The Definition Of Sobriety
Trusted Content

The Definition Of Sobriety

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 17, 2019

Individuals in recovery have their own definition of sobriety that depends on what is best suited for their own personal needs and well-being. It is important to understand that one person’s definition of sobriety may not be the same as another’s.

What is sobriety? Perhaps one of the most misunderstood terms in the addiction healing community. Those in recovery know exactly what sobriety means for them, whether complete abstinence from drugs or alcohol or medication-assisted treatment, sobriety works for you at your own pace.

But many people, especially those not in treatment, may not understand this definition. That’s partly because addiction is a misunderstood condition. To comprehend how sobriety works—which differs for each individual—you first have to understand addiction.

Addiction is a chronic illness that affects all aspects of your health: emotional and mental as well as physical. Treatment for it will see some relapses, just as with any chronic illness. None of us would look at a patient in treatment for chronic illness and expect that person to be healed immediately with one round of treatment.

We understand that most chronic illnesses will require long-term management. While these diseases may never be cured, people who have them can learn to handle the symptoms, effectively complete treatment, and live fulfilled lives. The same is true of those in recovery from addiction, and that’s why sobriety often isn’t a clean-cut phase of straight abstinence.

Abstaining from drugs or alcohol during treatment and in recovery (whether short- or long-term) is important. However, it’s more important that while in treatment, and later in recovery, you focus most on your well-being and managing behavior, emotions, and thoughts that lead to addiction or relapse.

virtual care

Get treatment when
and how you need it.

What Is Sobriety To Recovering Individuals?

The dictionary definition of sobriety is “the quality or state of being sober,” according to Merriam-Webster. When you think about it, that’s a vague definition, but it perfectly matches what it means to be sober for recovering individuals. Your “quality” of sobriety is dependent on what you make it. The “state” of your sobriety also depends on what you make it.

A group of researchers conducted a study for the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment to explore the definition of recovery. Though they confess most people in recovery know what it means to them, it’s those who aren’t in recovery who often don’t. The researchers found that sobriety is definitely a necessary component of recovery. However, they found no definitive guidelines for how sobriety must be achieved by each individual.

This means that some people may need medication for sobriety to work for them: people recovering from opioid abuse may need buprenorphine treatment to get through tough withdrawal phases. People who are undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse may need medication to help avoid the “dry drunk” condition that can come with quitting alcohol after prolonged abuse.

Getting medication assisted treatment to help quell the symptoms of withdrawal doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved sobriety. Having a relapse after treatment also doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved sobriety. The recovery journey isn’t a one-time phase, but something that will take time to manage effectively.

For recovering individuals, sobriety is one part of recovery. And sobriety is just as important as learning to change negative behaviors that foster substance abuse and addiction, changing thought processes, learning to deal with triggers and relapses, and living an engaged life to ensure fulfillment.

The Importance Of Staying Focused On Wellness

Since we know addiction is a chronic illness that requires diligent management, we also know that the focus of treatment can’t be just on abstaining from drugs or alcohol. Treatment must also focus on overall wellness. What does this mean?

Addiction affects your mind and spirit as much as it affects your health. Treatment, then, has to effectively treat all aspects of your health. That’s why we integrate several methods of treatment into our programs. Inpatient rehab programs like the ones you’ll find on can design a treatment plan that works to achieve a comprehensive approach to healing.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, helps you identify troubling situations and conditions in your life, and helps you work through them. Once you master this method, you’ll know how to handle such situations going forward, such as when treatment ends.

Counseling one-on-one allows you to sit down with a therapist and work through troubling thoughts and emotions that often go hand-in-hand with substance abuse. You may feel isolated in your issues, but you’re not alone, and group counseling can help you feel supported. Group therapy also allows you to connect with people who are experiencing struggles similar to your own, and this can be helpful during treatment.

Drug and alcohol rehab centers afford you comprehensive self-healing, which means you’ll stay focused on wellness, not just sobriety. Keeping your treatment goals in mind at all times is key to a successful long-term recovery.

How To Create A Sober Life

The best way to create a sober life is to enter treatment, engage and learn from treatment principles, and apply them to your life once you leave. Of course, this is easier said than done, but our fully licensed and trained medical staff can help you every step of the way.

They will assist with medication assisted treatment, monitoring your progress, assuring health of vital signs, and help you manage safe levels of withdrawal. Our evidence-based treatment methods also give you the best opportunity to heal, as we use treatment modalities that have proven success rates.

Recovering in an environment free from the triggers of substance abuse is key to a successful healing experience. This may seem odd, as you will eventually have to go back to your community, but it truly works. In our rehab centers, you heal and attend treatment in a private, comfortable setting, surrounded by peers and experienced professionals who all have one common goal: getting recovering individuals well.

After you complete treatment, you’ll have help connecting with resources for aftercare: 12-step support groups, local counselors, other private support groups. It’s important that you integrate the principles learned in treatment as much as possible to your everyday life to ensure long-term success in sobriety and wellness. The best way to do that is to keep up with your local treatment communities.

Finally, if you do relapse, you don’t need to fear. Relapse is part of having a chronic illness—it can happen and it simply means you may need some more help in treatment. When it does happen, we’re here to help you get back on track.

Getting There: Find Your Sobriety Today

If you’re new to sobriety and worry because you’ve had a relapse, or you are still taking medication to manage daily life, you’re still living in sobriety. If you’re going back to treatment to get more of a firm grip on principles you already learned, you’re still on the road to recovery.

The definition of sobriety isn’t straightforward, but neither is life. Don’t be held back by a misunderstood term. Focus on wellness and living a fulfilled life, and a successful, long-term recovery will follow.

To learn more about sobriety, getting help with treatment after relapse or for the first time, contact us today at

Merriam Webster Dictionary - Sobriety Definition

Psychology Today- - Being “Sober” Versus Being In “Recovery” -

Psychology Today- - The Meaning Of Sobriety -

Let Vertava Health walk you through the treatment process. We're here to help.
For 24/7 Treatment Help
100% Free and Confidential. Call (888) 271-2295

For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:


For Immediate Treatment Help Call:
(888) 979-9592