The difference between Abstinence and Sobriety

There is a huge difference between abstinence and sobriety

If you are not working or involved in the addiction treatment world, you may be forgiven for not knowing the difference between abstinence and sobriety. There is however a huge difference, and more importantly, a defined difference, one that can impact how we act and talk about recovery and recovering addicts.

Here at First Step, our goal is to help those who need a new path forged towards recovery AND education is key to that goal.

What is Abstinence?

Simply defined, abstinence can best be defined as being physically free from any mind altering substances. It only covers the physical removal of the drug from the user, and does not talk to the mental and behavioural attributes of the situation.

What is Sobriety?

Sobriety does indeed include abstinence, but is much more than just the physical ending of drug use. Abstinence can be seen as the bare minimum of recovery, and sobriety is needed to ensure full recovery.

Can Abstinence Work? 

Throughout addiction, a number of addicts tend to develop some negative and unhealthy patterns and habits that often stretch past the line of drugs and alcohol. Issues of dishonesty, being self-absorbed, or even recklessness arise and they can be quite destructive. We may say things and do things that are directly at the expense of others, sadly. The personality traits and behaviour that we display are not directly linked to addiction, so cannot fall under the excuse that ‘addiction made me do it.’ The festering of negative traits and tendencies eventually become part of everyday life. They may be used to manipulate others and cause sadness and drama. We do not think of others and their feelings, just to maintain a very unhealthy, lifestyle of addiction.

Ending drug use

Ending drug use does will not remove the habits, this is certain. It merely ends the physical use. There is a common fallacy that with the ending of drug use the return of good habits and personality returns; not true. In fact, it can turn out to be even worse, as the habits and traits continue to grow.


 Once the drugs are removed, it also means it is the removal of the very basic coping mechanism (addiction) from our lives. We don’t have the skills, resources, experiences or ability to actually deal with the stresses and problems we used addiction to cover to replace our old life in addiction.

Sobriety gives a new face to living

The main difference between abstinence and sobriety is that the latter includes a programme which assists with self-growth, and to be honest, actualisation.  There are many forms of sobriety. You can go to therapy and recovery groups, both are incredibly effective ways to continue on the journey of education for yourself, with the help of others who care about you and your wellbeing. You can also utilise other methods for sobriety including spirituality and meditation. Exercise, reading and new hobbies can transform negative habits to healthy and happy new ones.

Sobriety is in effect the study of how to be a better person, lover, friend, colleague, child and a real member of society, free from the curse of addiction. You will get a new lesae on life, thanks to the change in fortunes brought on by a positive life move called sobriety. Abstinence without sobriety is therefore your own way of robbing yourself of true freedom

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