Jul 4, 2022 | By Tim Stoddart

Can I get sober? Is long term sobriety possible?


For many people embarking on a recovery plan, the conversation regarding statistics of long-term sobriety can be very discouraging. While we often tell those who are early in their sobriety journey that relapses and “slips” are all part of the process the reality that many don’t make it back from such setbacks is daunting and for some even a cause for despairing. Family members often approach recovery professionals with questions about “guarantees” for their loved one’s long-term sobriety. While those questions can range from something as pragmatic as whether the financial investment in inpatient treatment is worth the risk, to trying to weigh out which programs have the highest rates of efficacy for their efforts, the questions regarding long-term sobriety still boil down to the individuals in question and what they are willing to do to experience it.

Statistics Regarding Long-Term Recovery:

Here are some facts regarding long-term sobriety according to the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).

–    About 36% of those seeking treatment for alcoholism recover after one year. About 18% still abstained from drinking one year after that.

–    Approximately 60% of those who stayed sober for two years remain that way.

–    Some studies indicate that as many as 85% of those who remain in recovery for over five years maintain life-long sobriety.

In 2014 AA conducted its own study of over 6,000 members. Their findings were as follows:

–    27% were sober for less than a year.

–    24% were sober from one to five years.

–    13% were sober for five to ten years.

–    The percentage of participants sober over twenty years was 22%.

–    It is also important to note that an estimated 90% of those suffering from AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) never seek treatment at all meaning that an untold number of people die in their disease simply because they never pursue treatment of any kind.

While these statistics can be cause for any number of mixed emotions depending on where one finds themselves on the timeline they beg the question, “What are the people with over five years of continuous recovery doing differently from the people experiencing setbacks within the first year or two?”

The Importance of an Extensive Addiction Recovery Plan:

Evidence shows that aftercare or extended care after initial inpatient treatment visits are of vital importance to long-term sobriety. Attending some type of recovery support meeting, (AA, SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, etc.) is a vital piece of a good recovery care plan but these groups are not equipped for certain clinical assessments that many individuals may need to supplement their recovery experience. The 12-Step groups are most effective when pared along with individual therapy/coaching, medical assessments, and other psychological determinations that might need attention. Once sober, many people realize the need to also incorporate necessary trauma therapies into their care plan such as Brain Spotting and EMDR. Neurofeedback and other treatment modalities used to “reset” the brain have been of great assistance to many coming out of active addiction as well.

Sobriety and Cooccurring Disorders:

With nearly 50% of those diagnosed with a substance use disorder also presenting symptoms of clinical depression we must not forget about these cooccurring mental health issues often called, cooccurring disorders. We cannot be successful in treating one without also treating the other. It is of upmost importance to include the care of a primary care physician when embarking on a serious plan for long-term sobriety. Doctors can also be helpful in determining whether certain medications such as antidepressants or Naltrexone for managing cravings, impulses, and the potential euphoria of a substance are right for the recovering patient as well.

Structure, Activity, and Connection: A Framework for Sober Living

Structure – Structure could be as simple as establishing a set bedtime and wakeup time each day. Even if there is nothing on the calendar an established daily schedule creates a framework within which a person can establish the discipline of accomplishing daily tasks.

Activity – Physical activity is paramount as it creates an opportunity for the brain to create its own natural antidepressants called endorphins as well as other “feel good” chemicals. It is also an intentional way to help the body begin to restore itself from what has for most people suffering addiction been a sedentary lifestyle.

Connection – Johann Hari, author of, Chasing the Scream is famous for pointing out, “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety – it’s connection!” Addiction flourishes in isolation but it diminishes as we surround ourselves with people we love and trust who are also happy to be with us. When we connect with others, we are breaking down the opportunity to ruminate and fall into old ways of thinking which can often lead us to our triggers for using. Connection reinforces the belief that we are truly loved and lovable which creates a foundation for self-acceptance.

Spirituality and Recovery:

Embracing a “God of our understanding” can often be a challenging exercise for those who have struggled with religious ideologies or religious abuse. Spiritual practices in recovery are not based in religious ideologies but rather spiritual daily practices of surrender, meditation, and self-examination. A daily practice of prayer and meditation is vital to the centering work that healthy recovery requires.

Long-term sobriety is a bit like taking a long trip. We can only go as far as we can go today. We can’t look at the map and bemoan how far we have ahead of us. We simply look at where we’ve been today and start and end the day with gratitude. We learn to practice doing the next right thing and letting the future take care of itself. When we have multiple influences in place, a commitment to health and intentional living, and a solid core of trusted friends for this stretch of the road we will see our recovery as a lifestyle to be enjoyed “one day at a time.”

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