What is Sobriety?

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What is Sobriety?

Most of us think of sobriety from alcohol as the act of not drinking. While this definition may work for people who are not in recovery, it usually contains a different meaning for those who are.

As someone recovering from an alcohol use disorder, sobriety often means more than not drinking. While the meaning shifts depending on the person, it's a complex concept that involves the entirety of a person's life.

For some, it means discovering peace within yourself, practicing mindfulness, and working through life and its ups and downs. It involves developing the strength to remain sober, however that’s defined in your situation.

Understanding that sobriety is a complex concept, and the motivations behind it can help you develop your own sobriety.

How to Get Sober From Alcohol or Drugs 

Most people don't recover from substance use disorders overnight. Becoming sober is a gradual process that can take weeks, months, or years. Many people battle with lapses and relapses during their recovery journey.

Don't be too hard on yourself if you experience temporary setbacks. There are steps you can take if you want to learn how to stop drinking, no matter how long you have been struggling with an alcohol problem.

Sobriety From Alcohol

Most people with drinking problems are not able to change their habits overnight. Recovery is typically a gradual process. In the early stages of alcohol addiction recovery, denial can be a huge obstacle.

Alcohol addiction is a continuous and treatable medical condition that involves your brain, genetics, and environment. Even after admitting you have an alcohol problem, you may question whether that’s true. You may even relapse.

It's essential to acknowledge your feelings about quitting drinking. If you're not sure you are ready to change or are struggling with the decision to seek help, it's useful to think about how alcohol is impacting your life.

Sobriety From Drugs

Developing an addiction to drugs is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It takes much more than willpower to battle the problem. Using certain drugs–legal or illegal–in an unhealthy way can actually change your brain, leading to intense cravings and a compulsion to use. 

This can make sobriety seem impossible. But that doesn’t mean recovery is out of reach, no matter how challenging it looks or how many times you have tried and failed before. With the proper addiction treatment and support, change is possible.

For some struggling with addiction, the most challenging step toward recovery is the first one: recognizing they have an issue and deciding to seek help.

It's normal to feel uncertain about whether you are ready to begin recovery or if you have what it takes for sober living.

If you are addicted to a prescription drug, you may also worry about treating a medical condition. It is normal to feel torn. Sobriety involves changing many parts of your life.


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Sobriety vs. Long-Term Recovery

When someone attends a treatment center, they may learn that unhealthy substance use is not their sole problem. Instead, substance use might be a symptom or side effect of another issue.

Recovery offers an opportunity for people to make positive wellness changes and deeply examine their feelings, behaviors, and beliefs. People in recovery have a chance to maintain long-term sobriety and live a happy and healthy life free from addiction.

The recovery process requires support, commitment, and action. While some people can stop unhealthy substance use for a short period, long-term sobriety is typically accomplished by following a road of recovery.

The ongoing healing involved in recovery is rarely accomplished without the love and support of others. Many paths lead to recovery, and one of the most popular involves 12-step recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). 

Many people also begin the recovery journey by participating in drug or alcohol rehab, attending cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other forms of therapy, getting medications from an addiction specialist, or becoming involved in other holistic healing programs.

How Long Does it Take to Get Sober?

Depending on the person, it could take days, weeks, months, or years to feel a sense of sobriety.

Each person’s journey of recovery and sobriety is unique. There's no single formula that can treat everyone’s addiction. It's essential to focus on your recovery rather than the time it takes to sober up.

Don't allow the uncertainty of treatment length to stop you from finding the support and recovery you require.

What Does Emotional Sobriety Mean?

One part of the recovery journey for some people is emotional sobriety.

Some people with substance use disorders turn to alcohol or drug use to self-medicate their emotional distress. For these people, part of recovery might be about learning how to process emotions in a healthy way.

As no two persons are the same, people experience emotional sobriety differently. 

