Sobriety Coins Are More Than Eye Candy

Sobriety Coins Are More Than Eye Candy

A medallion or ‘chip’ is often is presented as a token of recognition at recovery meetings. In the 12-step meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, the medallions take the form of plastic chips while they are given as key tags at Narcotics Anonymous (NA) gatherings. Many other support groups distribute them too. They signify that a person has achieved various time periods of recovery. They symbolize an accomplishment on the journey to sobriety.

While a token represents the completion of something, it also demonstrates the beginning of a better way of life. Chips show that people in residential treatment programs have completed instrumental steps in therapy.

When newly sober individuals receive the award, at their first meeting (the “newcomer chip”), they feel encouraged and that they are not alone. They feel like they can reach out to someone when things get rough. A token gives the recipient a lot of comforts when he or she knows they are carrying it.

It is easy to see why sobriety tokens are handed out and used. After all, good luck charms have been popular for hundreds of years. The tradition supports the belief that fortune follows a person who carries it with him. The idea of luck is part of people’s DNA. The belief that those good luck tokens work ends up in improved results.  And maybe that is true.

Sobriety Coins Are More Than Eye Candy

The Psychological Influence of a Lucky Charm

In one research study, participants were asked to carry out activities with or without their favorite lucky charms. When the participants carried their charm, they achieved better scores or were “luckier.” Scientists believe the charms relieve anxiety, which, in turn, improves a person’s performance.

Amulets and charms take various forms worldwide. For instance, the horseshoe is one example of this type of charm. Also, the iron that makes up a horseshoe is believed to drive away evil. Another token of luck, the four-leaf clover or shamrock, stands for faith, hope, love, and, of course, luck.

While the three-leaf clover is common, only one in 10,000 clovers of this type exhibit those lucky four leaves.

How Sobriety Medallions Originated

While the AA or NA do not sanction a specific type of medallion to celebrate sobriety, individual organizations do purchase tokens as a matter of choice. The use of sobriety coins goes back to the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). At that time Sister Mary Ignatia worked with AA co-founder Dr. Bob Smith in 1939. Sister Ignatia gave recovery patients who were released from St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, a Sacred Heart token.

While it is not known if Sister Ignatia pioneered the disbursement of tokens, it does show that medallions, just like lucky charms, do influence a person’s goals and motivations.

Birthday Commemoration Coins

Medallions that represent sobriety are also used to celebrate “birthdays,” which in this context symbolize a year of absence from the drug of choice. The giving of plastic chips in AA meetings may be related to the practice of some early groups who played poker. However, this claim has not been proven with absolute certainty, and it’s possible that the chips were ubiquitous and cheap.

You might say coins and tokens represent a talisman that wards off a relapse. This especially helps the alcoholic who keeps a chip in the same pocket or purse where his or her money is kept to buy alcohol. Each time he or she comes into contact with the coin, they are reminded about how far they’ve come and why it is important to remain abstinent.

Those lucky charms help with recovery and enforce sobriety. Having them around means a lot to the recipient as well as to those who love them and care for them.


Mike Williams has written about the field of recovery for over 15 years. He is a frequent contributor to By the Sea Recovery, a San Diego sober living home.






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