Sobriety: Its Meaning & Strategies to Get & Remain Sober


Published On: March 18, 2024

Quick links for Sobriety

Whether you’ve sworn to never touch alcohol again after a heavy night or have considered considered entering rehab, [1] sobriety can mean different things to different people.

Often, when we talk about sobriety, we’re referencing the physical state of being without drugs or alcohol. However, this word can be used in various contexts.

Someone can use the concept of sobriety loosely – as a general term for avoiding certain mind or mood-altering drugs.

For example, they might choose to avoid stimulant drugs such as cocaine, and opt to smoke relaxing substances like cannabis. Or, they may steer clear of alcohol but take other intoxicating substances.

This works well for some people, particularly for those who haven’t struggled with diagnosable addiction. For them, sobriety becomes more of a lifestyle choice than a necessity for their physical and mental well-being.

Two people at rehab talking about getting sober and staying sober

Two people at rehab talking about getting sober and staying sober

In recovery culture, becoming sober is usually synonymous with abstinence: halting the use of all substances.

Rather than occasionally indulging in a drink or drug, someone who is abstinent cuts all intoxicating substances from their life. It’s an all-or-nothing formula that’s at the heart of programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) [2] and Narcotics Anonymous (NA.) [3]

As you’d expect, this form of sobriety is more of a fixed-term goal and is used to recover from a Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

This chronic illness is far from being a lifestyle choice: it’s a debilitating illness requiring professional rehabilitation. It’s also a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, and circumstance, making it particularly deadly.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with active addiction, or you’re concerned that using substances is negatively impacting your life, sobriety is the key to recovery.

This will mean not only avoiding drugs and alcohol but actively seeking a healthier lifestyle.

To get the best possible help getting sober and saying sober, call our helpline on 0800 111 4108

Sustained Sobriety: How Can I Get There?

Patient and therapist discussing how to get sober and stay sober

Patient and therapist discussing how to get sober and stay sober

This leads to the age-old question: “How can I become sober?”

This is difficult to answer, as there is never a single path to sobriety nor one style of treatment capable of working for everyone.

Your road towards abstinence could take many different forms and will be unique to your personality, substance use and life experience.

With that being said, many victims of addiction move through a similar timeline of events when getting sober.

What’s more, it can be useful to break down the process of abstaining, especially if you’re attempting it for the first time.

Step One: Recognising The Need to Get Sober

Anyone with multiple sobriety attempts under their belt can agree that acceptance is the first step toward recovery.

Being in denial about one’s addiction is completely normal, as it can be a hard truth to accept. But once you come to the realisation that your drinking or drug use has become a problem, sobriety will become an easier concept to swallow.

Many people experience a definitive moment or event, one that solidifies the need to become sober.

It might be that their family have given them an ultimatum, asking their loved one to get clean or risk losing them.

This is known as extrinsic motivation in the psychology community, as the impetus to quit using has come from outside the individual.

Someone might experience an event or breaking point that motivates them intrinsically, meaning that the driving force comes from within. For example, their drinking might cause their mental health to spiral, convincing them that enough is enough.

People talking about getting sober and staying sober

People talking about getting sober and staying sober

Another common motivator is, sadly, a drug-related accident or time spent in the hospital recovering from an overdose.

However, if you haven’t had something so obvious occur, it can be hard to know whether your substance use is cause for concern.

While only a doctor can formally diagnose an addiction, there are plenty of online clinical manuals that you can refer to.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition [4], or DSM-5, includes a handy list of symptoms.

Some of the signs that you or a loved one are struggling with a substance addiction include:

  • Drinking alcohol or using drugs so frequently that it becomes part of your normal routine.
  • Noticing that your life at home and/or at work has suffered due to your inability to complete tasks. Responsibilities that you usually take seriously become less of a priority due to substance use.
  • Trying to cut back or quit using, but being unable to because of withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

To get the best possible help getting sober and saying sober, call our helpline on 0800 111 4108

Patients sat together discussing sobriety at rehab

Patients sat together discussing sobriety at rehab

Step Two: Seeking Help From Loved Ones

So, you’ve admitted to yourself that you have a problem: what next?

Seeking help, whether it’s from loved ones, professionals, or ideally both, is crucial to achieving sobriety and staying clean.

