Perspectives: The New Sober

By K. Lanktree

When it comes to addiction treatment, achieving sobriety and a functional life is, of course, the ultimate goal. However, depending on where treatment is sought, definitions and views on sobriety can vary tremendously.

A new ideology, which disregards the strict and sometimes alienating abstinence-only approach and replaces it with a more controversial definition of sobriety, is gaining traction.

The New Sober

The New Sober

Here is one such definition of sobriety: “Sobriety is really a psychological or emotional state of self-management – not really having to do with abstinence. Sobriety is available to drinkers and non-drinkers alike and is seen when people relate to their world in a rational, calm, and mature manner.” – Addiction Alternatives

Effective and safe treatment options are needed more than ever because drug abuse and addiction are rising to epidemic levels. Unfortunately, many treatment centers and support groups may actually deter some addicts from seeking treatment by defining successful treatment as nothing less than 100 percent abstinence.

This approach to sobriety may give addicts the false idea that complete abstinence is the only way to a sober life. This is most certainly not the case, as there are other effective treatment options which focus on the difference between abstinence (the avoidance of consumption) and sobriety (the condition of control). This definition of sobriety emphasizes self-management and avoiding excess.

Speaking from personal experience, the traditional recovery options focusing on abstinence can be limiting. When I initially sought help, I entered a rehab center that gave the option of detoxification and subsequent abstinence from all drugs. Methadone was not considered an option for someone seeking a life of sobriety.

Guess what happened? I failed, miserably. Barely two days after check-in, I was already checking out and heading right back into a life of addiction, one that spiraled even further out of control.

Prior to entering rehab, I was only snorting pills. Not long after leaving, I had become a full-blown IV drug user. My complete and utter failure at sobriety made me feel a million times worse. I felt absolutely pathetic and totally out of options.

I was beginning to think I was trapped for good in my addiction. I did not believe I would ever be able to stop using. Whether I went cold turkey or naively tried to wean myself off, it always ended in failure. I just could not manage to kick the habit.

With each failure, I saw the possibility of sobriety slipping even further away. I came to a point where I truly believed sobriety was completely unreachable.

On my trips out to get dope, I remember seeing people out for a jog, biking or playing sports. I would think to myself, I will never again be able to do those things. I was aware that I was a complete and utter slave to the needle. Sadly, I felt this was just the way it was going to be.

I couldn’t get myself out of bed in the morning without dope, let alone do anything other than find money for drugs, get the drugs and then do said drugs. That was my life. It was a hell I thought I would be stuck in forever.

Then I found methadone, and it saved my life.

Methadone is a good example of a non-abstinence based treatment option, and one that generates controversy. Methadone, like heroin or oxycodone, is in fact an opiate. Therefore, many hold the view that an addict participating in methadone maintenance treatment is simply swapping one addiction for another, and is by no means sober. They may have stopped using needles, snorting or abusing their drug of choice; but they are still on an opiate; and therefore, they are dirty. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

If I compare the state of my life when I was using to where I am now, there is no way you can tell me I have not achieved sobriety. The changes in my life are astonishing. I am free of IV drug use, drug abuse and the pain of an active addiction.

The meaning of sobriety will always be debated. People hold conflicting views about it, and are often quite passionate about their positions on the matter.

The strictest definition appears to be the belief that abstinence from any and all mind-altering substances is necessary to hold the golden title of sobriety. But in all honesty, is that even a realistic expectation? Absolutely no altering substances? None? Think about that for a second.

By that standard, only a very small group of people would be able to consider themselves sober. Do you drink coffee? Take any medications at all? Smoke? Drink? According to this stance, you’re all just as dirty as I am.

Not everyone agrees that moving away from an abstinence-only definition of sobriety is a good idea. Methadone maintenance, treatment of alcoholism through daily regulated dispensing of booze and various other harm-reduction approaches are still viewed as controversial by many people, even though reports indicate they can have a positive impact.

When alternatives are available that may help addicts get their lives back, they should not be dismissed out of hand. For those who desperately need treatment, but are unable to achieve total abstinence, an abstinence-only approach may hinder them from seeking the proper and necessary help. Other effective treatment methods are available with the potential to change the lives of addicts in positive ways.

Whatever you believe to be the true meaning of sobriety, hold yourself to that standard, not everyone else around you. Let’s stop shaming and guilting people away from accessing lifesaving treatment options that may give them hope that a sober, functional life is within reach.

K. Lanktree is a NewsOK contributor, freelance writer, former IV drug user, methadone patient and harm reduction advocate. For more information, check out her blog at

1 Comment on Perspectives: The New Sober

  1. I want to congratulate Kathy L. for an amazing and courageous article.

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