Semi-Sober? 5 Signs It’s Time to Go Fully Sober

Kelly Fitzgerald Junco


Aug 17, 2022

A man with curly hair and a faint mustache peeks out from behind a light blue wall, in front of a brown curtain. He is looking at the camera and has a skeptical expression on his face.

One glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve and your birthday? A slight buzz once a month? One beer once a week? Drinking alcohol for the taste of it? 

Semi-sober sounds sexy. 

A pattern of alcohol use that works for you is healthier than binge drinking or constant indulging and ties in nicely with societal expectations of controlling our substance use. And you’re at liberty to define your path.

I would even say that being fully sober gets a bad rap. It has a lot of unspoken qualifications: Society tells us the decision to be sober requires a clinical diagnosis, and we will need to label ourselves as “addicts” or “alcoholics.” 

Full sobriety necessitates a different effort because it is complete abstinence from any and all addictive substances. It seems daunting, and it may seem like something must be wrong with us because we’ve reached this point. 

It has a stigma attached to it because addiction and full sobriety go hand in hand.

Semi-Sober vs. Sober vs. Fully Sober

While some might say it’s a matter of semantics, language is progressive and ever-changing in the sobriety realm. And all facets of society aren’t always on the same page. 

What clinicians determine as “sober” might not be the same as what the sober community considers sober, and it might differ from what you or your community sees as sober. 

For this article, I will be using the terms “fully sober” and “semi-sober.” When I say “fully sober,” I mean complete abstinence from drinking alcohol or taking intoxicating substances. And when I say “semi-sober,” I’m referring to an aspect of sober curiosity, which includes mindful drinking and may include conscious breaks from alcohol, lowering alcohol intake overall, or moderation.

In my semi-sober experience, I did not want to let go of the chance to moderate my alcohol use. I wanted very desperately to “fit in” and drink “normally” — if there is such a thing. 

For the entire last year of my drinking, my attempts at moderation looked like restricting the days I drank, restricting the type of alcohol I drank, and even counting and limiting the number of drinks I consumed at one time. 

For me, it was an overwhelming and fruitless process that always ended in frustration and disappointment. I could never reach my goal of that happy medium level of semi-sobriety. 

Following my dive into being fully sober in 2013, I learned that most people were expected to surrender to their addiction, admit they were an alcoholic, and manage their disease for the rest of their lives.

It wasn’t until newer and more forward-thinking resources and treatment options for sobriety became available that terms like “semi-sober” came to light as an alternative or a more expansive option for someone to explore sobriety. 

According to the National Harm Reduction Coalition, harm reduction is a nonjudgmental way to support drug users. It recognizes that drug use — including alcohol — is a continuum that can range from severe use to total abstinence, as well as the fact that certain ways of using drugs are safer than others (1).

When we view being semi-sober as a point on the harm reduction continuum, we can understand a person’s semi-sobriety as a valid choice, whether it is to remain sober curious, moderate drinking, or attend sober challenges and courses. 

With that  said, there may come a time when we need to be completely abstinent or want that for ourselves and our lives. 

In 2013 when I got fully sober for good, I finally gave up my fight to moderate and find a way to keep alcohol in my life. It was a huge relief. 

Signs It Might Be Time to Go Fully Sober

1. The mental load of drinking is more burdensome than learning how not to drink.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines low-risk drinking as no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week for women, and no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men (2). 

Dr. Josh Lee, Oar Health’s chief clinical adviser and an addiction medicine expert, calls these guidelines “our ‘national drinking speed limit.’”

“Successful moderate drinking stays within these established limits with no binge or heavy drinking episodes,” Lee says.

Lee also mentions that a person who has an alcohol use disorder likely has a hard time meeting these defined criteria. We don’t hear much about this mental load of trying to moderate, but it can be heavy. 

Is it worth it to continue living by the rules and possible consequences of attempting to moderate or space out your drinking? Or does it cause more frustration and regret? 

2. There are intense physical symptoms that have not subsided.

It’s best to seek advice from a medical professional who can properly evaluate your unique situation. 

However, if you have physical symptoms related to alcohol use that have not subsided during your semi-sober time, full sobriety may be better for your health.

3. You’re still experiencing the negative consequences of drinking when you do drink.

Some folks experience negative consequences because of their alcohol use, whether it is losing a job or a relationship, or having legal troubles. 

If being semi-sober hasn’t changed these consequences, becoming fully sober may be a preferable option.

4. You don’t feel like alcohol is adding anything positive to your life.

Perhaps the most significant measure of whether alcohol should be in your life only occasionally or not at all is asking yourself, “Is it adding anything positive to my life?” 

Answer honestly. If it’s  “no,” becoming fully sober could help.

5. You feel tired of the path you’re on.

Mindful drinking or navigating a semi-sober life should make life easier, not harder. 

If complicated and overwhelming feelings are still present in your life, maybe it’s time to try a different path. If you’re tired of the path you’re on, there is hope. There are other options to try and a different way to live life.

Embracing the Label ‘Sober’ 

Once I cut alcohol out of my life for good, I felt a renewed sense of freedom. I no longer had to worry about how much I was drinking or when — no need to count my drinks or fear negative consequences. 

I embraced the sober label because it felt empowering to me. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made.

While being semi-sober works for many people and should be recognized as a legitimate and valid sobriety pathway, let’s not forget that we can change our paths and become fully sober at any time. 

Lee advises people who drink more than the recommended moderate drinking levels to explore the next step and try complete alcohol abstinence as their goal.

There are many reasons it might work for you; perhaps you’re on the spectrum of alcohol use disorder, like so many of us are. 

But the best advice I can give is that you need no reason to embrace sobriety fully and unapologetically. It could be the best decision you ever make.

Read more articles about Consequences Of Alcohol Use

About The Author

Kelly Fitzgerald Junco is a writer and certified recovery coach based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her blog, The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web, including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, and The Fix. She is currently writing a memoir.

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