Clean and Sober Comparison

How Do You Define Clean and Sober | Relapse and Sobriety | Find Addiction Rehabs | Man drinking and struggling to stay soberIt doesn’t matter if you’re early into your recovery from drug or alcohol abuse or have already celebrated the three-year anniversary of your abstinence. You, also, could be thrown off by the words clean and sober. Add to that, the conversational phrases “dry,” “straight-edged,” or “on the wagon,” and the definitions become even more blurry. Yes, you get the point, but you still wonder if there is a difference.

At first glance, clean and sober appear to be the same. But are they really?

That depends on whom you ask. And that’s where it gets confusing.

You see, the best-known recovery support groups, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) choose different terminology when discussing abstinence.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines these terms as follows:

“Sober” is defined in the dictionary as “not having one’s mind affected by alcohol.” This is the preferred terminology of AA.

However, both terms stretch beyond the scope of their literal definitions, both inside and outside of support groups.

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Sober: A Recovery Mindset

Of course, “sober” is more than just refraining from drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Its synonyms include steady, clearheaded, sober, and level.

Two alternate definitions are:

  • “based on sound reasoning or information.”
  • “given to or marked by restraint in the satisfaction of one’s appetites.”

When you look at it that way, the word also includes actively participating in your recovery as well as embracing changes that lead you to behave sensibly, with self-control and self-discipline.

In this sense, “sober” also speaks to working the program of recovery and embracing a way of being that encourages sensibleness, self-control, earnestness, and discipline. Remember The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous? It states that “alcohol was but a symptom.”

Thus, “sober” is both a mindset and a behavior.

Clean: Not Addicted…at the Moment

Recovery in the Long Term | Clean Versus Sober | Find Addiction Rehabs | Family walking in a fieldOn the flip side, “Clean” has other inferred meanings.

“Clean” is a theme heard over and over again in both NA and CA (Cocaine Anonymous) groups. The term implies to others that the participant is currently free of drugs; however, they aren’t necessarily actively participating in a recovery program.

In short, they are not currently doing any of the following:

  • Attending a support group
  • Participating in sober fellowship
  • Praying or meditating
  • Educating themselves about their addiction
  • Working on their 12 steps.

The danger in this is that each of those activities is important to deter a relapse! Without actively working on recovery, the person is at risk for relapse.

The expert team with the National Institute on Drug Abuse who encourage that people in recovery take advantage of support groups states, “These groups can be particularly helpful during recovery, offering an added layer of community-level social support to help people achieve and maintain abstinence and other healthy lifestyle behaviors over the course of a lifetime.”

How You Describe Your Recovery

Let’s summarize. You are considered “clean” if you are free of alcohol, drugs, or mind-altering substances. However, you are not considered “sober” if you are not engaging in your recovery. So, “clean” can mean that while you are not using drugs or alcohol at the moment, you might not have discovered the root of your problem or overcome your addiction.

Now the question becomes this. How do you (or a loved one) describe your recovery in terms of clean and sober. Do you want to achieve a life that’s both clean and sober? ATS can help you get there. Call us on the 24/7 addiction helpline. We will give you information on treatment programs, advice on getting clean, and a path to long-term recovery.

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