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Why Do We Hate Being Sober?

Published:
May 13, 2024
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24 min read
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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.
May 13, 2024
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24 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.
May 13, 2024
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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.
May 13, 2024
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Reframe Content Team
May 13, 2024
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24 min read

“I Hate Being Sober!”: Explanations and Solutions 

  • When quitting or cutting back on alcohol, it’s common to think, “I don’t want to be sober.” This persistent feeling can discourage us from continuing.

  • This is a normal part of recovery. Thankfully, we can overcome it with social support, mindfulness, and cognitive reframing.
  • The Reframe app offers a 24/7 forum, daily Zoom meetings, an empowering and motivational toolkit, and science-based readings to help you thrive in a sober life.

Sobriety is often portrayed as sunshine and rainbows — a life where everything is suddenly great. While it’s true that a sober life comes with an abundance of positive changes, there are plenty of challenges that don’t often get discussed. Many sober people ask, “Why do I hate being sober?” When we don’t hear other perspectives, we may begin to think there is something wrong with us.

If you feel this way, you’re not alone! It can feel isolating or even shameful when thoughts like these arise, but they’re more common than you may think. Today we’ll dive into the neuroscience behind alcohol and how it can provoke these negative feelings. Thankfully, there are many ways to move forward and thrive in a sober life!

What Does Sobriety Mean?

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Sobriety means something different to everyone. Some people define it as abstaining from all mind-altering substances (including psychiatric medications), while others introduce different degrees of nuance. The definition of sobriety is complex and better understood as a spectrum.

For today, let’s define “sobriety” as completely free from alcohol. There’s another important distinction to make: the terms “sober” and “dry” are commonly used to describe those of us who have stopped drinking. They are often used interchangeably, but there’s some nuance. Someone "dry" has not yet fully addressed the underlying issues of alcohol misuse, while the term "sober" encompasses actively engaging in recovery.

Now, with a clear understanding of “sobriety,” let’s take a look at the science at why it can be difficult. 

Why Is Being Sober So Difficult?

Some of us may perceive alcohol dependence as a poor habit or a lack of self-control, but the science tells a much more complex story. Alcohol is considered a drug, since it has severe impacts on our physical and mental well-being. A main characteristic of a drug is its ability to create dependence, and alcohol’s chemical composition makes it highly addictive.

After alcohol enters our body, it travels in our bloodstream throughout our whole body. Once it reaches our brain, it starts to affect our neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers responsible for our thoughts, emotions, and bodily functions. It affects a wide variety of neurotransmitters but has particularly strong effects on two mood-regulating chemicals:

  • Serotonin. Alcohol temporarily boosts levels of serotonin, a hormone responsible for regulating our mood. Think of that soft happy feeling from basking in the sun or walking in nature or the uplifting feeling of a gentle massage.

  • Dopamine. Also known as the “feel-good” chemical, dopamine is a hormone in our brain associated with pleasure and reward. Dopamine evolved to reward us for behaviors that keep us alive, such as eating and reproducing. Alcohol triggers a massive dopamine rush, which keeps us going back for more. This dopamine spike is the reason we can become dependent on alcohol. Ever have a piece of candy and then feel like you can’t stop at one? The dopamine release associated with calorie-dense food is the reason we keep reaching for more sweets — just like with alcohol.

The temporary feeling of happiness that alcohol creates can cover up negative emotions we may be trying to avoid. Quitting alcohol takes away our safety blanket, exposing us to thoughts and feelings we may be running from and making sobriety difficult to appreciate. 

Alcohol is commonly brushed off as a fun and casual drink for socializing and relaxing, but it’s actually a powerful mind-altering drug that can quickly trap us in a cycle of dependence. The nature of alcohol can make it difficult to be sober, and we can even grow to resent our sobriety.

Reasons We May Hate Being Sober

Let’s explore why we may hate being sober. The exact causes will vary from person to person, but there are several common reasons for hating sobriety:

  • Withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is an inevitable part of quitting alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, but, thankfully, this period only lasts 1 to 2 weeks, and there are many strategies for powering through. 
  • Facing negative emotions. We often use alcohol to numb negative thoughts and emotions. Dopamine and serotonin provide a temporary boost of positive feelings, but when we quit drinking, we are left to face the difficult emotions that have built up over time. Think how leaving dirty dishes in the sink until the end of the week becomes a more daunting task than if we’d washed them every day. 
  • Fear of failing recovery. While fear of relapse is a valid concern, it’s important to remember that the path to sobriety is not linear. We may have setbacks, but as long as we continue to push forward, there is no failure in recovery.
  • The stigma of being labeled. Many of us think of “alcoholism” as the opposite of being “sober.” That idea can create a fear of becoming sober and therefore labeled as a recovering “alcoholic” or stuck with a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD). But sobriety is a spectrum, and we do not need to have AUD to be sober. AUD is recognized as a serious mental condition, not just a lack of willpower. Knowing that can help destigmatize AUD and remind us that there is no shame wherever we may fall on the spectrum of sobriety.
  • Loss of community. There is a strong social aspect to drinking. When we quit drinking alcohol, it can feel like we are no longer part of the same social circle, creating a sense that we’ve lost our community. However, there are new sober communities to be found, and with rising social acceptance of sobriety, our old community might not be so closed off.
  • Accepting accountability. It’s common for anyone who focuses on drinking to put off important priorities in life. When they quit, it can feel daunting to have to face those responsibilities and address the resulting problems.

