Sobriety is a word used frequently when discussing recovery from addiction. There is quite a bit of debate about what it actually means. Some would claim that just giving up an addiction means that the individual has entered sobriety. Although the way this word tends to used implies much more than just being “on the wagon”. It is most often used to describe people who have achieved a certain amount of stability in their life away from addiction. In these terms not everyone who manages to remain abstinent will have found sobriety.
One way of defining sobriety would be to say that it is the natural state of a human being. It means that their thoughts and behavior are not influenced by intoxicants. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it simply as the quality of being sober. In 12 Step groups the word sobriety is used to describe people who have achieved a good level of mental health; those who live a balanced life. It is therefore more realistic to view sobriety as a successful life in recovery rather than just not drinking or using drugs. It involves complete mental, physical, and spiritual health.
In AA they talk about people who haven’t touched alcohol in years but still not managed to achieve sobriety. Such individuals are seen as suffering from a condition known as dry drunk syndrome. This person might no longer be drinking, but their behavior is much the same as when they were in the midst of their addiction. They continue to use maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with life, and so they never find real peace and happiness.
Dry drunks will usually be full of resentment and other types of stinking thinking. Their family may complain that they are as hard to be around as they were while drinking. Some dry drunks will eventually relapse but many continue to live an unsatisfying life away from addiction. They may view their time away from alcohol as being similar to serving a prison sentence. Dry drunk syndrome would be considered almost the complete opposite to sobriety.
If sobriety is viewed as a successful recovery then it is likely to consist of the following key elements:
* Complete abstinence from all intoxicants.
* The individual will have developed effective coping strategies for dealing with challenges in life.
* It involves living an ethical life where they try to not harm other people. Avoiding wrongdoing does not have to be associated with any type of religious belief. A great reason for why anybody should behave ethically is that it is good for mental health.
* Sobriety includes repairing old relationships and building new ones. Loneliness can destroy much of the joy in life so it needs to be controlled. There is a difference though, between being alone and being lonely.
* Sobriety often involves an acceptance that some relationships have been damaged beyond repair. There is often plenty of damage caused to personal relationships as a result of addiction. Not everyone will be willing to forgive and forget. If the individual is unwilling to accept the loss of these relationships it will hamper their attempts to find happiness in recovery.
* It is suggested that service in recovery is a key ingredient for achieving sobriety. It appears that helping others benefits both parties in the transaction – in fact the giver often benefits more than the receiver. Feeling useful is necessary for good self-esteem.
* Finding meaning in recovery is also considered another important factor for success. When people are abusing substances these chemicals are their main focus. When they become sober it now means that they no longer have this focal point that their life revolves around. New meaning can be found through spiritual pursuits, hobbies, relationships, or anything else that gives life a purpose.
* Developing a spiritual life does appear to help many people find success in recovery. The need for this does not appear to be universal though. Some people do not have much time for anything spiritual yet they still manage to build a good life away from alcohol or drugs. Those people who are attracted to such pursuits find that it gives their life real purpose and meaning.
* Membership of a fellowship is not a vital ingredient of sobriety, but it can certainly help some people. Such fellowships offer companionship and support and usually provide a program for spiritual growth.
It sometimes happens that people manage to escape an addiction but continue to use other intoxicants. This behavior can appear reasonable. For example, the heroin user might have only ever used alcohol moderately. It might be considered a bit unfair for them to have to give up this pleasure as well. Unfortunately this type of logic can get people in recovery into a lot of trouble.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that addicts can never handle any intoxicant safely – it is referred to as substituting addictions. Even if they people did manage to show some restraint in the past this does not mean that they will be able to continue to do so in the future. Addicts will have a drug of choice and while they are using this they may have no real need for any other substance. It is only when their drug of choice is no longer available that they will abuse whatever else is around. It is therefore strongly recommended that addicts refrain from all intoxicants.
This leads to the question of whether people in recovery who continue to use intoxicants can be said to have achieved sobriety. It would seem that the only logical response to this question can be no. If sobriety is defined as living in a “natural state” then continued use of intoxicants will not be permissible. This applies even if the individual only uses these other intoxicants sensibly.