Countless studies show that cultivating a support network, especially during the early days of recovery, will improve your chances of living substance-free.

Telling your friends and family about your planned sobriety [5] isn’t always easy, even if your relationships are healthy. After all, it can be difficult to tell how someone close to you will respond to the admission that you need help with a substance issue.

You might have envisaged the response of your loved ones as positive, only to be met with shock or discouragement. This can work the other way too, of course.

Oftentimes, family members will react with non-judgemental kindness and a willingness to help you in your time of need.

Ultimately, it’s unhelpful to expect your loved ones to react in a specific way, even if they are already aware of your struggles with substance use.

However, just as you’ll need support from them to get sober, they’ll need you to show that you’re willing to be open and honest with them.

Asking for their support, whether it’s practical help to find a treatment programme or emotional bolstering during your sobriety journey, is key to recovery.

If they meet you with resistance, it can help to explain exactly why you wish to become sober and how substances have negatively impacted your life.
Therapist speaking with a patient about getting sober and staying sober

Therapist speaking with a patient about getting sober and staying sober

Step Three: Finding a Treatment Programme to Meet Your Needs
There’s a misconception that anyone wishing to get sober and recover from addiction should enter an inpatient facility, but this simply isn’t true.

Just as every person on the planet is unique, so is each individual’s journey to sobriety.

With this in mind, there are many styles of sobriety programmes to suit each severity, budget and treatment preferences.

To find a programme that suits you and your unique relationship with substances, research is key.

Several factors will come into play, from the severity of your addiction to your location within the UK and how much money you’re prepared to spend.

For a mild addiction, help towards long-term sobriety comes in the form of outpatient care. Typically, these programmes are offered through the NHS, as they don’t require patients to live on-site during treatment.

Victims of addiction and substance abuse issues are entitled to free NHS treatment, [6] like any other health problem.

Outpatient care provides a pre-determined number of treatment hours every week, ranging from one session to daily visits.

Patients must make their own way to their place of treatment, whether this is a GP’s office, hospital, or rehab clinic, allowing them to maintain a flexible lifestyle.

Therapy group taking notes on getting sober and staying sober

Therapy group taking notes on getting sober and staying sober

If your addiction is more severe, however, this more remote style of treatment might not be right for you. To help you achieve and maintain sobriety, healthcare professionals will suggest entering residential treatment.

As the name suggests, this more intense form of care involves living at a rehab centre or hospital while you move through treatment.

Clients receive three meals per day and either private or shared accommodation depending on their preferences.

This means that each element of treatment is performed on-site, from the initial assessments and detox procedures to various styles of therapy.

For those with a higher relapse risk, residential care is the most effective way that they can achieve sobriety. Rather than remain at home surrounded by temptations, they’ll be able to fully focus on their recovery journey.

To get the best possible help getting sober and saying sober, call our helpline on 0800 111 4108

Severe Addiction

Man sitting in a bath suffering from withdrawal symptoms

Step Four: Overcoming Detox

Detox is the process of removing toxic substances from your system, giving your body a chance to wipe the slate clean.

You’re probably already familiar with the term, as the concept of flushing toxins from the body is nothing new.

What’s more, the media loves to portray individuals going through detox from drugs or alcohol, especially in movies.

Detoxification is well-documented for good reason, and it’s often cited as the most pivotal step towards becoming sober.

Removing any traces of drugs or alcohol from the system is vital to achieve physical sobriety.

Depending on the severity of your addiction, detox can be a swift, painless process, or it can involve uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. For some people, overcoming these symptoms can be the most challenging part of getting sober.

Withdrawal occurs when the brain and body have become accustomed to having a regular dose of drugs or alcohol; so accustomed, in fact, that they cannot function properly without it.

This leads to various symptoms, ranging from uncomfortable to life-threatening.

For instance, a heavy drinker who is used to consuming alcohol daily is at risk of experiencing deadly withdrawal symptoms.

Woman holding her head whilst wondering about getting sober and staying sober

Woman holding her head whilst wondering about getting sober and staying sober

Delirium Tremens is one such condition, causing hallucinations, seizures, high blood pressure, cardiac issues, and extreme confusion.

It goes without saying that in these cases, detox should take place in a controlled environment with constant access to medical professionals.

