the most important inventions of the 20th century. Many of the principles, practices, and traditions of AA have become standards of addiction recovery. For example, other programs, such as Gamblers Anonymous, adopted the 12 steps of AA, and then we have sobriety chips, which are also known as medallions or coins. These physical tokens represent milestones in recovery, and many people learn about them from celebrities who highlight them on their “clean dates” or “sober birthdays,” which is when sobriety chips are often presented, updated, or dusted off for remembrance.

The Basics of Sobriety Chips

AA medallions began to emerge a few years after the first meetings were held before World War II. The practice may have started in Indianapolis or upstate New York, and the chips were likely inspired by Roman Catholic medallions or coins awarded to members of business and community organizations, such as the Rotary Club. 

By the mid-1950s, AA had organically established the 12 steps and acknowledged many chapters were giving anniversary tokens to commemorate periods of abstinence. Over time, AA medallions became more closely associated with sobriety instead of abstinence.

Color-Coded Sobriety Chips

Similar to wedding anniversaries and martial arts belt ranking systems, sobriety chips come in different colors to represent specific milestones. As with many other AA traditions, the color coding of medallions isn’t written in stone. Some groups follow color schemes, while others may not. 

When to give these tokens is also determined by AA groups wherever they meet. Typically, a white chip marking the “sober birthday,” which is when you make a heartfelt commitment to recover, is often awarded to new members. A full day of abstinence gets you a silver coin, and you get a red one after a month. In many groups, the gold AA medallion marks 60 days of abstinence and commitment to the 12 steps.

What Sobriety Chips Celebrate

For many people who go through AA or other recovery programs with sobriety chips, each token feels like a blessing. American rapper Eminem keeps a low profile when his birthday comes around in October, but in April 2024, he celebrated his “sober birthday” with an Instagram post showing a large AA medallion marking 16 years of recovery. In AA, getting a chip means more than just abstinence. You also have to show you’re overcoming challenges, growing as a person, and following the recommended path to recovery.

More than Just Soberversaries

Anyone who has gone to recovery will tell you getting a chip feels great. In the AA community, the granting of a medallion, no matter the color or how many days of abstinence it marks, is always a big deal for everyone in the meeting. 

Waiting until the “clean date soberversary” to grant a chip isn’t formulaic. It upholds patience and respects perseverance, but it doesn’t have to be the sole catalyst for awarding these tokens. Some sober lifestyle coaches, such as those who provide Encinitas recovery coaching, give chips to clients after certain achievements, such as getting jobs and holding them down while completing certain steps of their sobriety plans. In some cases, the celebration may not even include any physical tokens. A warm embrace from loved ones who are proud of your recovery efforts will always feel better than getting soberversary medallions.

At Sober Lifestyle Coaching, our certified and professionally trained sober companions work with clients to help them maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Our goal is to offer our clients maximum recovery support in the first fragile days or weeks of early addiction recovery in Encinitas, CA. If you’re looking for extra support so you don’t risk relapse when you head into the danger zones, we’ll work with you to put together a game plan to keep you safe and sober as you accomplish your goals. Give us a call today.

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