If you’re embarking on a sober recovery journey, first and foremost, congratulations — you’ve made a really important decision to prioritize your well-being. The sober recovery process necessitates a lot of learning, and it’s not going to be easy. However, we’re here to help. This blog post will take you through all the foundational terms you’ll need to understand on your journey toward lasting sobriety from alcohol or another substance.
Now, we know that many of these terms are rather basic. You probably are already familiar with many of their dictionary definitions. We’re not including them to be patronizing; it’s just important to know how all of these different concepts work together to promote sober recovery.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into some terms you’ll need to know on your sober recovery journey.
This seems like perhaps the most basic place to start so that we can have a foundation for all the other terms on our list. To be sober is to not be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. We’ll go over the “recovery” part of “sober recovery” in the next section.
As you’ll see as we move through our list, all of these terms are interconnected. To be in recovery is to be on a journey toward lasting sobriety. This isn’t to say that recovery is a straight line — we’ll go over some of the bumps that can happen along the way in a later section — and it’s definitely not easy. But to enter recovery is to make a commitment toward getting and staying sober.
So, perhaps sober recovery is a bit of a redundant term. However, now that you’re fully aware of each part of that term’s definition, you know exactly what we mean by it. Sober recovery is the goal of treatment programs like the ones we have here at Harris House, but it’s a lifelong journey, not a one-time destination.
Substance Use Disorder
When someone can’t control how they use substances, they might have a substance use disorder. Other places, you might hear it called drug or alcohol addiction. These substances can include alcohol as well as drugs and medications. Only a qualified mental health professional can officially diagnose you with a substance use disorder, but some of the symptoms include:
- Intense cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Developing a tolerance for the substance, meaning it takes you more to achieve the same effects
- Participating in risky behavior under the influence
- Difficulty controlling substance use, like wanting to quit but not being able to despite multiple attempts
- Consuming more, longer, or more often than you intended
These are just some of the most common symptoms; the full list is much longer. Again, don’t try to self diagnose — if any of one of these rings true, reach out to your doctor and have them point you in the right direction of appropriate treatment.
Sober Living House
These kinds of facilities have many different names. You might hear them called halfway houses or transitional housing, although there are typically slight differences between them. Sober living arrangements can be a huge boost to you on your sober recovery journey. They’re typically best suited to people who have successfully completed a typical inpatient program (more on what that is in a little bit) but need a little more support before going back to the “real world.”
The exact rules and circumstances surrounding sober living houses vary a lot between different programs, since they’re not formal treatment. But the basic premise is that they’re a place to live for people who need some structure in order to remain sober — they might have to follow curfews, or they might have access to support in getting a job, among other structures in place.
Certain things can make you want to drink or do drugs again, even if you’ve been in sober recovery for a long time. Those things, people, places, and situations are called triggers. A big part of maintaining your sobriety from alcohol or any other substance is identifying and dealing with your triggers. Sometimes that means avoiding them. Sometimes that means learning coping strategies.
Rehab is obviously short for rehabilitation, and when we mention it in sober recovery contexts, we mean programs aiming to help you achieve lasting sobriety. Clearly, rehab is not a technical term. Professionals will likely refer to it as substance use disorder treatment or something similar. There are a wide variety of treatment options that fit under the broader rehab umbrella. The next two terms on our list, inpatient and outpatient treatment, are further categories of rehab.
An inpatient treatment program takes clients out of their daily lives and has them spend the night at a treatment center for a period of time, usually 28 days or more. Inpatient treatment is typically what people are referring to when they say “going to rehab.”
Clients in an inpatient treatment program will experience a variety of therapies, usually including group and individual talk therapy in different modalities. Some inpatient treatment programs also incorporate some experiential techniques, like art or music therapy. All good programs should seek to tailor their treatment plans to each individual client — there’s absolutely not a one-size-fits-all approach to achieving lasting sobriety from alcohol or any other substance.
Some form of inpatient treatment is often a first step on a sober recovery journey, and it’s better suited to people with more severe addictions. The next term on our list is a good alternative for those who can’t leave their lives for a month or who don’t require round-the-clock monitoring.
The direct opposite of inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment includes programs where you do not spend the night at the treatment center. Regular outpatient therapy and intensive outpatient treatment programs both fit under this designation.
What outpatient treatment looks like will vary from program to program, and the time commitment will be different depending on what you need and what your preferred program offers. But what’s the same between all of them is an emphasis on sobriety from alcohol and any other destructive substances.
