“I’m sorta sober”, “I’m almost sober”, “I’ve been sober from cocaine for 8 months, I just smoke weed now”.
All three of these comments, and the many others like them uttered daily by people struggling with substance use and addictions, demonstrate a misunderstanding of the concept of sobriety. Whether the misunderstanding is intentional, supporting the continued use of substances or problem behavior or not, the end result is continued addictive behavior.
Sobriety is a complicated concept and requires a lot of work, a lot of attention and persistence. The Merriam Webster dictionary offers a thorough definition of “sober” that includes:
a. “sparing in the use of food and drink : Abstemious
b. not addicted to intoxicating drink
c. not drunk”
This definition only adds to the confusion as it does not truly address the needs of the addict.
One way of defining sobriety would be to say that it is “the natural state of a human being. It means that their thoughts and behavior are not influenced by intoxicants. In 12 Step groups the word sobriety is used to describe people who have achieved a good level of mental health; those who live a balanced life. It is therefore more realistic to view sobriety as a successful life in recovery rather than just not drinking or using drugs. It involves complete mental, physical, and spiritual health”.
The combination of mental, physical and spiritual issues is what complicates the picture and makes the idea of sobriety so challenging for many people.
1. Physical issues: the person must be abstinent from the chemical or behavior long enough to allow for the brain and rest of the central nervous system to return to normal. Addictive behavior of any kind can grossly distort our natural chemicals and the mechanisms that are involved with their flow within our body. It generally takes 1-2 years of complete abstinence before the systems return to normal. The effects experienced during this time period have been termed the Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) and can be quite uncomfortable.
2. The mental issues are part of the PAWS. Someone who has an addiction thinks like an addict, not a sober person. For people who have begun use of alcohol and other drugs or began to engage in addictive behavior when young, they often have never experienced thinking like a normal adult. Examples of addictive thinking are “Go ahead, you can have one, you’ve been doing good”; “O-Douls is OK, as long as you’re not drinking real beer” and the statements at the beginning of the article.
3. The spiritual aspects of recovery may be the most difficult to understand. This does not refer to believing in God or following any form of organized religion. Gaetan Louis de Canonville from Richmond, UK, describes spirituality as: “We’re not worshiping a God or paying homage to something in the sky. It’s about learning to accept things like impermanence and living in the moment. If you get a glimpse of how happy you can be by embracing the moment, all the chattering of your thoughts stops.” It implies living life to the fullest and experiencing al that it brings to us. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20888141
When an addict is using, he compromises this experience. Sobriety is reaching the point where you can fully and freely experience your life. It is a difficult journey to reach this point.