Sober Recovery – What does it Mean?


Sober Recovery

Sober recovery will almost always mean getting sober or clean in the context of alcoholism or an addiction, as opposed to someone who simply gives up drink for a few weeks or a month as part of a cleansing regime.

Having a ‘drink problem’ can still be a slightly daunting phrase for someone to hear. Often much of the talk about the nature of the problem and the different ways to get sober come afterwards – in the first instance it is the need to seek help.

Traditionally, being sober has always meant not drinking, or being free of alcohol for some time. It has almost always been used in the context of someone who has had a problem with drinking and has normally found it hard to stop on their own.

They may well have needed professional help and may well have had struggles in getting to a point where they could live without having to have a drink.

As people started to need professional help and treatment, they would quite often go into specialist clinics, normally referred to as rehabs or treatment centres, where they were helped to physically dry out, and helped to come to terms with the fact that they have a problem with drink.

Over time, these specialist clinics began to treat people with other addictions, such as narcotics or drugs, gambling, food etc.

The term sober quickly became used in the treatment of these other addictions as well, meaning that people who are free from any type of addiction may well refer to themselves as being sober for any period.

Getting Sober

Getting sober is the first hurdle. The book Alcoholics Anonymous distinguishes between someone who is a heavy drinker and someone who is an alcoholic, suggesting that a heavy drinker may be able to stop on their own, albeit with a certain amount of  difficulty, whilst someone who is an active alcoholic cannot.


Whilst problem drinking has been around for most of mankind’s history, it was only in the 1930’s that doctors began to talk about alcoholism as an illness. and people who suffered from it as alcoholics.

There has been much debate ever since about the nature of alcoholism, and how it affects the person who suffers from it.

People tend to make a distinction between alcoholism and other types of addiction.

Whilst there is much debate about the nature of alcoholism and addiction, many people who are in recovery from a problem with alcohol see it as being an illness that they are born with, or is activated later in life, that is triggered by their drinking and subsequently develops into full-blown alcoholism.

This is in contrast to people who have become addicted to any type of substance or behaviour, where there is a large element of the addiction been built up over time due to the substance or behaviour itself.

Many people who have a problem with alcohol are also addicted to other types of substances or behaviours, which is known as someone being dual addicted.

Whilst there can be clear advantages about understanding the clinical nature of alcoholism, this issue can also prove a bit of a trap for anyone trying to get sober.

The problem arises because people feel the need to firstly understand what an alcoholic is and then decide whether or not they fit the profile, as it were.

This is really the wrong way round of approaching alcoholism and recovery.

It is much better to simply acknowledge the reality of you having a problem with alcohol (however difficult that may be), seek help and come to understand the nature of your alcoholism in the context of your recovery.

AA has a saying – ‘is alcohol costing you more than money’ which can often help in this context.

Other Addictions / Substances

As AA grew and people started to understand the nature of alcoholism and addiction, the principles of the twelve steps began to be applied to other addictions. Other fellowships such as Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous etc were established, along with many others.

Whilst each fellowship is unique to itself, many people often refer to themselves as being sober, whatever their addiction or recovery model. In this sense the word sober often has a broader meaning than simply not drinking.

Substance Abuse

This phrase used to be associated with behaviours such as glue sniffing, often in teenagers. Nowadays, it is used much more generally to refer to any type of addiction that involves a substance, such as alcohol or prescription / non-prescription drugs.

Treatment for substance abuse is normally the same model as specific programmes that are established for alcohol or narcotics. This can be accessed through different types of specialist clinics, both inpatient and outpatient, as well as several different 12 step programs.

Sober Solutions – Recovery Tools

Sober solutions are also known as recovery tools. These can refer to a wide range of internal and external sources of help that people have that can help them get through difficult times and stay sober. They might include elements of a 12 step program such as taking inventory, prayer, going to meetings, calling people in recovery, therapy,  etc.

Sober Living Homes

Sober Living Homes are places where people in recovery live together and are able to rebuild their lives in a safe and secure environment. There are many thousands of them in the USA and Canada, all with slightly different approaches to how they are run.