When someone experiences a recurrence in symptoms (that is, uses drugs or alcohol after committing to sober recovery), that’s called a relapse. Some feel that this term is unnecessarily moralizing, and it’s true that there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Relapses are a normal part of the process, and while they become less likely over time, people sometimes experience them years after they commit to sobriety from alcohol. It’s important to know, also, that you don’t have to start all over after a relapse. You’ll need to seek further treatment, sure, but you can use everything you’ve already learned about yourself and the nature of addiction.
After you stop consuming substances that you were previously dependent on, you’re going to experience withdrawal symptoms. These range from fairly mild, like headaches and insomnia, all the way to potentially life-threatening. The next term is about one of those more dangerous symptoms.
This is a very serious alcohol withdrawal condition that affects those who have been drinking heavily for years. When someone who has a very severe alcohol use disorder begins to attempt sobriety from alcohol, they’re likely to experience more extreme withdrawal symptoms. Delirium tremens is a condition that usually entails intense confusion and even hallucinations. In addition to those psychological symptoms, there are also typically physical effects like body tremors and long, deep sleep. Seizures are even possible.
The first phase of your sober recovery journey is detoxification, or detox. Many people undergo medically assisted detox in an inpatient treatment facility. Sometimes the detox process will take place in a dedicated detox facility, and then you’ll go elsewhere for further treatment. Medically assisted detox helps people manage their withdrawal symptoms, particularly those more dangerous ones, like seizures.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
Other names for this one include post-withdrawal syndrome, protracted withdrawal syndrome, and prolonged withdrawal syndrome. Basically, after the initial (or acute) withdrawal phase, other withdrawal symptoms begin to occur. These include insomnia, increased anxiety, and mood swings. This is most common in those striving for sobriety from alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids. These symptoms can be rather long lasting — they might stick around for years.
This term describes a certain kind of relationship often seen between people with substance use disorders and their loved ones, although it’s definitely seen in different contexts as well. When people are too reliant on each other for their emotional or psychological wellbeing, they’re said to be codependent. This might be one of the topics you cover in family therapy if that’s something that’s included in your treatment plan to help you achieve sobriety from alcohol or another substance.
When someone enables someone else, that means that they make it possible for that person to engage in poor or self-destructive behavior. Sometimes, well meaning family members will enable someone’s substance use disorder instead of helping them achieve sobriety from alcohol. They’ll mitigate the negative effects of continued substance abuse, like paying for things once the person who’s struggling can no longer keep a job. This concept is very related to codependency. This isn’t to say that all concerned family members are enablers, but it is important to consult with medical professionals and encourage sobriety from alcohol or other substances in a healthy way.
Many people join support groups after they complete a more formal initial treatment. Support groups are communities of people who help each other maintain sobriety from alcohol or other substances. The specifics will vary from group to group, but usually, members will share their own experiences and foster a sense of community between everyone on their recovery journeys. There are also support groups for the families of people working on sobriety from alcohol or other drugs. Many people continue to attend support group meetings for years and even decades after they complete an initial treatment program.
When you hear AA in a sober recovery context, you’re hearing about Alcoholics Anonymous, which most of us are probably already at least passingly familiar with. AA is one of the more famous support groups for people pursuing sobriety from alcohol — if you’ve ever heard of Twelve Step Programs, that idea comes from AA. The organization dates all the way back to 1935 and has a fairly substantial track record. Many other support groups follow their model.
These kinds of treatments promote participation in 12-step mutual help or support groups, such as AA. Those organizations can help ensure someone stays on a sober recovery journey in the long term, so getting them set up while they’re participating in more formal treatment can bring good results.
Your sponsor is your mentor on your sober recovery journey. This term is from AA and other 12-step programs that use its framework. Your sponsor is also practicing the 12 steps and is there to help you along in your attempts to reach sobriety from alcohol, especially when you first start out. They should have more experience than you so that they can offer their encouragement and advice.
Dual Diagnosis/Cooccurring Conditions
Many people with substance use disorders (some data indicate as many as half) also have other mental health conditions that need to be treated in conjunction with their efforts to achieve sobriety from alcohol or other substances. Those other concerns are cooccurring conditions, and good treatment programs will focus on getting you the support you need for all aspects of your health.
Now you have a good baseline recovery vocabulary.
So, that’s the end of our list. There were plenty of terms that you’ve probably already heard before on there, but we hope there were others that taught you something new about the sober recovery process.
If you need somewhere to begin your sober recovery, consider Harris House. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or if you’d like to talk about whether one of our programs might be right for you or a loved one.