There may be other personal reasons why we persistently think, “I hate being sober.” Identifying these reasons is the first step in overcoming the obstacles and working towards sobriety. With ongoing negative feelings around sobriety, we may continue to romanticize a life of drinking, which can have serious consequences for us.

Consequences of Thinking “I Don’t Want to Be Sober”

Our aversion to the feeling of being sober can prevent us from maintaining our commitment to sobriety and hinder us from developing a healthier relationship with alcohol. The consequences of avoiding sobriety can impact all areas of our life.

Physical Health Effects

Alcohol-related deaths are also one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States. The toxins in alcohol affect every system in our body, causing a greater risk of disease and chronic illness. In particular, alcohol affects the following aspects of our health:

  • High blood pressure. Alcohol dilates our blood vessels, which over time can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
  • Liver disease. Our liver is the main organ tasked with metabolizing the toxins in alcohol. Drinking directly increases the risk of liver diseases such as fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, or alcohol-related hepatitis. 
  • Risk for cancer. Acetaldehyde, the toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism, is classified as a carcinogen. Excessive drinking is directly linked with increased risk for many types of cancer.
  • Digestive issues. Alcohol moves through the digestive system just like other drinks we consume. This allows alcohol to affect all steps of the digestive process — resulting in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and pancreatitis. 
  • Risk for diabetes. Excessive drinking is linked with an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is because alcohol can cause reduced sensitivity to insulin, weight gain, or pancreatitis-induced diabetes.
  • Weakened immune system. Both acute and prolonged drinking can impact our body’s immune response. A weakened immune system can lead to an increased risk of infection, prolonged recovery from tissue damage, increased inflammation, or possible organ damage.


Unfortunately, chronic alcohol misuse is not limited to physical effects.

Mental Health Impacts

Alcohol’s chemical composition as a drug means it affects us not only physically but mentally as well. Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to many mental health disorders including the following:

  • Anxiety. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 20%–40% of those with AUD are also treated for anxiety disorders. This can include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Even those of us who are not diagnosed with anxiety disorder commonly report feelings of anxiety after drinking, often referred to as “hangxiety.”
  • Depression. Alcohol has a major impact on our mood. Research has also shown genetic links between AUD and mood disorders. Common depressive symptoms linked to alcohol include low mood, low energy, loss of interest, insomnia, irritability, trouble concentrating, and more.
  • Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder involves manic or hypomanic episodes of high energy and irritability followed by depressive episodes characterized by low energy and low mood.

When our mental health suffers, our social health suffers. When we are low energy and have a poor outlook, we tend to neglect or even sabotage our personal relationships.


Relationships

Alcohol causes adverse consequences in our personal relationships in many different ways. All relationships require a balance of communication, understanding, and effort, which can all be compromised when alcohol enters the picture. Drinking often strains or severs relationships due to three main factors: 

  • Negative drinking habits. While at times it can be difficult to recognize our own poor drinking habits, those around us who do recognize them may disapprove. Disagreement with them or unwillingness to make changes can cause friction within our personal relationships. 
  • Time and energy. Whether our love language is quality time or not, all relationships require time and energy. When alcohol takes up a great deal of our time and energy, our relationships can suffer. Alcohol is like a third person entering a relationship, driving a wedge between the other two.
  • Ability to connect. Alcohol has the ability to impact our emotions. When we drink, the stimulant effects of alcohol can make us feel positive and connected to others. When we stop drinking, we feel its depressant effects, making us feel down and disconnected. These experiences during the down phases can make it difficult for us to connect with others and maintain positive relationships with those we care about. 

Other Life Goals

Alcohol can take up a majority of our mental space and occupy much of our time, distracting us from goals we have for our life:

  • School and work. School and work are important facets of our life because they help us grow and give us feeling of self-worth and purpose. When we have a negative relationship with drinking, alcohol is often at the forefront of our mind, interfering with our education and work goals.
  • Family commitments. Family relationships require effort and commitment, whether we are a parent, sibling, or spouse. Alcohol can strain or damage these relationships and isolate us from those who love us most. Whether we want to start our own family or maintain positive connections with our current family members, alcohol can be a barrier.
  • Passions and hobbies. Sometimes it can seem like our life revolves around work, but it’s our passions and hobbies that make life enjoyable. A negative relationship with alcohol can prevent us from exploring these things and hinder us from living a more fulfilling life.

