emotional sobriety

What is Emotional Sobriety ?

Emotional Sobriety is the title of an article written in the journal of Alcoholics Anonymous, known as the AA Grapevine, by one of its co-founders Bill W.

In the article, he writes at length about the need to address many of the underlying emotional drives that fuelled his alcoholism, and implied that this was in effect a stage that follows the initial phase of getting sober and staying sober.

Many people have interpreted this as meaning different things. Emotional sobriety is often used as a form of judgement as to how ‘well’ people are in sobriety, irrespective of how long they have been sober.

Other people will often compare what they call physical sobriety with emotional sobriety, implying that once physically sober the level with which people are able to adapt and integrate their lives into sobriety indicates a degree of wellness.

It is really important, to understand the thinking behind the term emotional sobriety, irrespective of how long anyone has been sober or not.

Firstly sobriety is about being sober, pure and simple. There are no degrees of it, there is no judgement about it in terms of wellness or not, or how well people cope with it or do not manage to.

Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety should be thought of much more in terms of the underlying emotional drives that play a part in most people’s alcoholism.

Anyone getting sober, whether in a rehab or through a 12 step program or some other way, will soon begin to realise that once sober the real issue becomes how do people stay sober, whilst living with the emotional turmoil that most people feel is inside them.

The process of people understanding and making sense of their alcoholism is a really important one.

What is equally important is that they have the freedom to discover for themselves what this understanding and connection is between alcohol and their emotional states.

Most people would recognise that their alcoholism is a mix of an instinctive or instinctual need to drink, and the sense of relief or freedom that alcohol gives them once they have taken a drink or several.

Often this connection between the effect of alcohol and what it is affecting you within is only clear at a felt level. Once sober, it becomes clearer that the emotional states such as anger, fear, loneliness etc that are a common part of alcoholism play a major role as a trigger for the compulsion or obsession to drink.

Emotional Sobriety and AA

However people come to understand their emotional states, it is normally clear from early on either in rehab or in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous that the main type of therapeutic/spiritual work that needs to be done, is on helping the individual stabilise their inner world, and as such prevent the reflex action of picking up a drink or feeling the need to have a drink.

This work on one’s inner world, on helping to stabilise one’s emotions and begin the process of feeling relatively at peace with oneself at some level begins the moment an individual gets sober, either in a rehab or in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is the real focus of emotional sobriety, the understanding and need to be at peace with yourself.

How to change attitudes

Altered Attitudes is one of the many sayings that are used in meetings and in rehabs that is adapted from the letters of Alcoholics Anonymous into another word or phrase.

AA meetings and the recovery process generally are full of sayings and phrases that for some people are quite catchy, and for other people can be a bit irritating.

What is often important, is to look behind the saying or the phrase, and see what it is really saying to you. Continue reading

What is Caretaking?

Asking the question what is care taking could almost be tagged with what is the relevance of caretaking in the context of alcoholism or other addictions. Caretaking can often be seen in the same context as taking care of people, a healthy thing to be aware of someone else’s needs and helping them take care of them.

It is important to understand the term caretaking specifically in the context of alcoholic homes especially, but other dysfunctional families may give rise to many of the problems associated with alcoholism and other addictions.

Whilst it is always dangerous to generalise about families, is probably fair to say that anecdotal evidence suggests that many active alcoholics, and especially members of Alcoholics Anonymous grew up in alcoholic homes.

This may well be where one or both of the parents were alcoholics, or may well be what our Al-Anon refers to as generational alcoholism. This simply means that one or more of a families relatives may have been alcoholics, and the effect of this may have been passed down through generations.

The process of recovery from the effects of growing up in alcoholic home do not really depend upon identifying who the alcoholic was or when they lived. The issue is much more about the effects of alcoholism in an emotional context upon the family concerned.


There are a number of common features that seem to affect children who grow up in alcoholic homes.

They mostly seem to relate to a lack of boundaries, a sense of enmeshment within the family, and a huge sense of distorted responsibilities. It is very common for children who grow up in alcoholic homes to take on responsibilities that are way above their age, and are not theirs to take.

This is essentially what caretaking refers to in a recovery sense. The effect that it can have on children in the context of becoming responsible for things that they do not have control over can be hugely damaging, both short-term and long-term.

Caretaking has very little to do with actually taking care of people, but has a lot to do with children trying to fill a hole that should not exist but often does. Any child in any family needs a sense of safety in order to grow and lead any sort of decent life.

In an alcoholic home that is likely to be little safety, either of a physical or an emotional nature. This will often lead a child or children to try and create their own sense of safety by overcompensating for the parents.

This often defines their sense of self for life, and their whole sense of identity once they grow up.This process is known as caretaking, and needs to be identified in a recovery context once the alcoholic is sober. This is essentially a process of rebuilding their life and their inner world, that is about giving them any peace of mind and stability as adults, whether in rehab or elsewhere.

How easy is it to Change?

One might easily ask change what, but anyone who has been to any AA meeting or has been through rehab will be well aware that people talk about change consistently, and present change as being perhaps the most important issue that anyone wanting to recover from alcoholism or any other addiction needs to address.

To anyone who isn’t an alcoholic but knows one, what that individual needs to change may well be fairly obvious.

It may start with their drinking, may well continue with their anger and their other emotional reactions to life.

The other person may or may not be aware that they cannot change the alcoholic, but can change themselves in terms of their approach to how they deal with them and help them or not.

Anyone entering a rehab or going directly to a meeting is likely at some level to be pretty terrified about the process, or what it involves doesn’t involve.

One of the underlying fears that may take a time to identify is the fear of living without alcohol.

This is not linked to where the reality of the alcoholism has taken them, it is simply an emotional attachment to alcohol that is likely to have been present for some time, and is likely to have got deeper the worse their alcoholism has progressed.

For many people who are alcoholics the idea of change is pretty terrifying.


It means letting go of the one thing that they believe has held them together most of the lives, which is alcohol, and letting go of the emotional coping mechanisms that have also held them together most of their lives.

For anyone entering rehab therefore, the notion of change can seem pretty terrifying and it is important for everyone to realise this.

People who are in recovery need to understand the process of change and the benefits that come with it and need to remember that this cannot be forced on an individual. Understanding where that individual is coming from and the fears that they are likely to have at some level is a crucial part of helping them feel safe enough to begin the process of recovery, of change.

The key, if there is one, to change is safety.

The individual needs at some level to be able to feel safe enough to begin to heal their inner world, the process that is key to their own long-term recovery. How an individual changes is a uniquely individual experience, and that change they will take time for them to fully appreciate.

Other people may see the change in them quicker than they stayed in themselves. However, the nature of change however it occurs, is that it is likely to happen only when the individual feels safe enough to really begin to deal with the underlying emotional drives that have fuelled their alcoholism.

For many people this is a incredibly scary process and takes some people much longer than others. Giving them time to process what they need is perhaps the greatest gift they can have.