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Triggers and Cravings

How To Stay Sober After Recovering From Alcoholism

June 4, 2024
19 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 4, 2024
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 4, 2024
19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 4, 2024
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 4, 2024
19 min read

Staying Sober is a Process

  • Staying sober after recovering from alcoholism requires abstinence from alcohol and incorporating healthy lifestyle choices. 
  • We can ease our journey along by understanding what it means to stay sober, being aware of the signs of relapse, and engaging in new, booze-free activities.
  • Reframe offers 24/7 support for those quitting alcohol as well as a community of people who are right where you are and can help you every step of the way!

You’ve done it. You’ve finally quit alcohol, and it wasn’t easy to get there. But now what? How do you stay sober and not lose all that hard work you just did? Let’s unpack what it means to stay sober, and how we can do so after recovering from alcoholism.

What Does “Stay Sober” Mean?

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“Staying sober” means we completely abstain from alcohol or drugs, but it also means we strive to be a healthier version of ourselves by prioritizing our health and avoiding situations where we may be tempted to drink.

The time it takes for us to become sober varies, but it can take years in some cases. There are four broad stages in the recovery process:

  1. Abstinence. This stage involves accepting that we want to make a change and then completely quitting drinking. 
  2. Withdrawal. Perhaps the most difficult stage of the process involves adjusting to not having alcohol in our body and dealing with unpleasant side effects, such as tremors, anxiety, and headaches. The duration of withdrawal varies but can last a few weeks.
  3. Repair. The repair stage is when we start feeling better, physically and mentally, and begin integrating healthier habits into our life.
  4. Growth. In this final stage, we learn new skills that help keep us sober, such as healthy coping mechanisms for stress or undergoing therapy to resolve deep-seated issues that may have led to us drinking in the first place.

These steps aren’t always easy to follow. In fact, around 60% of those recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) relapse after only 6 months of sobriety, and one study reports that up to 85% of those in recovery relapse at some point. Don’t let these numbers frighten you, though. It is possible to stay sober, but it’s a process. 

So what can we do to stay sober? The first thing we need to know about staying sober is how to prevent relapse.

Preventing Relapse

The first thing to remember about relapse is that it is very common. Another thing to remember is that it has a formula, and knowing the formula can help us stop a relapse in its tracks before it gets out of control. Let’s unpack it a bit more!

The 3 Stages of Relapse 

A relapse doesn’t happen overnight. Relapses may be brewing for weeks or even months, and they typically involve a chain of events:

  • Emotional “relapse.” This means we are stretching ourselves too thin and denying our own self-care, whether that means spending too much energy on other people and neglecting ourselves, or bottling up our emotions and not coping with stress in a healthy way. It’s common for people to think they’re “fine,” when they really aren’t.
  • Mental “relapse.” This is when the doubt kicks in. Maybe that drink wouldn’t be so bad after all. We may start to think more about our drinking days or old drinking buddies, or we may even self-sabotage our recovery by thinking we can “handle” it. We might find ways to justify a drink in the future. Maybe it’s the holidays next week, and we’re allowed to have just one drink so as not to offend Mom and her eggnog recipe.
  • Physical “relapse.” This is the big one — when we finally break down and have that drink. The problem is, it’s all too easy for “that one drink” to turn into 10 drinks.

The key takeaway here is to spot a potential relapse early. If we’re tired, stressed, and overwhelmed every day, we may be headed for trouble. 

Tips To Stay Sober and Prevent Relapse

The key to avoiding relapse is implementing tangible steps and habits into our lifestyle. Luckily, we have a few right here to share:

  • Know your triggers. This is a big one. To prevent relapse, we need to be aware of common triggers and pinpoint what led to us drinking in the first place. Do we crave alcohol when we’re stressed? Do our friends pressure us to drink? Knowing this can make a world of difference because it allows us to avoid or address those triggers.
  • Seek treatment. Getting help during recovery should be at the top of our list, even if we don’t think we need it. Reports show that those who quit alcohol without help are 20% more likely to relapse within only three years than those who do have help. This help can be from a recovery professional and/or here at Reframe, where we have tools and a community that offers help and support every step of the way. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also a great way to address negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Find new friends. It is wise to stay away from people who are a bad influence, whether they pressure us to drink with them or they drink in front of us, triggering a craving. Hanging out with other sober people will keep us in a safer environment, and we’ll have friends we can relate to.
  • Find alternatives. Attend sober events or stick to booze-free establishments. Better yet, stay home and craft your own mocktail menu. But word to the wise: be extra careful with non-alcoholic beers, or other non-alcoholic booze, as the trace alcohol can trigger cravings and relapse. Also, remember to stay away from other addictive substances or behaviors to avoid transfer addiction.
  • Don’t take it lightly. We should never assume we’ve “recovered enough to drink safely.” This mindset sets us up for relapse and undoing all our hard work. We need to stay strong and remember why we stopped drinking in the first place.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. If we do relapse, it’s important to forgive ourselves. It doesn’t define us, it doesn’t mean we’re doing a bad job at staying sober and should just go back to drinking. It doesn’t make us “bad” or a failure; it just makes us human. It’s a common part of recovery, and we should be kind to ourselves at all costs.
  • Celebrate milestones. Keeping track of our achievements in recovery gives us something to celebrate and feel good about. If we reward ourselves for milestones, we’ll have something to look forward to rather than seeing recovery as an endless stretch of time.
  • Don’t bury it. Many of us in recovery may want to pretend like we never had a negative history with alcohol. It’s important not to bury our history and not stop attending meetings or therapy, especially early on.

