How to Get Sober and What to Expect

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If you or a loved one are considering sobriety, you may wonder what it looks like and how to get there. Sobriety can be a particularly challenging pursuit for someone with an addiction like alcohol use disorder.

Challenges in the process can include intense cravings, relapse, or a return to using the mind-altering substance. Staying sober may require several strategies and supports, including seeking professional and peer support. 

This article will describe sobriety in more detail, the challenges a person faces while working to stay sober, the options for treatment, and tips for building a sober lifestyle.

Man supporting sober friend

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What Is Sobriety?

Sobriety is a general term for staying away from mood and mind-altering substances. Some people may remain sober from a particular substance, like alcohol, while partaking in other recreational substances, or they may be working on total sobriety (staying sober from all substances that can cause intoxication).

Sobriety can be a fixed-term goal (i.e., staying sober for Dry January) or a lifelong goal (living a sober lifestyle or staying sober from all substances).

Sobriety Setbacks

Common setbacks to getting and staying sober include withdrawal, craving, and pressure to use substances. Relapse rates for substance use addictions are around 40% to 60%. Setbacks don’t erase progress; they don’t mean you’ve “failed” to stay sober.

How to Get Sober 

Since there are different reasons for using drugs and alcohol, there are also varying reasons why someone wants to get sober. Whatever your "why," know that with treatment and support, getting sober is not only possible, but it’s also manageable long-term.

Recognize the Need 

Admitting that there’s a need for a change in your life can be one of the most challenging parts of getting sober. Recognizing this need for change means taking into account how drugs or alcohol have been causing problems in areas of your life. It's OK if a person returns to this step many times on their journey toward sobriety. 

Look for Help 

You don’t have to be alone in your sobriety journey. Even if you don’t have a strong support network right away, this is something you can seek out to help support your goals.

Family and friends supportive of recovery can help by reinforcing new behaviors and providing positive incentives to continue with treatment.

Professional support can look like bringing your healthcare provider into the conversation about your drug and alcohol use, seeking an in-person or online recovery program, or attending various therapy types.

Find the Right Program for You 

Depending on your needs, you may want to consider one or more programs, including inpatient hospitalization programs, outpatient programs, day programs, 12-step recovery programs, or sober living community programs. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Get Through Detox

Depending on the severity of the addiction or substance, a medically-supervised detox may be necessary to safely help you through withdrawal during the first few weeks when relapse risk is highest. Detox can occur in a hospital setting or as the initiation into the inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation process.

Withdrawal Symptoms

People may experience withdrawal symptoms when getting sober. These symptoms are often mood-related and include irritability, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and sleep problems. These symptoms will not last forever. Symptoms will depend on:

  • How long you've been using
  • Drug(s) you're abstaining from
  • Age
  • Physical and mental health
  • Withdrawal method ("cold turkey," medically assisted, etc.)

It's important to note that discontinuing the regular use of certain substances, such as benzodiazepines, like Xanax, or heavy alcohol use, can result in physically dangerous withdrawal and should be monitored in a controlled medical environment.

Choose a Therapy  

Different forms of therapy can help in different ways. Some options include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A psychological treatment that focuses on efforts to change thinking and behavioral patterns.
  • Motivational Therapy/Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): Used to help someone establish and maintain motivation to stay sober. 
  • Family Therapy: Provides a safe space for family members to discuss tricky situations and develop solutions that consider everyone’s best interests and the group. It combines various forms of therapy methods, including CBT.
  • Interpersonal Therapy: Focuses on both interpersonal relationships and relationships with others. In an analysis of 90 studies including 11,434 participants, interpersonal therapy was reported effective in helping prevent relapse.

Build a Support Network 

Building a support network can take time, but the efforts are worth the benefits of having the right people in your life for your sobriety journey. Building a support network is one of the best things you can do to build a strong foundation for sober living.

What to Expect 

It’s impossible to know how you’ll react and how your life will change when getting and staying sober. But there are some general things you can expect to happen.

Early sobriety may come with feelings of fatigue, anxiety, or depression. You may also experience sobriety triggers (people, places, and things that trigger the desire to use). Know that it will get easier as you move through treatment and explore why you were using drugs or alcohol in the first place. 

Tips to Stay Sober

No one can keep you sober. If you’re relying on a friend, family member, or someone else to hold you accountable and keep you from relapsing, you’re missing out on the growth and development that comes with recovery. The following tips are all ways you can help yourself reach your goals. 

 Identify Your Triggers

Triggers for drug and alcohol use are typically defined as people, places, and things that remind you of your addictive behavior or encourage the use of substances you’re trying to avoid. They don't have to be direct triggers, like someone offering you the substance.