Sober living homes can also be referred to by other names, such as halfway houses, moving on homes etc. Some have time limits as to how long people can live there, others don’t.

Sober Jobs

When someone gets sober, they are normally either in or out of work, and both present different problems. If someone is in a job, they often have fears about their past behaviours and how co-workers see them.

If they have been to rehab, this can present additional fears about how to explain the time off etc.

If someone is out of work, finding a job can seem fairly daunting. What to put on a resume is often problematic for people. Sometimes doing voluntary work, or simply a minimum wage job gets people back in the groove of working and can be the best route forward.

In any event it is important to remember to put your sobriety first, and that recovery is a rebuilding process. Over time, people change and are able to have choices about their work life that would have seemed impossible in early recovery.

Sober Travel

Some people see travel of any sort as a bit of a luxury, other see it as a necessity of life ! Once sober, travelling can become a real freedom, either for work or leisure.

Trips can be planned, AA meetings are all over the world, Zoom allows on-line connection to other people in recovery and with a bit of thought its normally fairly easy to avoid or minimize being in drinking environments.

Some companies specialize in sober travel holidays, a number of cruise lines operate AA or recovery only cruises.

Sober Health and Fitness

When people get sober, there can often be a sense of urgency about sorting their health out. There is a really important aspect of this which refers to dealing with any medical issues, sometimes sexual,  that may have been neglected during someone’s drinking.

This may take some courage, and the individual may need a lot of support, but it is crucial to face reality about what potential problems there may be, and to move forward in dealing with them.

The other aspect relates to diet and exercise. Truth is that some people care about these areas more than others. Some people get quite zealous about their diet and can take it in an extreme direction.

People are obviously free to make their own choices, but it is important to remember one of the AA slogans, Easy does it.


Sober Calculator

A sober calculator is simply an online tool where someone enters the date they got sober, and the calculator works out how many days they had been sober since. It is a bit of a fun thing to do that some people like. People who are sober often refer to the process as a day at a time, and as such often like to see how many days or years this adds up to in total.

Sober Recovery Forums

There are a number of discussion forums online specifically aimed at people in recovery who would like to talk about ongoing or historical issues. These forums largely pre-date Facebook groups which are perhaps more common nowadays, but these forums have a loyal following and are very useful for anyone who doesn’t like Facebook – see resources page

Smart Recovery

Smart recovery is perhaps the best-known of the non-12-step approaches to dealing with the problem of addiction and sobriety. It has grown out of a need by people to access a different method of getting sober who either do not want the AA model, or perceive it as being too God centred, an approach which they are unable to use.


SOS stands for secular organisations for sobriety, which is a slightly loose collective name for a significant number of recovery programs that are alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step groups.

A number of these have grown up over the years for the reasons stated above, and with the benefit of the internet and online meetings can be explored relatively safely to assess their benefit.

What is Long Term Sobriety

For some people long-term sobriety is a week, for other people it can be 30 or 40 years.

Some people are very insistent that being sober is a day at a time, others see it as a valuable statement that 12-step recovery works, proven by the fact that people can stay sober for long periods of time. It can sometimes become a bit of a status issue, and people generally react unfavourably to this.

Sober Podcast

Before the advent of the internet, there was a sort of underground market of what were known as speaker tapes. These were cassette tapes of people who spoke at conventions, both AA and Al-Anon, and other 12-step fellowships. They were quite difficult to get hold of and were done largely through mail order.

The internet changed that dramatically.

Recorded talks from anywhere became known as podcasts and rapidly became available to everyone. They now cover a huge range of speakers, including many of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is worth being cautious that some older sites hosting mp3 files can contain malware, so care should be taken before downloading any software from these sites.

Sober Dating

Dating people has always been a slightly contentious issue in recovery. It is often assumed that some people are so damaged emotionally when they stop drinking that they find it difficult to form a meaningful or intimate relationship with someone else.

Like many things in recovery this is a broad generalisation that contains an element of truth, but should never be taken too literally.

People will find that their level of emotional stability, after a week, a month or 10 years. It takes what it takes and only individuals can gauge their own needs. There are a number of sober dating sites around, but as with any dating site, caution should be exercised.