For even more tips on how to stay sober, check out our blog about staying sober long term.

Let’s say we’ve done these tips; we’re feeling great; we’ve got a handle on it. But what if our family or loved ones don’t approve? 

Tips for Navigating Relationship Dynamics While Staying Sober

Don’t worry, you don’t have to disown your whole family and move to the top of a mountain somewhere (unless you really want to — we won’t stop you!). Let’s explore some things you can say or do when put on the spot, so you’ll be prepared when those situations that come up.

  • When our coworker says, “Why don’t you join us at the bar for happy hour?”

We can say, “Maybe later, I’ve got plans at home.” You don’t have to actually join them later, but hopefully, it will get them off your back.

  • When a friend says, “Why aren’t you drinking with us? You used to love beer.”

We can say, “I don’t anymore. I’m really enjoying this club soda right now!”

  • When our aunt says, “The whole family is here, and you’re not going to toast champagne with us? It’s just one sip!”

We can say, “I don’t drink anymore, and one sip is out of the question. But I’m happy to toast a sparkling cider instead.”

  • When our old college friend says, “I’m in town for the weekend; let’s grab a beer for old times’ sake.”

We can say, “I’d rather go to the museum or the park. If you’re up for that, let me know.”

  • When our friend says, “Don’t you miss wine? How are you going to hold out for so long?”

We can say, “I’m focused on the here and now, and right now, I don’t miss it.” 

The bottom line is to practice what you might say to people so it comes automatically. And, unfortunately, if it gets to the point where family or friends continue to disrespect your sobriety and pressure you, it may be time to cut some ties. Your health comes first.

Now that we’ve dealt with family and friends, let’s deal with another obstacle: cravings. Those pesky cravings may be the hardest thing to overcome during recovery, but luckily there are ways we can handle them.

Healthy Ways to Deal With Cravings

Let’s explore some healthy ways we can tackle those pesky cravings and stay strong in our recovery process.

Wait 20 minutes. Some health research suggests that if we have a food craving and wait 20 minutes, our craving will dissipate, and we can apply that same principle to alcohol. Do some laundry, chop some onions, check your email, go do yoga – whatever it takes to distract yourself for 20 minutes — and you may forget all about your craving. For more information about alcohol cravings, check out our blog “How Urge Surfing Can Help You Overcome Alcohol Cravings.”

Journal it out. Writing about habits and cravings can help get the thoughts out of our head. Expressive writing in general is a therapeutic way to address your cravings and try to pinpoint why you crave them.

Practice mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation help reduce stress, which often causes cravings. They also help us control our thoughts and behaviors, which can help control urges to drink in the future.

Consider medication. Some medications help us control alcohol cravings. For more information about this, check out our blog “How To Stop Alcohol Cravings.”

Of course, there are more ways we can tackle alcohol cravings, and there is no “one way” that will work for everyone, so we need to try different techniques and find what works for us. Remember, nothing lasts forever — including cravings — so if you’re feeling uncomfortable, just remember that you’ll feel better soon. And you’ll be glad you put in the work, because now you can benefit from everything that being sober has to offer.

Benefits of a Sober Lifestyle

Benefits of a Sober Lifestyle

Living our new booze-free life comes with countless benefits, from physical health to mental health:

  • Improved short- and long-term health
  • Benefits to relationships
  • Better sleep
  • Increased productivity
  • Better weight management

But that’s just the beginning! We’re opening ourselves up to more meaningful experiences in every aspect of our life. Not to mention there’s a whole world of sober activities just waiting for us.

Fun Ideas for Sober Activities

If you’re unsure of what to do that doesn’t involve booze, try some of these sober activities:

  • Exercise. Get that heart pumping and release endorphins at the gym, at home, or in the park.
  • Volunteer work. Helping others can release dopamine and make us feel good about ourselves and the world.
  • Take a class. Always wanted to learn sign language? Or how to make pastries? Now is the perfect time to learn new skills and expand your mind!
  • Try sober tourism. Sober tourism means vacation without booze. Soak up the culture soberly to get an even more meaningful experience.

All of these activities will help you not only avoid alcohol but also build meaningful connections and add variety to your life. You’ll be surprised by how much there is to do and enjoy without booze. 

Key Takeaways

Being sober doesn’t just happen. It isn’t a finish line we cross once and celebrate. It’s a commitment. It requires us to wake up every day and choose this lifestyle. Think of it like a marriage — we make a vow and choose it day after day, and we’re excited by the future it holds. Being sober is a vow we make to ourselves, something we choose for ourselves day after day, and we should be excited about the new, beautiful life we have in store for us. And if times get tough, and you feel like the discomfort is unbearable, remember the old saying, “This too shall pass,” and take your journey one day at a time. 

Get Sober and Stay Sober With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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