For example, your friends can say they support your sober living journey and avoid offering substances to you. However, if they’re still opening and actively consuming substances in your presence, you may still need to separate yourself. 

Be Aware of Relapse Signs 

Relapse can and does happen, but it’s also preventable. Knowing relapse signs can help you recognize your risk of relapse. The American Psychological Association says negative emotional states can come before relapse, so you may want to consider increasing signs of anger, frustration, depression, or sadness as potential relapse signs.

Avoid Old Habits and Toxic Relationships 

Old habits and toxic relationships no longer serve the sober version of yourself you are working hard to create. Old habits may include other addictive behaviors or self-destructive actions.

Toxic relationships are those in which you feel unheard, misunderstood, unsupported, demeaned, unsafe, or attacked. Both old habits and unhealthy relationships can trigger those negative emotional states that may increase the risk of relapse.

Build Healthy Relationships 

If it seems like being sober is all about letting go, bear in mind this doesn’t mean you will be alone. With less toxicity in your life, you open space for building healthy relationships that are genuinely supportive and nourishing. These new relationships can help you in your sobriety. 

Get Support 

Getting support doesn’t have to mean going to rehab, although that is an option. Support can also look like joining in-person and online support groups. One recent study demonstrated the potential benefits of combining in-person and online support methods.

Develop a Structured Routine

Developing a structured routine can help you stick to your sobriety goals, make healthy decisions, and reduce the likelihood of triggers and relapse. Create a structured daily routine, but plan for days you may experience sickness or chronic illness flare-ups that could require adjusting your routine.

Prioritize Self-Care

Focusing on self-care will set the stage for your success. This may include setting an earlier bed or wake time, eating healthier, spending time doing hobbies you enjoy, and seeking out new experiences that contribute to building your sober life.

Balance Your Life 

If you’ve been in the throes of addictive behaviors for some time, you may be used to chaos and high-stress situations. Getting sober will remove some chaos and stress, but staying sober will require finding a balance between self-care and external responsibilities.

Stay Calm  

Learning sober coping strategies to deal with stress can help you stay calm and avoid triggering explosive emotional reactions or relapse. The goal is not to avoid feeling angry or upset but to self-soothe without substances. Breathwork, meditation, and yoga are all some ways you can work on your emotional regulation outside of a healthcare provider's office. 

Celebrate Your Milestones 

Milestones in sobriety are celebrated to recognize the challenging work you are accomplishing. For example, 12-step programs often have milestones or “sober birthdays” starting x amount of hours sober (i.e., 24 hours sober) and onward from there (i.e., a week, one month, three months).

Milestones can help motivate a person to remain sober to reach the next milestone. 


Getting sober is when someone stops using an intoxicating substance. It can include a medically-supervised detox, various forms of treatment, including therapy and 12-step programs, and calling upon family, friends, and professionals for additional support.

Staying sober requires a person to dive deeper and begin unraveling why they were using the substance, their triggers for relapse, and how to avoid falling into a pattern of use again. It’s often a lifelong process. 

A Word From Verywell

Sobriety is not an easy or quick fix to life’s problems. For many, it’s a lifelong process of unlearning coping mechanisms that revolve around substances like alcohol or cannabis, and it’s also a process of relearning how to live life sober and stay sober. So if you love someone with an unhealthy relationship with substances, please practice patience with their journey and remind them that you’re there for support. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does getting sober mean?

    Getting sober means stopping the use of drugs and alcohol. A person getting sober may get sober from one or all substances. Their process of getting sober will depend on numerous factors, including the severity of drug or alcohol use disorder and long-term goals of sobriety.

  • How long does it take to sober up?

    It can take several hours to sober up. For example, it can take anywhere from six to 10 hours for a moderately intoxicated person to sober up from alcohol. How long it takes you to sober up depends on how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol and drugs.

  • How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

    How long withdrawal symptoms last depends on how frequently you use the substance, the dose, the method of stopping (cold turkey versus tapering), and more. Some people, for example, may experience symptoms of withdrawal from cannabis for days to six months to two years in some cases.

  • Will you be happier if you get sober?

    If you get sober, you have the opportunity to be happier and healthier. You will no longer be putting mood-altering substances into your body, though, so adjusting can take some time. As you recover from drug or alcohol overuse or misuse, you open the door to new opportunities for discovering people, places, and things that bring real happiness without the risks associated with addiction.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Enhancing motivation for change in substance use disorder treatment.

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By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.