Sobriety can be a tricky thing to pin down. Both defining and achieving sobriety are challenging, but in this article we’ll give you tips and tricks for the best shot at success in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol.
What is sobriety?
If you were to define sobriety it would simply mean the absence of drugs and alcohol in a person’s body. However, people often use the term sobriety to also mean long-term recovery from addiction. So, you’ll definitely get different answers depending on what you mean when you ask “am I sober yet?”
If you’re defining sobriety as the absence of drugs in the body you can base your answer on a physiological timeline. Generally, alcohol can be detected in blood for about 6 hours following the last drink, after which the effects have mostly worn away. The amount of time a drug will affect the body’s system largely depends on the type of drug, but most highs will be over within hours.
While the sensations of drinking and using drugs may be short-lived, technically the substance remains in the body much longer. Both alcohol and drugs can be detected in a hair follicle test for 90 days (and sometimes longer with newer, advanced technologies).
How do I know when I am finally sober?
While you could consider sobriety to mean the absence of drugs and alcohol in the body, ordinarily people also define sobriety as achieving long-term recovery from addiction. In these contexts, being sober implies that someone has gone through treatment and put in the work to manage triggers and avoid relapse, and has abstained from substances for an extended period of time.
Getting to the point of having achieved sobriety is a process that can take years, which leaves people wondering when they’ve reached that milestone and how they’ll know they’ve made it.
Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast number to designate when someone has reached sobriety, and sadly, the risk of relapse is always present; even after decades of staying away from drugs and alcohol. The journey of recovery is rarely a straight path, which is why there is no standard definition of sobriety to measure by.
Signs of sobriety
While sobriety happens on its own timeline for each individual person, there are some ways to know that your treatment has been successful and the work you’ve done is paying off. Here are a few things to look for when you ask yourself “am I sober?”
Your thinking is based in reality: one of the hardest barriers to overcoming substance use is changing distorted thinking patterns. While in addiction, our brains are rewired to prioritize getting the next fix, and when you break free from that cycle your thought processes will change. You’ll be able to think logically and make smart decisions.
You don’t justify negative behaviors: we have a tendency to act defensively when we’re in the throes of addiction, always making excuses for our actions. In sobriety you can see risky and unhealthy behaviors for what they are.
You can face your triggers: early on in recovery you’re taught to avoid triggers whenever possible. While it’s still a smart move to avoid your old favorite bar, you’ll be able to attend events with alcohol and cope through temptations with the skills you’ve fostered in treatment.
You have healthy self-awareness: when you’ve achieved sobriety you won’t want to jeopardize your progress. You’ll be on guard against relapse and use the supports you’ve built up in moments of weakness. In the toughest times you’ll reach out to a friend or sponsor instead of reaching for that glass.
Be on guard against relapse
If you’re on the journey, or even thinking about starting, here are some tips you can keep in mind for how to get sober and stay sober.
- Reach out for professional treatment
- Attend a detox or rehab program to manage withdrawal
- Participate in a 12-step program with a sponsor
- Switch up your social circles so you’re hanging around people who are healthy influences
- Use a substance use journal to track your progress
- Identify triggers and ways to cope
- Practice mindfulness activities
- Life a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep, time outside, etc)
- Work to maintain stable employment
- Invest in family time and other pro-social supports
- Get treatment for any comorbid mental or physical health issues
Consult a professional
The best thing you can do to get sober is to get in touch with professional support, since long-term treatment is a strong predictive factor for success in recovery. While there are many ways to boost your sobriety outside of the office, nothing replaces getting help from a certified and licensed addiction specialist.
Sobriety can be elusive, and if you need help getting sober or learning how to stay sober, October Road can help. October Road offers services for those struggling with substance use and mental health issues with locations in Asheville and Charlotte, North Carolina. Schedule an appointment today at (888) 201-5086.