No, You Can’t Define Sobriety On Your Own Terms & Here’s Why

Alicia Gilbert
11 min readMay 5, 2019
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

As a member of various online sober communities, I see more and more people attempting to define sobriety on their own terms as if this descriptor is somehow fluid. Peppered into my Facebook Newsfeed are various iterations of the following:

I identify as sober but I still drink a little here and there. I had a glass of wine at dinner last night, but I’m still sober. I’m not going to let it get to me!

In the comment thread, an inevitable war ensues. Those who have a few years of sobriety under their belt are quick to call the commenters out. And equally, there are the sober curious and newbies who come to rally in support.

Sobriety By Numbers

In one of these groups, a well-intending newcomer posted the following comment (which I am paraphrasing out of respect for her privacy):

Why do we have to start over at zero if we make a mistake and drink? It ends up making me feel so much worse about myself. Why can’t we just use fractions? Why can’t we say I’ve been sober 44/45 days? A lot of people get depressed by the number when they slip up and it drives some people to suicide. I think fractions are better.

Before I dive into why I believe this way of thinking is dangerous, let me say that I empathize with the woman who wrote it.

She lost an alcoholic parent to suicide. I also understand completely the devastation of making it 30, 40, or 50 days without alcohol and then drinking again.

But here’s why you can’t do fractions or play around with the number.

  1. The definition of sobriety is fixed for those who cannot control or have a healthy relationship with alcohol. You cannot change it. It is an abstention from alcohol and it’s not up for negotiation.
  2. If you are in recovery or have a problematic, addictive relationship to alcohol the number matters. You cannot allow yourself to entertain loopholes like fractions.

The Definition of Sobriety

If you open up the dictionary, you’ll probably see something like this.

Sobriety (noun) — 1. The state or quality of being sober 2. Temperance or moderation

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Alicia Gilbert

Alicia is the founder of Soberish, a website that focuses on recovery, mental health, and wellness. Read more at https://www.soberish.co