What it means to be sober can be a highly debatable topic. People hold conflicting views on what sobriety really means, and are often extremely passionate about it. The strictest definition is the believe that abstinence from any and all altering substances is required to hold that golden title of sobriety. In all honesty though, is that even a realistic expectation? Absolutely no altering substances. None. Think about that for a second. So many different things could be tossed into that extremely broad definition. By that standard, only a very small group of people would be able to consider the Consider themselves sober. Drink Coffee? Take ANY medications? Smoke? Drink? Well according to this strict stance, you're all just as dirty as I am. You filthy Coffee junkies!
Stepping back from the extreme, Methadone patients are a really great example that generates conflicting views about sobriety. Some strongly believe that a methadone patient is by no means sober. Methadone, like heroin or Oxycontin, is in fact an opiate. Therefore, many hold the view that taking Methadone (another opiate) in place of the drug of abuse is simply swapping one addiction for the other. Therefore a methadone patient is far from being in a sober state, regardless if they've stopped using needles, and snorting or abusing their drug of choice, they are still on an opiate - therefore, dirty! No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Well move over, outdated, strict and unrealistic definitions of sobriety! A brand spanking new viewpoint is making its way onto the scene. It's one of the best I have seen, and comes courtesy of Dr. Adi Jaffe and Dr. Marc Kern from Addiction Alternatives, who have an innovative, realistic take on what it means to be sober. Let's take a look at some of their views on the topic.
"According to the dictionary, 'abstinence is the avoidance of consumption' whereas 'sobriety is the condition of control'. The traditional 12-step based treatment programs for addiction define these two terms I accurately - using them interchangeably and synonymously. Because of this error, most people unintentionally get confused, which often results in them falling easy prey to a type of 'psychological recovery gridlock'"
"By honestly understanding the distinct definitions of these two different words, new more realistic mindsets are possible. This difference explains why when I speak of 'sobriety', I am not necessarily talking about 'total abstinence', but rather the 'trait of avoiding excesses'".
"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".
"The idea that sobriety requires abstinence also substantially limits the potential recovery options made available to an individual seeking help, as well as implying to the therapist that abstinence is always the most appropriate treatment goal. It coerced people into believing that addiction recovery is an either/or situation - with only total abstinence as an acceptable outcome. But that limited mindset is not the truth - and certainly not helpful to everyone".
Of course, this new view of sobriety is a hotly debated one, as not everyone agrees that this is the best way to go. Approaches such as methadone maintenance, treatment of alcoholism through daily regulated dispensing of booze to addicts, and various other harm reduction approaches are often viewed as controversial, but when it comes down to straight facts, they work. Why are we as a society so stuck in this outdated and stigmatizing view of addiction and it's treatment options? When highly effective options are available to help give addicts their lives back, we should in no way be stigmatizing their use, nor holding such negative views and unrealistic expectations, as it is truly detrimental.
Whatever you believe that meaning of sobriety to be, just worry about holding yourself to that standard, not everyone else around you. Such an unattainable definition of only damages and repels those who desperately need treatment from the necessary seeking help, as it feels like a hopelessly impossible task. Effective treatment options are available that can change the lives of addicts in drastic ways. Let's stop guilting and shaming them away from accessing these life saving treatment options and give them hope that a sober, functional life is within reach.
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