They can keep patients comfortable and administer medications to reduce the risk of seizures and other symptoms.

Before attempting your detox, it’s important to consult with a doctor, GP or addiction specialist in your area. They’ll conduct a thorough assessment of your needs and prescribe a personalised detox program.

It might be that your substance use can be easily tapered by detoxing at home, albeit with regular check-ins from a professional. Alternatively, you may be referred for a medicated detox at an inpatient clinic.

Ultimately, you’ll need to make the decision based on your health, well-being, and a style of detox that will set you on the best path to sobriety [7]. 

To get the best possible help getting sober and saying sober, call our helpline on 0800 111 4108

Remaining Sober – The Greatest Challenge

Support group discussing how to get sober and stay sober

Support group discussing how to get sober and stay sober

So, you’ve overcome detox and completed the process of “getting sober”, but how can you maintain your newfound sobriety?

To successfully manage this state of being, it’s crucial to learn new thoughts, challenge old beliefs, and create healthier habits.

Continuing your journey through rehab is often the best way to do this, hence why many people choose to start inpatient treatment following their detox.

After all, while addiction cannot be cured, it can be managed using a range of techniques learnt through therapy.

Therapy Types for Maintaining Sobriety Found at Rehab

Two women in rehab discussing sobriety

Two women in rehab discussing sobriety

Long-term sobriety takes time, hard work, and diligence.

Much of this work is completed during a rehab clinics’ individual and group therapy sessions, either through inpatient or outpatient plans.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

When you think about addiction rehab and the strategies employed there, CBT is probably the first scenario you’ll picture. This is for good reason, as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy [8] is famous for its ability to help people stay sober.

How does it do this? By changing the negative thoughts and behaviours associated with addiction.

Back in the 1970s, psychologists realised when treating depression that a mix of cognitive and behavioural therapy was most effective. The former allowed them to tackle negative thoughts, while the latter addressed negative behaviours.

Fast-forward to the modern day and this method is being used to treat addiction long-term, helping people stay sober for longer.

A classic CBT session will help you identify situations, thoughts, and emotions that could cause a relapse to occur.

Oftentimes, what causes someone to return to substance use are their deep-rooted cognitive distortions. These are unhelpful belief systems that have been at play throughout their addiction.

After recognising these irrational beliefs – such as jumping to conclusions or catastrophic thinking – it’s easier to step back and create ways of coping. CBT workshops help you manage stress and deal with cravings as and when they arise.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)

DBT is the slightly younger sibling of CBT and is a method used to help people cope with difficult emotions. Like cognitive therapies, DBT shows patients how ways of thinking contribute to their substance use.

However, there’s a key difference between the two methods.

While CBT focuses mainly on thoughts, DBT is a feelings-centric process: making it beneficial for victims of trauma and emotional abuse.

Because many people have mood disorders or anxiety at the heart of their substance use, DBT can help them manage the root cause of their addiction.

This form of therapy helps patients find peace through a combination of change and acceptance; hence the name “Dialectical”, which means to combine opposing concepts.

DBT helps you to accept that negative feelings will naturally pass while teaching you ways of coping with them. This is an integral part of remaining sober and avoiding a relapse.

To get the best possible help getting sober and saying sober, call our helpline on 0800 111 4108

Recoverees working together on getting sober and staying sober

Recoverees working together on getting sober and staying sober

Family Therapy

Staying sober isn’t just about having your family on board with the process, but healing these relationships will certainly help.

In more cases than not, family relationships are negatively impacted by addiction, whether it’s a loss of trust or increased arguments.

Undertaking Family Therapy can help both the addicted person and their loved ones heal, making long-term sobriety a more realistic goal.

Typically, Family Therapy sessions include the person seeking sobriety and multiple loved ones, including parents, children or siblings. However, this therapy style can work equally well with just one other loved one, such as a spouse or partner.

Sessions work with various goals in mind, depending on the family’s unique dynamic. These include effective communication, setting boundaries, and recognising unhealthy ways of interacting.

Group Therapy

While individual therapy sessions are important to remain sober, communal counselling will have its own place in your recovery journey.

In rehab settings, group therapy usually begins after detox, as soon as patients feel mentally and physically well.

