Is It Possible to Stay Clean Without Getting Sober?

09 April 2018

Originally Published:
March 28, 2018

Anything is possible, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

Physical dependence and substance use disorders are distinct conditions. Physical dependence is not synonymous with addiction. Addiction—or a substance use disorder—is a disease, and physical dependence is characterized by the existence of a withdrawal syndrome due to biological changes caused by the long-term presence of drugs in a person’s system. A physically dependent person might not have a substance use disorder, and someone with a substance use disorder may not currently have a physical dependence.

Addictions are much more than physical dependence or excessive use. Psychologist Mark Griffiths says: “a healthy excessive enthusiasm adds to life whereas an addiction takes away from it.” When a compulsive behavior becomes more of a priority than our responsibilities to others and ourselves, that’s a cause for concern.

For the purposes of this essay, clean is defined as being off “hard drugs” and sober is being off all drugs (alcohol included). Accepting these definitions, is it possible to stay clean without getting sober?

Anything is possible, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Especially if the addiction is to opioids.

The underlying factors that contribute to a person to developing one addiction can lead them into another addiction. Research has found that the majority of people who are in treatment for drug addiction also meet the DSM-IV criteria for alcohol use disorder. Studies have also found that “comorbid alcohol use disorder [with opioid addiction] increases the risk of fatal overdose and hepatic deaths.”

Most people with a non-alcohol substance use disorder first drank alcohol, the real “gateway drug.” Almost everyone who uses non-prescribed opioids first used other drugs, usually alcohol. The earlier (and younger) intervention can occur, the better the outcomes are with less intensive treatment. A lot of folks are dealing with comorbidity (a substance use disorder and one or more mental health conditions) and proper treatment for mental illnesses is critical. Scientific research is finding more evidence that people with dual diagnoses should have their conditions treated concurrently.

Continue reading the full article on The Fix

Kristance Harlow

you might like

Find help for a crisis by texting, calling, or chatting online with these free crisis organizations. Looking for one outside of the USA? Check out our support listings.

Crisis Text Line
Text: “HOME” to 741741

Suicide Lifeline
Text: “ANSWER” to 839863
Call: 1-800-273-8255

Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Child Abuse Hotline

The Trevor Project
Text “START” to 678678

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call your local emergency number. The numbers listed here are the commonly used numbers for the stated region, the numbers can vary greatly depending on where you live. If you don't know your country's equivalent to 911, this wiki page and The Lifeline Foundation have comprehensive listings.



The Americas





112 & 999



112, 999, 110



112, 911, 999, 111, & 000


These online and international resources may help you anywhere you are located. Looking for local support outside of the USA? Check out our support listings.

DV Support Abroad
Call toll-free worldwide

I'm Alive Virtual Crisis Center
Live chat with trained volunteers

Crisis Connections
24/7 crisis support with interpretation in 155+ languages

Leave a Comment

Join the mailing list.

No spam and we will never share your information.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.