How to Get Sober: A Guide to Sobriety
It’s one thing to recognize a need for getting sober; it’s entirely another to actually do it.
Sobriety means more than giving up drugs and alcohol. It is an ongoing process that requires a commitment to a substance-free life, which can be difficult at times.
The most difficult step is often the first. It can seem intimidating to look at the end goal and know the many steps it will take to get sober. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for getting sober. No one can wave a magic wand and make you or someone you love sober. Sobriety is a lifelong journey filled with challenges and obstacles but also incredible rewards.
This guide includes the steps required to fully support the path and the journey to addiction recovery.
Step 1: Recognize the Need to Get Sober
The first step to getting sober is recognizing and admitting that you have a problem with drug or alcohol misuse. This is typically the most challenging part. Denial is a common response. It’s difficult to admit that you have lost control over your substance use.
While only a healthcare provider can formally diagnose a substance use disorder using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), there are signs that indicate you or someone you love might be struggling with alcohol or drug misuse. Some of these signs, based on the DSM-5, include:
These are only a few of the signs that may indicate a substance use disorder. A licensed clinician uses this criteria—and more—to determine the likelihood and severity of a substance use disorder and formulate a treatment plan.
Step 2: Reach Out
Once you’ve admitted that you have a problem with substance misuse, getting help is the next step.
Sobriety is not a solo mission. In fact, getting sober and sustaining sobriety is easier when you have a trusted support system motivating, encouraging, and supporting you along the way. A study from Substance Abuse indicates that having support from others can improve a person’s chances of engaging in and completing detox and treatment for addiction.
Friends and Family:
Loving and encouraging family and friends can definitely help support your journey to become sober.
When reaching out to family and friends for support, it’s important to choose wisely. If your circle has grown to include individuals who enable or trigger you to drink or misuse substances, they probably aren’t the best people to ask for help since they may prevent you from breaking the cycle of addiction. In fact, your journey to sobriety will likely involve strengthening some relationships and purging others. You may find yourself leaning on your trusted support system a lot and breaking ties with those who do not aid you in your recovery.
Not everyone comes from an encouraging and supportive home environment. If your family and or friends aren’t motivating you to seek help for your substance misuse, make an appointment with a medical or addiction treatment professional. These individuals can direct you toward the resources you need for recovery, including the needed services and diagnosis of substance use and any co-occurring mental health disorders.
With help from a healthcare professional, you can start looking for a treatment program that meets all of your unique needs.
Step 3: Find the Right Treatment Program
As described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment program for addiction. Therefore, it’s important to ask questions to ensure that the program you want meets all of your needs. There are multiple factors to consider, including cost, reviews, licensing, accreditations, amenities, and treatments.
First and foremost, find a treatment program that has a positive track record in terms of patients completing treatment and maintaining sobriety. This is most likely to occur in programs that provide services and therapies based on research. Evidence-based addiction treatment uses the current and best research-based evidence to make informed decisions about your rehab care. Facilities that employ evidence-based treatment for addiction use therapeutic interventions that are based on decades of clinical expertise guided by research, systematic investigation, and scientific studies that have demonstrated to be effective—and generate positive outcomes for patients.
Degree of Addiction
What type of treatment you need depends on several factors, including the severity of your addiction. For instance, if your substance use disorder is diagnosed as mild, an outpatient program might be recommended. Outpatient programs vary widely but typically provide a designated number of hours of treatment per week at a treatment center or facility. For more severe addiction issues, healthcare professionals may suggest inpatient care, which requires you to live onsite at the hospital or facility for the duration of treatment.
Healthcare professionals use the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s criteria to help determine the level of care most suited to your needs. Levels of care include:
Readiness for Change
You must be ready to change in order to find the best treatment program for you. It will help prevent relapse once the formal treatment program ends.
As explained and elaborated on by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, relapse prevention is the main goal of all addiction treatment. Treatment provides you with the tools to change your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors around substance use. If you’re not ready or willing to change those behaviors and thoughts, then treatment cannot do what it’s designed to do.
You can learn more about treatment through some of our sobriety stories. Hear from real people who have struggled with substance misuse.
Step 4: Get Through Withdrawal
For some, withdrawal may be the most challenging part of rehab. The symptoms associated with withdrawal from certain substances can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous. The urge to use the drug or alcohol to avoid these withdrawal symptoms can sometimes be overwhelming. However, knowing what to expect can help.
The Detox Process
Detox occurs when the body goes through the process of eliminating substances from itself. Individuals who experience withdrawal symptoms have become dependant on the substance. This means that the brain and body have become so accustomed to having the substance present that without it, they can’t function properly. The brain and body need time to return to functioning without the substance. Medical support can help keep you safe and as comfortable as possible during the detox process.
