Define Sobriety - How It Impacts Your Life

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 29, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Audrey Kelly, LMFT

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Sobriety. It's a term that everyone knows, but not everyone agrees on the meaning of the word. We all understand the basic meaning of the word to mean not using drugs or alcohol. However, after that, it becomes more difficult to define sobriety truly.

Defining Sobriety By The Dictionary

Let's start the process to define sobriety with defining a few keywords. These definitions are from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

  • Sobriety is defined as "the state of being sober."
  • Sober is defined as "not addicted to intoxication drink or sparing in the use of food and drink."
  • Addicted is defined as "having a compulsive physiological need for a habit-forming substance or strongly inclined or compelled to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly."

If you attempt to define sobriety by linking these definitions together it will look something like this: Sobriety is not having a compulsive physiological need for a drug, alcohol, or other habit-forming substance and not being strongly compelled to indulge in or use it repeatedly. I think we can all agree that this doesn't clear up the definition for us. There are a lot of gray areas that would be left in this definition.

Defining Sobriety Based On Step Programs

Many of the steps programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have a different definition of sobriety. The publication This is A.A. goes into detail about how many members were technically able to experience periods of time when they were "sober," but they were unhappy. The time they spent sober was looking forward to the next time that they could drink again. It says, "Now that we are in A.A., we have a new outlook on sobriety. We enjoy a sense of release, a feeling of freedom from even the desire to drink. Since we cannot expect to drink normally at any time in the future, we concentrate on living a full life without alcohol today."

So, by looking at this attempt to define sobriety, it is living life successfully without the substance, not just simply living without it.

Let's Define Sobriety

When someone is sober, they can live daily life without their thoughts and behaviors being controlled by an addiction to a substance. They do not feel compelled to use it because they are successfully living life without it. They see and enjoy the benefits of living without the substance so much that they don't feel that they need to use drugs or alcohol. Therefore, they abstain from using it to keep enjoying this new and healthier lifestyle.

You can be sober when you first start to abstain from using. Now, that we have a common definition of sobriety, let's get into all the ways sobriety impacts your life.

You Will Be Healthier

Physical health

Drugs and alcohol take a huge toll on your physical health. When people use enough, they often tend to become weaker and malnourished. The addiction has become so strong that it becomes a priority over caring for their physical health. Often using drugs or alcohol often lead to exhaustion and lack of proper rest.

Being sober leads to being able to make wiser decisions regarding your health. You will make better eating decisions, making sure to nourish your body. You eventually begin to sleep better and gain the willpower to begin exercising. All these things help you to become healthier physically, but they also play a role in your mental health.

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Improved Mental Health

When under the influence of a substance you do not read situations correctly. Your brain is being affected by the substances that you are exposing your body too. Many people become paranoid and see problems that are not there. They are angry, hostile, depressed, and some experience hallucinations. The lack of control you experience when using makes it difficult to recognize and treat these behaviors. Eliminating the cause, the use of drugs and alcohol can help you make progress in each of these areas. You may find that these symptoms are eliminated when you are no longer under the influence or experiencing withdrawal symptoms.


Relationships, new and old, will be impacted because of your sobriety.

Repair Old Relationships

You aren't the only one that suffers when you are using and depending on drugs and alcohol to get by in life. Your relationships with family and friends that care about you suffer. If you are fortunate enough to have friends or family that are standing by and supporting you in your journey to maintain sobriety, you will find that your relationships can be transformed as you achieve a healthier and more balanced life.

There will most likely be things that you have done or said in the past that damaged these relationships. When you are sober, you need to take responsibility for these actions. Then, by maintaining sobriety, you can begin to build trust with these individuals again.

Establish New And Healthy Relationships

If any of the relationships that you had in the past were with people that you were using with, it is going to be important to build new relationships with your life of sobriety. Getting healthy will mean changing your behaviors, which often means saying goodbye to old friends and finding new ones. You do not want to risk your sobriety by continuing to expose yourself to people that will challenge your new way of thinking. But, you will be able to meet new people that you can form healthy relationships with from the start.

Be Better For The People That Are In Your Life

When you are abusing drugs or alcohol, you are not good for the people in your life. Your behavior is selfish, and you do not think of others. Your thoughts turn to filling your own "need" instead of thinking about how your behavior impacts those that you love. The more you indulge yourself, the worse you become, even if you don't see it. When you work to become sober, you become better for the people that are in your life. You can recognize their needs and help meet them. You can prioritize putting others before yourself and see how your behavior hurts them.

The journey you have been on can also be used to show others what not to do. Talk to others in your life about why they should not go down the road that you went down. And, be an example to show them what they can overcome if they are facing a challenge. Teach others what not to do and encourage them to make the right decisions in life. Using your past as an example can help others to avoid doing the same.

No More Withdrawal, Hangover, The Risk Of Overdosing

No one in this world truly likes to feel bad. When you are addicted to a substance, you are constantly putting yourself in a position where you will. Drinking too much leads to being hungover if you stop long enough to let it start working its way out of your system. Using some drugs makes you go through withdrawal when you decide not to use or are unable too. You also might worry that when you use it could lead to seizures, coma, or death due to overdose. It's easy to think that it will not happen to you, but in 2015 there were around 50,000 people that died from drug overdose and most of them didn't think it was going to be the last thing that they did either. These are unnecessary experiences that no one likes to experience or needs to experience. When you are living a life of sobriety, you will never have to worry about them.

Don't Have To Worry About Legal Consequences

It is unhealthy to always live in fear of being caught. It is also dangerous for yourself and others for you to engage in illegal behavior. You could do jail time from being caught using, buying or selling drugs. You could kill someone by causing an accident when driving home from drinking. Or, you could make wrong decisions that lead you to break laws that you would not have broken if you were not under the influence. When you are living sober, you don't have to think about or suffer from the potential consequences that are out there.

Excel At School Or Work

It's hard to do anything well when you are using drugs or alcohol. When you are sober, you will be able to focus more. You will have less brain fog and moments of forgetfulness. Your work or school life will improve as you can put your all into them. When your focus in not on feeding your addiction, you will be able to succeed in life.

You Can Begin To Live Life Again

Abusing drugs and alcohol will steal your life. The more you use, the more you feel that you need to use. It is a slippery slope that leads to nothing good. When you are maintaining sobriety, you can begin to live life again. You can discover your real passions. Dreams for the future will begin to grow. You will see that not only there life after addiction, but there is a life that is so much greater than what you have been living.

If you are ready to step into a life of sobriety contact a professional to help you along the way. It is a long journey to fight through alone. A trained therapist can show you the steps and provide you with the tools you need to live a healthy and sober life.

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