However, emotional sobriety typically refers to:

  • Learning how to regulate your emotions
  • Accepting the present as it is 
  • Viewing struggle and grief as natural parts of life 
  • Not letting other people’s limited perceptions or expectations define your self-esteem or adversely impact your behavior

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12 Tips for Staying Sober 

Here are 12 helpful tips for staying sober:

1. Identify personal triggers

A significant part of avoiding relapse is understanding your external triggers, such as people, places, and situations that create thoughts or cravings linked with substance use.

Understanding your internal triggers such as feelings, ideas, and emotions associated with substance use is important too. Once you determine your most significant risks, you can plan to prepare for or avoid them.

2. Understand relapse warning signs

A relapse can occur when you do not identify the warning signs. Often, it begins before you pick up a drink or take a drug. Understanding your relapse warning signs helps you avoid it. They might involve three phases: emotional, mental, and physical relapse.

3. Prepare for post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS)

Depending on the severity of the dependency, post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) can continue for weeks, months, or longer following unhealthy substance use. It can include various symptoms such as irritability, sleep issues, anxiety, and depression.

4. Avoid old habits and routines

If you are sober, but follow the same routine without making any changes in your life, it is easier to slip into old habits and behaviors. Be sure to avoid any routines that used to lead you to your unhealthy substance use.

5. Develop healthy relationships

Once you are sober, you may realize that some of your past relationships were unhealthy or toxic. Work on avoiding toxic relationships and building healthy ones.

6. Build a structured schedule

A chaotic or disorganized lifestyle can affect your recovery. Try following a structured daily and weekly schedule and stick to it.

7. Practice healthy living

Unhealthy substance use can take a significant toll on your physical and emotional wellbeing. Now that you are sober, practice self-care and follow healthy living habits.

8. Focus on your finances

Financial issues and problems finding and keeping employment can be triggers for relapse. Try to keep your finances in order and keep in mind that big improvements are unlikely to happen overnight.

9. Remain calm and collected

Some people who struggle with alcohol or drug addictions also suffer from anger issues. If left unchecked, anger can adversely affect your health and your chances of remaining sober.

10. Deal with past mistakes

Many people in recovery have left a lot of pain in their wake. Feeling guilty or embarrassed of past behavior or action is natural and healthy. Get support to work through it and try not to be too hard on yourself.

11. Find balance

A common behavior for those who are newly in recovery is substituting a new addiction for an old one. Many people become obsessed with a new diet, exercise, job, or participation in support groups.

While these can be healthy practices, try to find balance and not overdo it.

12. Celebrate milestones

Celebrating the hard work you have done in recovery is a great way to remain motivated. Focus on celebrating your milestones with experiences, activities, and treats that support your new, healthy lifestyle.

Best Addiction Recovery Options

Tailored treatment programs and follow-ups are often a part of recovery success. Treatment should include medical and mental health services as required. Follow-up treatment typically includes community or recovery support systems, including family members.


With the help of a medical professional, medications and devices can help patients deal with withdrawal symptoms during detox. Detox alone is not the same as treatment, but it is a step in the process. 

Patients who do not receive additional treatment following detox may have a higher chance of  relapse.

Inpatient or Residential Treatment

Inpatient or residential treatment can be beneficial for patients with more severe problems, including co-occurring disorders. Licensed residential treatment facilities provide 24-hour structured and intensive treatment and care, including safe accommodation and medical assistance.

Residential treatment facilities typically use a selection of therapeutic approaches. They are usually aimed at helping people live a substance-free, crime-free, sober life following treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient behavioral treatment consists of a wide selection of programs for patients who visit a behavioral health counselor regularly. Most of the treatment programs involve personal counseling or support groups, or both.

These programs usually provide forms of behavioral or talk therapy, including cognitive-behavioral treatment, which helps patients understand, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to use drugs or alcohol.

Multidimensional family therapy is another form of outpatient treatment. This therapy is developed for adolescents with drug use problems and their families. It addresses a wide range of influences on drug use patterns and helps improve overall family functioning.

Motivational interviewing is another option. This therapy makes the most of a patient's readiness to shift their behavior and enter treatment.

Some treatment facilities also offer contingency management, which uses positive reinforcement to promote abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

Updated on January 17, 2022
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