Coming to a time when you, or someone else, decide that you need to get sober can be a real turning point, and a really scary times in anyone’s life.

The need to get sober usually becomes an issue when someone has a drink and/or a drug problem.

This normally becomes clear over time to people around you, but can be a reality that is often too frightening to address.

This fear is often referred to as a form of denial, and in reality is a form of internal/subconscious protection.

This is one of the hardest things for anyone trying to deal with a drink or drug problem to realise – whether it is the person themselves, or people around them.

Getting Sober

Anyone who has developed any type of drink or drug problem over a period of time will have their own unique  life story, and their own sense of need around alcohol/drugs and what they are doing for them.

There are however a number of common features that have been recognised through treatment that can help people understand and address the issue in terms of recovery.

One of the most common, and one of the most important issues in sobriety is understanding that most people who have a drink problem at some stage develop a belief system, normally subconscious, that alcohol is the only thing that is holding them together.

This tends to be true whether someone acknowledges that they have a drink problem or not.

This belief system that alcohol is the only thing that is holding them together means that their thinking becomes protective, and they believe that they need to protect alcohol, and their freedom to drink, irrespective of the chaos around them, both internal and external.

This form of protection, or denial, leaves the person with a drink problem with an incredibly distorted sense of self, as they struggle to reconcile two conflicting and very powerful expressions of need for survival.

It also results in the baffling sense of desperation and hopelessness that they themselves feel, and often people involved in trying to help them feel and get drawn into as well.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Many people have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, and most of them will may that it is one of the main places that people go to to get sober. Beyond that people may not know much about it,  but many will often express reluctance about getting there, often for a variety of reasons.

Whilst there is certainly a debate to be had about such issues within the nature of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is probably fair to say that most people’s reluctance to go is more about their fear of letting go of the need to drink as outlined above, than it is about any particular issue they have to do with AA.

This fear or reluctance to go to an AA meeting should not be taken lightly, and whilst there may always be external pressures on an individual from family/work etc, the ultimate source of pressure to go to an AA meeting or to be willing to get sober has to be within the person themselves.

The reality is, that once someone has been exposed to an AA meeting, they will have experienced an element of truth around their drinking that could never have come from themselves, or other people telling them to stop.

The nature of AA is essentially that of people who have had drink problems, who have managed to get sober and stay sober, and share their experience and hope at meetings in order to help other people get sober.

This is certainly one of the key elements of how AA works. That people generally share their experience, and in so doing allow other people to relate to that experience, and in some way this gives people a freedom to own their own truth in a fairly unique way.

Very few people like to be told to do anything by anyone in life generally. When it comes to someone who has a drink problem, being told to stop or been pressured into trying to get sober can have fairly dire consequences.

On the whole it rarely works, and normally has the opposite effect of  making people deepen the need to protect themselves with alcohol, which invariably makes everything worse.

What Alcoholics Anonymous can do is give people an insight into their own truth, that comes from inside them without any form of external pressure.  Whether or not people are able or willing to own their own truth around alcohol/drugs can be a different story altogether, which is one of the main reasons why people do not always stay sober even having been to AA or rehab.

Rehab / Treatment Centers

Many people who get sober do so in a rehab or treatment center. Many people are familiar with the idea of a rehab, but perhaps less clear about what really happens there.

Most rehabs are residential, and most people stay there for an average of 28 days. There are some rehabs that are non-residential, and a wide variety of the treatment options that are sometimes available.

Some of these will be specifically about de-toxing someone, while others will be more about helping deal with the underlying  emotional issues that can fuel someone’s alcoholism or addiction.

The availability of rehabs and day treatment options vary widely depending upon where you live, and usually whether or not there is any state or public funding for these treatments.

Most rehabs are commercial operations, and the costs can vary widely. Hazelden, one of the biggest treatment providers, estimates that a 28 day stay in one of their treatment centres will cost approximately US dollars 28,000.

Whilst this is only a guide, it is a useful indication. Other treatment centers, especially ones that style themselves as luxury rehabs often cost three or four times this amount.

It is worth adding that most of the cost of a rehab is normally covered under insurance, depending of course on what type of medical insurance plan or health insurance the person or their company has.

What happens in a residential rehab does vary widely depending upon the nature of the rehab, but there are a number of common factors.

Most rehabs do and should include some type of detox facility, as a precondition of being able to help someone.

Most will also base their recovery programs on the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, although they will adapt it significantly.

Some rehabs have a reputation for being very strict, while others have a reputation for being very lax.

What this normally refers to is a belief that some rehabs have that there is a need for a very rigid structure in order to help someone get sober.

This rigid structure normally refers to both the daily routine that people access whilst in treatment, and also the rigidity of rules that apply to  what people can bring into rehab, what they can wear in rehab etc.

Other rehabs have taken a totally opposite view, that people should be as comfortable as possible whilst in rehab, and beyond a fairly basic structure have no rules or regulations as such.

It really is people’s individual choice as to which they feel is more appropriate for them.

Whilst in rehab, most people will be exposed to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and meetings of  other 12 step fellowships.

