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Sobriety vs Recovery: Aren’t They the Same Thing?

Young man looking out the window wondering if sobriety vs. recovery are the same thing
Informational,Vanity News

The Difference Between Sobriety and Recovery


  • What is Sobriety?
  • What is Recovery?
  • Sobriety vs Recovery Plans

The terms “sobriety” and “recovery” are often used synonymously; however, these terms do not define the same thing. A person can be sober without ever being in recovery, and similarly, a person in recovery can relapse. It is important to recognize the similarities and differences between these two terms to understand how a person can transition from sobriety to active recovery.

What Is Sobriety?

Sobriety is the state of living without the use of drugs or alcohol. When people consider themselves sober, they may or may not have had substance use problems in the past. Many people consider themselves sober without ever having had a drink or using drugs.

It is important to recognize that being sober, or sobriety, does not automatically result in a happy and healthy life. While becoming sober is a step in the right direction, it does not mean that a person has changed other unhealthy habits or aspects of their life. For example, a person can be sober but still have unresolved behavioral health issues.

It Takes More Than Just Being Sober

Sobriety is short-lived when it is not experienced simultaneously with active recovery. Therefore, there should be an emphasis on the importance of recovery to achieve lifelong sobriety. Quitting the use of chemical substances sets a person up for a worthwhile recovery, but in the grand scheme of things, it is a small aspect of the recovery journey.

What Is Recovery?

When a person considers themself “in recovery,” they are making a conscious effort to work through underlying traumas and other issues that may have led them to use substances. Through the therapy and education provided at substance use treatment facilities and rehab centers, a person will learn that their substance use is not the only problem. In other words, sobriety will not solve all of a person’s problems, even if the consequences of substance use were creating their problems.

Passive vs. Active Recovery

Recovery can be broken down into two categories: passive and active recovery.

  • Passive recovery: When a person is passive, they are just going through the motions. A passive recovery approach is built around doing what a person is told to do. It may look like attending meetings or therapy but not fully engaging in the recovery journey. It is normal for people to begin their recovery with a motivated, active approach but later lose interest and motivation to engage with treatment. On the surface, passive recovery may seem like a person is doing what they need to do to achieve long-lasting recovery but will find that they have made little progress. Passive recovery can risk relapse. 
  • Active recovery: On the other hand, active recovery recognizes that a person cannot achieve sobriety and recovery on their own. On the surface, active recovery may look like passive recovery because it requires attending meetings and doing everything a person is told to do to achieve long-term recovery. However, during active recovery, a person accepts that they need help, support, and guidance. Further, big and little victories are celebrated, which helps an individual stay motivated throughout their recovery process.

Shifting from a passive to an active recovery approach takes time and effort. The most valuable thing that a person can do to make this shift is to accept that sobriety cannot be attained solely by oneself. It is accepting that in order to truly experience a life of sobriety and wellness, a person must ask for help. Similarly, another way to make the shift is for a person to believe in themselves and their recovery.

Sobriety vs. Recovery Plans

Understanding the difference between sobriety, passive recovery, and active recovery, a person can assume that treatment plans may also look different. Whether they are to achieve sobriety or for recovery, treatment plans must be individualized so that they fit the unique needs of a client. Sobriety plans tend to come first but are ultimately a part of recovery plans as they help prevent relapse.

Sobriety plans may look like:

Recovery plans may overlap with sobriety plans. They may also include:

Vanity Can Lead You Through Recovery To Sobriety

Sobriety and recovery are often used interchangeably, although they describe different things. Sobriety is living day to day without the use of drugs or alcohol. A person is considered “in recovery” when they are actively working to address underlying issues that led them to substance use as well as altering any problematic behavior patterns. A person can be sober without being in recovery. There are also different recovery approaches. Passive recovery is going through the motions, whereas active recovery is fully engaging with treatment and accepting the personal need for help. Vanity Wellness Center is an outpatient rehab center that provides treatment to individuals that struggle with addiction or other substance use issues. We offer holistic treatment programs to complement the traditional treatment experience. To learn more about our treatment facility or for more about the process of recovery, give us a call today at (866) 587-1737.

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