A group of between 5-10 peers will meet and discuss their addiction journey, guided by an in-house therapist to inspire fruitful conversations. Not only can members share their personal stories, but they can also take inspiration and advice from others.

Two people hugging at a sobriety support group meeting

Two people hugging at a sobriety support group meeting

Holistic Therapy (HT)

Traditional therapies such as those mentioned above have their place when trying to stay sober.

However, non-academic treatments like Holistic Therapy [9] are just as important. The name is an umbrella term for various healthy activities, such as meditation, mindfulness and exercise, but it can also include artistic pursuits.

In essence, Holistic Therapy refers to a union of body, mind, and spirit, all of which are integral to our well-being.

Holistic activities not only address our physical health, but they also make sure our psychological and emotional well-being is taken care of.

There is some science behind Holistic Therapy and its link to remaining sober, however. It’s all about finding activities that will activate our dopamine response and replace the need to drink or use drugs.

This is known as behavioural activation – the process whereby positive feelings are achieved when we complete an enjoyable activity.

To get the best possible help getting sober and saying sober, call our helpline on 0800 111 4108

The Importance of Aftercare for Staying Sober

Recoverees supporting each other to get sober and stay sober

Recoverees supporting each other to get sober and stay sober

Any reputable rehab clinic will ensure you have access to an array of support after leaving their centre.

After all, the goal is to take everything you’ve learned during therapy and apply it to your daily life in the outside world. Staying sober in the long term is all about managing triggers, stressors, and learning how to be at peace with their sobriety.

You’ll probably leave inpatient treatment or complete your therapy course feeling elated, and for good reason.

Achieving initial sobriety and being armed with self-knowledge is something to be proud of, but the road to lifelong sobriety doesn’t end there.

As you transition back into the real world, you’ll be faced with difficult situations and the emergence of old feelings, both of which can lead to relapse.

Aftercare activities help you navigate these (completely normal) difficulties, often including support groups, ongoing therapy and sober living situations.

Sober support group sat together talking

Sober support group sat together talking

Most rehab clinics offer an alumni programme for their graduates, providing 12 months of further therapy and access to group projects.

If you didn’t attend rehab, there are still plenty of free support groups available, such as local 12-step programmes and online communities like SMART Recovery. [10]

These communities are a great way to meet people who share similar sobriety goals or reconnect with friends made during rehab treatment.

Many people also choose a sponsor, a trusted individual to support them and help them stay on track through the highs and lows of sober life.

Another popular aftercare option is to attend a Sober Living House, [11] also referred to as Transitional Living Facilities or a Halfway House. All of these names refer to the same service – a supportive environment for those who have already completed some form of treatment.

These homes are ideal for those who don’t feel ready to return to the outside world, providing them a safe space to continue working on their sobriety.

They can also work well for people without a supportive home environment to return to after treatment. However, anyone with a genuine commitment to sobriety is welcomed with open arms.

Want to Get and Remain Sober? Reach Out to Our Expert Team

A woman holding a mobile phone

Person typing on a phone at a drug and alcohol rehab

Whether you feel ready to pursue your own sobriety or feel concerned about a loved one, our team are here to help.

Rehab 4 Alcoholism provides a 24-hour helpline for those directly impacted by addiction and their loved ones.

Together, we can make a plan to kickstart your sobriety journey or help you organise treatment for a family member.

Simply call our hotline on 0800 111 4108 and access your free telephone assessment.

Any information you choose to give will be completely confidential and you’ll be met with non-judgemental, caring advice.

References for Getting and Staying Sober

  1. https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Innovaions_in_the_Treatment_of_Substanc/vzbzuAEACAAJ?hl=en
  2. https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/
  3. https://ukna.org/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3767415/
  5. https://www.google.co.th/books/edition/Family_Resilience_and_Recovery_from_Opio/U8UWEAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0 
  6. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/addiction-support/drug-addiction-getting-help/
  7. https://www.google.co.th/books/edition/Sober_for_Life/NGbezgEACAAJ?hl=en
  8. https://www.google.co.th/books/edition/The_Biopsychosocial_Spiritual_Approach_T/Mn3CDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
  9. https://smartrecovery.org/
  10. https://www.google.co.th/books/edition/An_Exploratory_Study_in_Sober_Living_Hom/FrX8xwEACAAJ?hl=en

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