These may take place at the premises of the rehab, or in the local area or vicinity ground where the rehab is located.

These meetings are normally seen as an integral part of someone’s recovery, both whilst they are in rehab, and once they have left as part of their ongoing programme of public space over once they have finished rehab.

12-Step Fellowships

This can be a slightly confusing term for some people.

It originates from the organisation Alcoholics Anonymous, which developed a recovery program based around 12 specific steps, which are really statements of experience of what the early members of AA did in order to get sober.

These statements quickly became known as the 12 steps of recovery, and AA became known as a 12-step fellowship.

What happened quite soon after AA, was that people realised that the principles of this 12-step program could equally be applied to any other problem people have that they could not solve on their own, and a wide range of other 12 step fellowships began to emerge, based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous was one of the early fellowships to emerge, and was aimed at people who had any type of problem with any type of narcotic or drug, legal or illegal, prescribed or non-prescribed.

People began to realise that Alcoholics Anonymous worked best when it had a single focus, alcohol. If it attempted to dilute that focus, then its message was weakened and it was less effective.

People realised that it was better to have specific fellowships for specific problems, with a clear focus for each one.


Al-Anon is perhaps the 12 step fellowship most closely associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. In the early days of AA virtually all members were men, and their wives would go with them to meetings and normally sit in the kitchen and chat to each other.

After a while, the wives realised that they actually needed their own fellowship and effectively started  Al-Anon.

Overtime it has grown into a fellowship that encompasses anyone who feels they have been affected by the family illness of alcoholism.

This can include wives, husbands, partners, children, grandchildren, parents, uncles, aunts etc.

The main focus of Al Anon is really about helping anyone who feels that their life or their sense of self has been lost through their relationship with anyone who has a drink problem or is an alcoholic.

Al-Anon talks about generational alcoholism ,with the understanding that the effects of alcoholism on an individual can stretch over many years or generations of families.

Adult Children of Alcoholics

This is another 12 step fellowship that has a close association with Alcoholics Anonymous. It is aimed at adults who grew up in a home where they were affected by alcoholism, normally one or both parents or even possibly related members.

There is a broad consensus that growing up in an alcoholic home can have a number of wide-ranging effects on any individual, whether they turn into an alcoholic themselves or not.

These effects have a profound impact on most children’s sense of self, the ability to trust themselves and the world around them and their later development as an adult.

Adult Children of Alcoholics has quite a broad focus in that sense, giving people the freedom to explore the whole concept of what their inner child means to them, and how they can use this fellowship to heal the wounds of control that have been entrapped them most of their lives.

Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety is a phrase that is used to talk about a wide range of emotional drives that feel someone’s alcoholism or addiction.

It is often thought of that this relates to issues in later sobriety or recovery, once someone has established a degree of physical sobriety.

Whilst there is some truth in this, the phrase itself was never meant to indicate a later stage or degree of  sobriety. Being sober is about not taking any alcohol into your system.

Emotional sobriety is meant to be a reference to helping people realise that the underlying emotional drives that can make living sober so difficult are for most people part of the illness, and can be worked on and processed through a wide range of therapeutic and spiritual tools.


There is much talk in Alcoholics Anonymous about spirituality and religion, and the mix between the two. There is a fairly simple reason for this.

Many people who look to get sober have had bad if not traumatic experiences with religious organisations, normally as children but often as adults as well.

This has not only put them off religion, but offer any concept associated with religion such as spirituality  or God.

As such many people baulk at the idea that any of these concepts need to be used as a way of helping them get  and stay sober. This has been an element of AA ever since it started.

It was realised that it may be helpful to make this important distinction between spirituality and religion, that whilst they can go together they do not need to.

That someone’s sense of spirituality  is really about their inner world, and can be distinct from an external belief system or religious organisation.

It was hoped that this truth would go some way to helping people separate out their past experiences of religion, and give them the freedom to explore that in truth around spirituality and God question.

To an extent this works, but many people are scarred deeply by their past experiences, or have deeply held views that religion / spirituality.

It is a test that AA has always faced as to how it gives people the freedom to be themselves, whilst at the same time trying  not to force them into any particular path of recovery.

The God Question

What has become known as the God Question in AA really follows on from the above. There is an undoubted truth in the history and experience of AA about people’s ability to get sober and stay sober using the spiritual principles of the total program, however they have interpreted them.

This experience is freely available to anyone who chooses to use it, in any way shape or form

It is also true that this experience gives a number of people in belief that they have a right or responsibility to try and force or sometimes even bully other people into doing the things that they believe will give them the same experience.

Whatever the motives of these people, it is normally a subtle or not so subtle form of bullying, and fundamentally takes away people’s right of freedom to discover for themselves what their sense of God does or does not mean

Not only is any type of bullying always unacceptable, but in the nature of Alcoholics Anonymous any type of bullying also runs the risk of depriving people of the opportunity to discover for themselves what any of the experience of AA means to them

This ultimately is about their freedom to get and stay sober, and for most people is also about whether they stay alive or not.