Someone who is sober is free of intoxication, not drunk. But does being sober or having a sober lifestyle require continuous abstinence from alcohol? Yes, at least according to the standard medical definition of sobriety, a common view shared by popular recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. In the 14th century, sober meant “reducing to a quiet condition. Although this definition doesn't exactly match what we mean by sober, we can use it here.
In a treatment setting, sobriety is the achieved goal of independence from alcohol consumption. As such, sustained abstinence is a prerequisite for sobriety. At the beginning of abstinence, the residual effects of alcohol consumption may prevent sobriety. These effects are called PAWS or post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
Someone who abstains, but has a latent desire to resume consumption, is called a dry drunk and does not consider himself truly sober. A person who abstains may be unconsciously motivated to resume drinking, but for various reasons, abstains (for example, a medical or legal concern that prevents drinking). Sobriety actually means, first, not being intoxicated. It doesn't mean abstinence, as AA understands it.
In fact, the DSM psychiatric manual (unknown to virtually everyone who uses it, even the experts who write about it) does not contain any abstinence criteria for recovery (actually called remission). Addiction and remission refer to the absence of problems with using or not consuming a substance. Sobriety means not being under the influence of a substance. However, the word is often used in different ways in different contexts.
Many 12-step programs suggest that sobriety means total abstinence and never using the substance again. For most people, the word “sober” means anyone who isn't intoxicated. However, in recovery, sobriety has a much fuller definition. Sobriety is not just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
It's about moving towards complete physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of sober is not being intoxicated or abstaining from intoxicating drugs or drinking alcohol. Being sober can also mean abstaining from any addictive substance.