Though many people may not realize it, sobriety and recovery do not mean the same thing. Find out why these two terms are so different, and learn how recovery can help ensure lifelong sobriety.

If you’ve been thinking about attending rehab for drug or alcohol addiction, you’ve probably seen the terms “sobriety” and “recovery” come up a lot in your research. These words are used often among people who wish to be free from addiction, but the terms do not mean the same thing. In fact, many do not realize that there is a distinct difference between the two.

A person cannot be in recovery without first achieving sobriety. However, it is possible to be sober without ever living in recovery. Understanding the difference can help people learn how to transition from sobriety to a more all-encompassing approach to lifelong recovery.

What Is Sobriety?

When you are sober, you have eliminated alcohol and drug use from your life. Though you no longer live under the influence of substances, this doesn’t mean that other unhealthy aspects of your life have changed. For example, you may still have poor or damaged relationships and behavioral health issues that need to be addressed.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, members use the phrase “dry drunk” to refer to someone who has simply stopped drinking. This means that the person may continue exhibiting destructive behaviors, such as being dishonest, blaming and failing to keep commitments. Many of these people run the risk of relapsing because they have not made any fundamental changes to their behavior. This is the fundamental difference between sobriety and recovery.

What Is Recovery?

A person in recovery is continually making an effort to work through the issues that caused alcohol or drug use to occur in the first place. When someone attends rehab, they quickly learn that substances are not the only problem. Instead, substance use is usually a symptom of something else.

Recovery allows you to make positive changes and deeply examine your feelings, beliefs and behaviors. People in recovery have the greatest chance of maintaining long-term sobriety. Better yet, they have the opportunity to live a happy and productive life that is free from addiction.

Making the Leap From Sobriety to Recovery

Transitioning from sobriety to recovery takes both commitment and action. While most people can quit substance use for a short period, long-term sobriety is usually accomplished by traveling the road of recovery. The recovery process is one of ongoing healing and it is rarely accomplished alone.

A variety of paths lead to recovery, but one of the most popular and effective routes is to participate in a 12-step program. Many also begin the recovery process by attending a drug or alcohol rehab, committing to cognitive behavioral therapy or participating in other holistic healing programs.

Sobriety is just the beginning of the lifelong journey of recovery. The Recovery Village helps thousands of people to begin their recovery each year, and our programs have allowed many people to begin a life free from addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, contact us today to learn about treatment options that can work well for you.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.