Tips for Staying Sober

Tips for not drinking are normally practical things people can do on a daily basis to help them avoid the temptation of having a drink.

These can include simple things like having a plan for the day, going to a meeting, reading a piece of literature, avoiding places where alcohol is being served etc. There are many practical hints and suggestions in the book Living Sober

Sober Coach / Recovery Coach

The idea of a sober or recovery coach has grown largely out of the life coaching industry. Services that are normally offered by such a coach often replicate what many people will find in 12 step fellowships, either with a sponsor, a mentor or simply a group of friends, which are of course free.

The idea of a recovery coach often appeals to people who don’t want to be involved in Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-step groups, or to people who it feels gives them an additional advantage in recovery.

Sober Companions

The idea of sober companions is a slightly simplified idea of a sober coach or recovery coach, and is normally someone who is simply there for someone else in early recovery. Again this is a common feature of recovery in 12 step programs, and may have some limited benefit, but often comes at quite a cost financially.

Sobriety Quotes

Quotes that people find helpful often come from either books of Alcoholics Anonymous, daily reading books or books written by spiritual or religious people. The other source of useful quotes tend to be people who are motivational speakers, either current or historical. People often like these quotes on a daily basis as it can act as a thought reminder.

People often carry these quotes around with them on a bit of paper, or on their smartphone, so they can refer to them during the day.

Living Sober Book pdf

The book Living Sober is a publication by Alcoholics Anonymous that gives a significant number of practical tips around staying sober, largely borne out of the experience of AA members over many years. Hard copies can be purchased, but it is also available as a free PDF from the AA website

Clean and Sober

Clean and sober is a phrase normally used by people who have had a problem / addiction with some type of drug as well as alcohol. Getting clean is a phrase used by people in Narcotics Anonymous, as opposed to people in Alcoholics Anonymous who refer to themselves as getting sober. People who are in dual fellowships often use both expressions, or people simply use the phrase as a way of confirming they are free of any type of substance they may have been addicted to.

Sober Curious

Being curious about sobriety is a slightly odd expression, but has grown up in the context of other types of behaviour as being referred to as curious, giving people the freedom to explore what it means, without being committed to it as a definite reality. In truth this doesn’t really matter if people want to explore what it’s like to not drink, then that can be really helpful, depending upon how they do it and what help they access.

1 Year Chip

In sobriety terms, a chip is a type of coin that can be given to people to signify how long they had been clean. The chip can have on it a number of days or a number of years depending upon the persons length of sobriety. Some people like these, as they can carry them around in their pocket or on their key chains, as a constant reminder not only of their sobriety, but also how long it is since their last drink.

Myths – does milk stop you getting drunk etc

People are always looking for ways either to avoid hangovers, or to sober up quickly if they had been drunk day or night before. There are a huge number of anecdotal methods of doing this, which some people will swear work, but most people think simply act as a bit of window dressing. The most common ones are things like drinking milk before a lot of alcohol, eating peppermints afterwards, deep breathing before being breathalysed etc.

Sober Friends

Most people in recovery will acknowledge the importance and value of having friends who also sober. These friends can either be members of Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-step groups, or simply friends of theirs who for whatever reason do not drink, or only drink very occasionally. The value of friends who are also in recovery does also have an additional benefit, mainly in the sense of a common bond that seems to unite them.

Being Sober Sucks

People often like to paint a picture of how wonderful life is in sobriety. This can sometimes be done in a very evangelical way, that tends to put people off, and ignores the reality that many people struggle with being sober, many for a quite a long time.

When someone gets sober, they are normally always faced with some degree of emotional instability, as well as many practical problems, which are often expressed through deep levels of anger and fear. These underlying emotional drives can take some time to process and stabilise, which they normally can be, as long as the person stay sober in the meantime.

The danger of being evangelical about how wonderful sobriety is, is that it makes people feel they should be different to how they are, and does not allow them a safe space to be themselves.

The real value of being sober lies in self acceptance, and the freedom that comes with that then allows acceptance of other people, and acceptance of their freedom to be themselves and have their own path to being ‘happy joyous and free’.