What does it mean to be sober ?

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.

Alcoholism / Addiction

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.


Once someone has got to a stage where they are willing to acknowledge that they have some type of problem with alcohol or drugs, or other substances, there are numerous types of help available, the quality and availability of which can vary widely, depending upon where the person lives.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, is perhaps the best-known model of recovery from alcoholism and was the first real source of help available to many people who had a problem with drinking.

It quickly grew and spread across the world, and has proved itself very effective for large quantities of people, although over time several other alternatives have developed for people who felt AA wasn’t right for them.

12-Step Programs

The basic model of recovery that AA developed was quickly adapted by other people, who used it as a basis for developing treatment programs for people who have problems with other addictions, such as drugs, gambling, food etc.

Collectively all these programs are known as 12-step programs, simply because they all contain a process that is broken down into 12 basic suggestions concerning attitudes and behaviours.

This process allows people to focus on a specific problem at the outset, and then move through the rest of the 12 steps as a source of treatment.


There are many different routes to being sober, and many different people wanting to try difffernt things – this resource page is a growing collection of different websites that hopefully people will find helpful.

Addiction Rehab

A rehab, in the context of alcoholism and addiction, refers to a treatment centre where people go for a period of time in order to start their recovery. Most inpatient rehabs have a recovery program that is based on the AA model of recovery, which they will use to treat any type of addiction.

Also, some rehabs will list the narcotics they use to help people recover from, and may make a distinction between prescription and non-prescription drugs. These may be important areas to look at when deciding which rehab to seek admission to.

Several rehabs use alternative treatments to the 12-step program. Some rehabs will also have a particular focus, such as being exclusively for women, being LGBT friendly etc.

Alcohol Rehab

Many people will look to find an alcohol rehab, simply on the basis that their problem or addiction is alcohol. Most rehabs will deal with alcohol and drugs and most other addictions, they do not tend to specialise in one particular area.

Drug Rehab

As above, people will often look for a drug rehab because that is the focus of their problem. However, it is worth being aware that anyone entering rehab because of a drug problem is likely to need a clinical detox at the outset of treatment.

Rehabs will vary in the medical capability to undertake a safe medical detox, and this should be a primary consideration when choosing where to go.

Emotional Sobriety

This is a phrase commonly used in recovery. It generally refers to the process of people beginning to deal with the emotional turmoil that often underlies any type of alcoholism or active addiction.

Once someone gets over the initial stages of recovery from a physical point of view, they begin to realise that there may well be underlying emotional issues that need dealing with.

For some people this can be quite a short and relatively simple process, for others it can go on for a long time, depending upon the nature of the trauma that has generated the emotional distress.

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.

LGBT Addiction Recovery

People who identify themselves as LGBT often see their sexuality and sexual identity as being linked to their alcoholism or addiction, and often want this context to be part of their recovery.

As such, some treatment centers will make a point of declaring that they are LGBT friendly. It is worth pointing out that any type of facility that is offering a recovery program should inherently be LGBT friendly anyway, and if not should be steered well clear of.

The one area where this may be most relevant is in some so-called Christian rehab centres, where treatment may involve some type of conversion therapy as part of a treatment program, and again should be steered well clear of.

Most 12-step fellowships will have some specific LGBT meetings, both face to face and online, which can often prove a safe place for people in recovery who want additional identification from a sexuality point of view.

Addiction Issues for Women

Some rehabs or treatment centers are focused on being for women only, where they can provide a safe place for people who feel the need for that type of security. Many women do have specific issues, often including domestic abuse, and may need additional safety throughout their recovery.

Most 12-step fellowships will also have some specific women-only meetings, both face-to-face and online, but also provide an additional level of safety where needed.

Sober Living Homes

Sober living homes provide an essential part of recovery for many people who have been through some type of residential rehab or treatment center. Some homes are also open to people who have got sober on their own and need the additional support of residential community living.

A sober living home should be a safe place where someone can live short or long term once they have left residential treatment. They are also sometimes referred to as halfway homes or halfway houses.

They should provide a transitional space for people to rebuild their lives once sober, with differing levels of independence and residential support.

Sober Jobs

Once someone gets sober, they are normally faced with many of life’s challenges, one of the main ones being that of work. What to do for a living becomes both a practical and often idealistic issue for most people.

Many people choose to go into some type of caring profession, often counselling or nursing, and many will choose some type of work that involves using their own experience of alcoholism or addiction in a way that they believe helps others.

Sober Travel

When someone gets sober, often oneof the most exciting and challenging things for them is the freedom to travel. Some people may find it necessary to travel because of their work, others may simply want a holiday. Over time, people often see the opportunities travel gives them to explore the world, to discover and experience things they were never able to before they got sober.

There are lots of different ways people can use sobriety tools and programs in order to help them whilst travelling, ranging from AA / NA conventions, to regular meetings, to specifc projects like sober cruises etc


Counselling is a general term that covers most types of what are referred to nowadays as talking therapies. Most talking therapies are seen as needing to be relatively long-term relationships that focus on what is referred to above as emotional sobriety.

Many people in recovery go into some type of counselling at different stages of their life, when they become aware that they need professional help in developing their emotional well-being.

Some rehabs offer counselling or therapy as part of their addiction treatment program. The focus of this therapy will be fairly short-term and may be done either on a one-to-one basis or in a group, or both.

Mental Health / Depression

People in recovery will often want to explore what are referred to nowadays as mental health issues, most commonly that of depression. An awareness of this may come relatively quickly in early recovery, or many years, or decades later, once a person has got sober.

A distinction should be made between mental health issues that are effectively those of emotional sobriety, and those people in recovery who have diagnosed mental illnesses who will need clinical or professional help, including specific medication, and possibly periods of hospitalisation as well.

Inner Child Work

The nature of inner child work will vary hugely between different people but can start early in recovery or much later on in life. People’s discovery of their inner world, and what it means to them has very distinct time levels, depending upon their approach to recovery.

Inner child work is linked to emotional stability, and can often relate to childhood trauma. Many people who are alcoholics or addicts grow up in what are called alcoholic homes.

These are also known as dysfunctional homes, where the main caregivers often have had problems with alcohol or drugs or other substances.

The long-term effect of this can take very specific forms, and people in recovery often come to a stage where they understand the need to address inner child work as a way of healing this trauma.


This is often referred to as the God question in recovery.

From the earliest days of AA, people took issue with the word God and the implications of what it meant for their freedom to be themselves, and what they did or did not believe in.

This still presents itself as a real problem in recovery today, for many people, and most 12-step fellowships have not addressed the issue with any measure of success.

Many people in 12 step programs can get quite fundamentalist about how other people should or should not go about their recovery, which can often include the God question and related activities in terms of prayer and meditation.

Cult recovery and cult dynamic

Many people often refer to AA as a cult, either half-jokingly or with deadly seriousness.

What is perhaps most important to realise is that with any type of therapeutic treatment there is normally a power imbalance. This means unhealthy dependencies and mind control issues can easily develop, especially where there are a lack of boundaries or abusive individuals or both.

Any facilities or individuals who offer any type of alcoholism/addiction treatment could knowingly or unwittingly begin to develop some type of dynamic that seeks to control the individual they are trying to help.

This is an incredibly important area of recovery that needs to be constantly flagged up. Peoples freedom to be themselves should never be taken for granted and is a freedom that often requires constant vigilance.