Sobriety = Abundance 

Now that we’ve determined the ways alcohol can negatively affect different areas of our life, let’s take a look at all the things we have to look forward to in a sober life. We can stay motivated on our way to sobriety by keeping these targets in mind:

  • Improved health. A major motivator for working toward a sober life is better overall health. When alcohol is broken down in our body, the toxins negatively impact our brain function and systems in our body. While it may take some time for our body to repair the damages from alcohol, quitting drinking can lead to improved physical and mental health.  
  • Better relationships. As we’ve discussed, alcohol can play a major role in straining our relationships. After quitting drinking, we have more time for relationships and for developing positive connections with our friends and loved ones. 
  • New interests and hobbies. When we have a negative relationship or dependence on alcohol, drinking can seem like the only thing that interests us. Sobriety opens the door to rediscovering favorite hobbies and developing new interests.  
  • Mental strength. Recovery from alcohol misuse is not easy, but our efforts to overcome the challenges can help us develop mental strength.
  • Freedom. The way alcohol hijacks our brain’s reward system can make us dependent on it for happiness and pleasure. Quitting alcohol not only frees us from our dependence on it but also opens time and mental space to do the things we love. 

But how can we overcome the negative feelings behind the thought that “I hate being sober!”?

Tips To Overcome the “I Hate Being Sober” Mindset

Tips To Overcome the “I Hate Being Sober” Mindset

If the idea of “sobriety” brings on feelings of shame or uncertainty, working through these difficult emotions can help us with recovery. These five action steps can move us forward in a positive way:

  1. Identify the root cause. Oftentimes, we blame the lack of alcohol for our negative feelings about sobriety. While we may experience discomfort as we adjust to life without alcohol, usually there are other things that contribute to why being sober makes us unhappy or uncomfortable.. Determining the actual causes can help us work through our issues.
  2. Focus on gains. We’ve talked through some of the challenges we may face while repairing our relationship with alcohol. While it is important to acknowledge the hardships, focusing on what we can gain through sobriety will motivate us to push past these obstacles. Some of may not enjoy eating broccoli, for instance, but we can appreciate it for providing us with a wealth of vitamins and minerals. Being mindful of the benefits of sobriety can encourage us to incorporate sobriety into our life, even if we don’t like it at first. 
  3. Seek support. The road to sobriety can be challenging, but we don’t have to travel it alone. Professional support and support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous or the Reframe Forum) are also helpful in learning positive coping mechanisms and strategies to work through sobriety challenges. Friends and family can play important roles by providing support and validation.
  4. Find healthy alternatives. Before we quit drinking, alcohol-related activities might have taken up a lot of our time and mental space. With alcohol out of the picture, we may fill the mental void by ruminating on our negative thoughts and feelings about sobriety. Exploring healthy alternatives such as hobbies, exercise, and spending time with loved ones can help us channel our energy into more positive habits. 
  5. Focus on positive influences. Have you ever heard the saying, “You are the company you keep”? It’s especially true for those of us committed to the goal of an alcohol-free lifestyle. Surrounding ourselves with healthy, positive, forward-looking people can help us see the benefits of living a life that’s “sober.”

The Big Picture

Sobriety may sound like a distant “promised land,” and the road to getting there an arduous trek. Thoughts of hating the feeling of being sober can dissuade us from committing to or even attempting sobriety. With all the negative impacts that alcohol can have on our life, settling for a negative relationship with alcohol can prove to be a step in the wrong direction. A teetering mindset around sobriety can be a hindrance in recovery, taking action on the strategies explored here can help us reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Cheers to putting the brakes on negativity and starting to heal!

Summary FAQs

1. What do I do if I hate sobriety? 

It’s helpful to identify the real reason behind why we may hate being sober. Seeking support, finding motivators, and surrounding ourselves with positive influences can also help us embrace sobriety.

2. Why do I hate being sober?

Some reasons we may hate being sober include losing a false sense of happiness and community and having to face emotions we may have been avoiding. 

3. What will happen if I avoid sobriety?

Alcohol can have many long-term effects on our health. It makes us more susceptible to developing diseases, cancers, and mental health disorders. If we hate sobriety, we leave ourselves open to falling back into alcohol misuse and risking further negative effects.

4. What are the benefits of sobriety?

There are so many benefits to living a life of sobriety! When you commit to being alcohol-free, you can look forward to improved overall health, reduced inflammation, mental freedom, clear thinking, improved mood, authentic relationships, money saved, and rediscovery of interests.

5. I hate being sober, is that normal?

Yes, it’s a common feeling for those of us who continue to work on developing a healthier relationship with alcohol. 

Starting Sobriety? Reframe Can Support You!

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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