As described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, medically supervised detox makes the withdrawal process safer and more comfortable by offering ways to minimize the discomfort and risk caused by the withdrawal symptoms. For example, in the case of an individual who is stopping long-term, heavy alcohol use, treatment professionals can administer medications to help minimize serious risks associated with alcohol withdrawal, such as life-threatening delirium tremens, which can cause extreme confusion, delirium, hallucinations, high fever and blood pressure, and seizures.
Medical support can also wean you from certain substances slowly, helping the brain and body adjust to the loss of the substance more gradually and minimizing some withdrawal symptoms. These benefits not only ease the discomfort of the detox process, but also help to prevent relapse during this stage of treatment.
Step 5: Choose the Appropriate Therapy
Detox isn’t the end of the road. In fact, it’s typically just the beginning. For most, detox is not enough to maintain sobriety. It is generally the first step in a more comprehensive treatment plan.
As previously mentioned, no one treatment is effective for all people.
The Personalized Plan
Reputable, research-based treatment programs select therapies and interventions to match your personal needs. For example, a Veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who misuses cocaine, doesn’t have the same needs as a stay-at-home mom struggling with alcohol use.
When you enter a treatment program, an addiction professional makes a thorough diagnosis to determine your specific needs and selects therapies based on those needs. Some of the therapies that may be used include:
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many more interventions that may be used to help you recover from substance misuse.
A Consistent Relationship Through Treatment
Just as no one treatment plan fits all people, no one treatment plan may be suitable for the entire time you are in a formal treatment program. For this reason, treatment plans need to be flexible. As your needs change, so too should the treatment plan. An article from the American Psychiatric Association asserts that monitoring an individual’s progress during treatment and providing adjustments to therapy as needed is more likely to result in the individual getting and staying sober.
This is most easily achieved if your treatment team is managed by a single caseworker, who can track all treatments and therapies, make sure everything is compatible, and advocate for you when changes are necessary. A reputable treatment program provides these specialists.
Step 6: Build Support for Recovery
Support isn’t just needed to get a person started on the path to recovery from addiction. As stated above, support can help the individual stick to treatment through the duration of the program. In addition, having a support network once treatment is over can ease the transition from rehab back to daily living. This support fosters the motivation and self-confidence needed for sustained sobriety.
For many, returning to daily life after treatment means returning home to family, which is why family can be the strongest social support system. However, relationships within the family may have been impacted by substance misuse and therefore, require mending.
As mentioned above, family therapy may be part of your personalized treatment plan and can help families resolve conflicts that may have contributed to or started as a result of substance use, educate everyone about addiction, identify and manage situations of enabling or codependency, and help all parties understand ways the family can support sobriety.
If you don’t have a family or strong social circle to return to post formal treatment, a personalized plan may include interpersonal therapy, which can help you build a healthy social network. This research-based technique has been shown to support sobriety. One study from Substance Abuse showed that women struggling with alcohol misuse and depression, who participated in interpersonal therapy, were able to give up alcohol and maintain sobriety longer than those who didn’t.
Mutual Support Groups
Many research-based, reputable treatment programs include mutual-help groups—also known as 12-Step or peer support programs—as part of the treatment plan. These programs offer multiple benefits for individuals in treatment, including:
Along with these benefits, 12-Step programs and other forms of mutual-help groups can increase the likelihood of achieving and maintaining recovery from substance misuse. Research from the Department of Veterans Affairs demonstrates that people who participate in 12-Step programs tend to have better outcomes than those who don’t.
Step 7: Participate in Aftercare Programs
The hope is that you will be ready to resume daily life after treatment, manage stressors and triggers, and stay sober for the long term. The reality is that many situations can make it hard to reintegrate into normal life without some hiccups and potential for relapse. Aftercare programs make it easier to remain in recovery and avoid returning to substance use.
Once a formal treatment program ends, you should be re-assessed to determine which ongoing therapies, groups, and services might prove to be the most beneficial for you. Aftercare may include:
Programs like sober living homes, motivational phone calls, alumni programs, and mutual-help groups provide a level of support that can continue in the short-term or as needed for the rest of your life. As explained in a study from the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, even something as simple as a motivational texting program can better your chances of avoiding relapse.
Addiction is a chronic condition, and relapse is a possibility. Maintaining connections to resources in the months and years after treatment can help you maintain your commitment to sobriety.
These steps, when done with commitment, can result in sustained sobriety and the potential for you to live a healthy, productive, and substance-free life.