What Is the Meaning of Sobriety?


When you hear the word sobriety there are probably a few different things that come to mind. The most common idea people have about sobriety is abstinence from illicit drug use or, sober living. While this idea is not completely wrong, it is also not actually accurate either. We will go over the meaning of sobriety in detail to help you get a better understanding of the word and its many uses.

What Is the Meaning of Sobriety?

The Simple Meaning

The most straightforward meaning of the word sobriety is that represents a person not being intoxicated. Any time a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they are not sober. However, as soon as the effects wear off, they are sober. That is the start and end of the meaning of sobriety.

Goals In Addiction Treatment

Sobriety is the end goal for those who are seeking treatment for various addictions. For example, someone struggling with substance use disorder. The point of a detox is sobriety.

The goal of an addiction treatment program is remission and teaching a person to continue with their lives in a way that allows them to function without depending on drugs or alcohol as an escape. Through education, addiction treatment program aim to help addicts remain sober and prevent relapse.

The Misunderstanding

Too many people ranging from therapists to addiction specialists equate sobriety with abstinence. If anyone takes the time to examine the DSM psychiatric manual, experts never state that abstinence and sobriety are linked to each other.

Many people use sobriety in place of the word remission when referring to alcoholism and substance abuse cessation. Therefore, being sober simply means not being intoxicated. Conversely, remission is the absence of using a particular substance that causes addiction.

Concept vs. Textbook

The mainstream concept of sobriety teaches those in addiction treatment centers and society to refrain from certain behaviors. The idea behind the premise is noble. However, there is a big difference between abstaining and being sober. The textbook meaning of sobriety simply stands for lack of intoxication.

Like everything in life, communication and words will always be subjective. This is true even when words have clear definitions. There are many words and phrases that are used so often, that their original meaning is lost.

Much of these subjective uses are cultural in nature which means the same word can mean different things to people from different places. Sobriety is a prime example of subjectivity in action.

The Modern Meaning & Understanding

Now that we have defined the word correctly and clarified the difference between sobriety and abstinence, we can further explore the modern meaning of sobriety.

Today, substance abuse and alcoholism treatment are part of the medically sympathetic mindset. Sobriety represents those who have given up their addictions, as well as the quest for abstinence. This may be done through 12-step programs or with peer support groups.

It is important to keep in mind that there is no cure for addiction. However, a lifelong dedication to abstinence can lead to lasting remission. In modern times, most people consider sobriety and recovery one and the same. Many people struggling with addiction find it difficult to achieve sobriety.

Why Is the Definition Important?

The definition of sobriety is important because there is a lack of respect for what it means to be a recovering addict. Becoming sober is a short-term accomplishment that only takes a few hours to a couple of days. One of the most difficult parts is coping with withdrawal symptoms. However, being able to break free from the compulsion of substance or alcohol abuse is much different.

In addition to resisting the urge to imbibe on a person’s substance of choice, a person who is truly recovering will also have to identify and address what led to their addiction problem to begin with.

Moving Forward With a Sober Life

Sobriety and remission are both important parts of addiction recovery. With a better understanding of what sobriety actually means, those on their recovery journey and family members/support networks offering help will have a better chance of creating a lasting and long-term solution.

Additional Reading: Staying Sober: Alcoholism Relapse Prevention Tools

Blue Sky Counseling Omaha – Alcohol Counseling Omaha, NE

I, Carly Spring, M.S., LIMHP, LADC, CPC, offer my specialized expertise to assist in the healing process to anyone who may be experiencing and suffering from a vast spectrum of mental health issues. Such mental health issues include behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, grief, loss, trauma, addiction issues, and life transitions. I believe strongly in applying a holistic perspective addressing your whole person not just the bits and pieces of you. Contact us with any questions or to discuss alcohol counseling in Omaha today.