Study Explores How People With Addictions Get Sober

People sitting in group setting having a serious discussionAbout 46% of people who once had an issue with drug or alcohol use achieved sobriety without formal treatment or assistance, according to a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The study found that addiction issues are common, with 9.1% of participants in a nationally representative survey reporting they had recovered from an addiction.

The study undermines some popular beliefs about addiction, particularly that all individuals recovering from addiction must see themselves as “in recovery” or seek inpatient treatment.

Many Pathways to Sobriety

The study began with a nationally representative survey of 39,809 people. Researchers followed up with 2,047 participants who answered in the affirmative to, “Did you once have a problem with alcohol or drugs but no longer do?” Some participants responded to follow-up questions incompletely or in ways that suggested they had not actually had an addiction. This left 2,002 responses to analyze.

Slightly more than half (53.9%) of people who recovered from an addiction said they sought help to become sober. The most popular path to sobriety was through self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Around half (45.1%) of people in recovery used these programs to get sober. Medical treatment was another popular option, with 27.6% using some form of treatment in either inpatient or outpatient settings.

Recovery support services, such as faith-based programs and sober housing, helped another 21.8% of respondents become sober. About 37% used multiple forms of assistance to get sober.

The remaining 46% of respondents did not use traditional treatment or support to get sober. Just 46% of people who were once addicted to drugs or alcohol reported viewing themselves as “in recovery.” Many addiction treatment programs encourage people with substance abuse issues to see themselves as in recovery for a lifetime.

Authors of the study argue that this suggests there are many ways to achieve sobriety. Treatment providers might need to reconsider the way they talk about addiction and the way they encourage people in recovery to view themselves.

Who Seeks Treatment for Addiction?

The study also analyzed factors that correlate with seeking formal assistance to get sober. People who abused substances at an earlier age, who abused several substances, who were involved with drug courts, and who were diagnosed with a substance use or mental health issue were more likely to seek assistance to get sober.

People with opioid addiction were more likely to seek help, while those with an addiction to cannabis were less likely to pursue assistance.


  1. Almost half of those who resolve a problem with drugs or alcohol do so without assistance. (2017, November 01). Retrieved from
  2. Kelly, J. F., Bergman, B., Hoeppner, B. B., Vilsaint, C., & White, W. L. (2017). Prevalence and pathways of recovery from drug and alcohol problems in the United States population: Implications for practice, research, and policy. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 181, 162-169. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.09.028

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Will

    November 9th, 2017 at 7:58 AM

    This is not something that I could have done on my own. I needed help and support and tough love every step of the way. And I failed several times before I finally was able to clear my head and get to the right point where I needed to be to make it. I am three years sober and I still take things one day at a time. I wish that I could say that I was cured for good but I know that with just one wrong misstep I could stumble again. One day at a time.

  • fred t

    November 9th, 2017 at 2:27 PM

    addiction to cannabis isn’t real
    that’s why you don’t seek help

  • Matthew

    November 11th, 2017 at 6:37 AM

    It almost feels like there are certain addictions that are more acceptable and therefore people are not as ashamed to seek treatment for. Sad really, because it is not like one is any worse than another. They are all addictions that can ruin lives if they take precedence over everything else in yours.

  • Marielle

    November 13th, 2017 at 2:27 PM

    This is not only about being one size fits all

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