Defining Our Terms: Clean Vs. Sober

Published On: February 20, 20244.5 min read894 wordsCategories: Recovery

Addiction recovery includes numerous different phrases and terminology. The more one dives into their recovery journey and learns about addiction and treatment, the more familiar these words will become, and the easier differentiating between similar phrases will be. 

Two such words that are often used interchangeably – but have very different meanings – are the words “clean” and “sober.” In recovery, it is important to know what distinguishes each, as they stand for two separate phases in the recovery process. 

What is the difference between clean and sober?

Oftentimes clean and sober are used to describe the experience of someone who has been using addictive substances like drugs and alcohol, and is no longer using them. In a nutshell, that is the meaning of these words. 

But it goes deeper than that. 

Clean means the body is free from addictive substances. The first step of recovery, and the goal of detox, is to get the body clean (purified, essentially) so that additional recovery and healing can take place. 

Sobriety is the lifestyle that is adopted in recovery. While cleaning is a step in the process, sobriety is a lifelong habit, a continuation of choices keeping the body and mind clean.

Which is better: being sober or being clean? 

It is not necessarily a matter of whether or not being clean or being sober is better, as they both play an important role in the process of recovery. 

However, there is a state of mind that comes with sobriety that is not always present when one is clean.

Let us explain. 

Being clean physically is not the same as having a mental state that is clear-minded. While you might not have drugs or alcohol in your system, if certain patterns of behavior, thought processes, environments and even relationships are not examined, treated and healed, then being clean might not be long-lasting. 

This is where sobriety comes in. 

Sobriety, as stated above, is an entire shift in lifestyle. Sobriety is pursued once the body is clean to maintain a lifestyle free from the things that induce or trigger drug and alcohol abuse. This includes: 

  • Examining friendships and relationships that may have encouraged or pressured the substance abuse 
  • Removing substances from one’s home/environment to remove temptation and set the stage for healthy living 
  • Continuing the process of recovery after detox by pursuing addiction treatment, including therapy, group sessions, meditation and journaling practices, family counseling and other treatment modalities are proven to help individuals heal from addiction
  • Incorporating healthy habits into one’s life, including routine exercise, good sleep hygiene and nutritious eating plans 
  • Taking time to pursue hobbies for the sake of leisure
  • Working to minimize stress in one’s life no matter the source 

So when wondering whether it is more important to be clean or sober, the answer is: you need both. Without being clean, you cannot achieve sobriety, and without practicing sobriety, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain being clean.

What can I do to pursue sobriety?

If you are clean, or even if you are not quite there yet and are seeking some tips to get there, we have outlined some of the best ways to pursue and maintain sobriety. By implementing these tricks in your daily life, hopefully you’ll find that sobriety is easier to maintain. 

Know your triggers 

If you know certain events, places, people or situations are likely to contribute to your desire to use substances, make the conscious effort to either avoid those situations until you are comfortable enough in your sobriety to face them, and/or develop a plan to implement when triggers arise so you are not fully caught off guard.  

Stay away from old habits

If you know certain routines or habits are likely to cause you to break sobriety (like attending happy hour with coworkers after work or going to a concert on the weekend), you may want to decline these invites until you feel very confident in your recovery.

Additionally, if some behaviors – like drinking alone at home or getting controlled prescriptions filled – do more harm than good, tap into an accountability buddy or find some other way to minimize this presence in your life. 

Be aware of relapse signs

If you feel like you have begun revisiting addictive thinking patterns, are giving in to compulsive and destructive behaviors, are feeling overwhelmed with little relief aside from using substances or in any way are pursuing old habits associated with addiction, you may be struggling with relapse. It’s during these moments that it becomes crucial to lean into healthy therapeutic practices.

Seek support

Whether you need to reach out to a close friend, share your story with a trusted family member, lean on a counselor’s wisdom or find comfort in a therapy group, it is always the bravest thing you can do to ask for help. 

Recovery is not a journey best pursued alone – it flourishes from the support and encouragement of your loved ones. So, if at any time you feel your sobriety slipping, or you simply want some added encouragement, don’t be afraid to lean into those support systems. 

Ready to recover?

If you or a loved one need addiction treatment or substance detox, Freedom Detox is here to help. Contact us at any time online or by calling our offices at 800-475-2312 to get started today. 

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