Does Sobriety In Prison Count?

By Eric Ridenour

There seems to be a regular debate in sobriety circles on whether sobriety time counts while you are in prison. Some say your first day sober is your first day out of jail, others will count time while in jail.

Here we look at both lines of reasoning and help you decide.

Why Some Do Not Count Jail Time

Many in AA and NA, as well as several others, prefer to believe that your sobriety days start when you are released.

The reasoning makes sense in some ways. When you are taken from one environment and put into another, whether it is a jail, moving out of state or even country, you are removed from almost all of your relapse triggers that can make sobriety hard.

Upon release though, most people are returned to the very community that they became an addict in.

So all your connections and triggers come back to you: that alley you used to shoot up in, your favorite bar, the dealer that lives next door. All these triggers and conveniences are returned to you, and sometimes going to jail or prison, then back home again can make your time away seem to have almost never happened.

After months or years of no cravings, people find these cravings return, and you are once more fighting addiction because you see the triggers all around you again and never learned to cope with resisting them while in jail.

In many ways, returning to your community is like beginning your sobriety all over again.


Why Others Do count Jail Time

The other side is obviously those who do count time inside toward sobriety.

When you are incarcerated, you are removed from your environmental triggers, this is true. However, you are also put into a new environment filled with pain and stressors that often can cause a relapse.

Some would say you can not quickly get drugs in prison. The only people who say this are people who have never been to jail. You can make alcohol with leftover fruit and bread, half of the prison yards are medicated and that can be abused, and even hard drugs like heroin are always available to anyone with a few bags of chips if you ask around on the yard for about 30 seconds.

Drugs and alcohol are plentiful, and so are many of the stressors that cause drug use and relapse.

Also, you can actively pursue sobriety in prison. Resources are limited, but there are churches,  AA, and NA.

You can choose to attend or even start your own. You can absolutely create a lifestyle of sobriety even without support.

My Opinion

Obviously, this question is not so clear cut.

There are many factors in play here that can count for or against whether or not incarceration time counts. Regardless, no matter what you decide for yourself, there will be people wanting to argue about it and tell you that you are wrong.

Other people’s opinions on your sobriety time are not relevant, it is what matters to you that counts as to how long you have been sober.

This is why it is my opinion that sober time in jail counts. Despite the argument against, what it comes down to in my personal opinion is two things:

1) The literal definition of sobriety. Sobriety means not abusing drugs or alcohol. If you are not abusing drugs or alcohol, you are the definition of sober.

2) Dry time is significant to risk. Believing you have zero sober time when released creates a mentality as if you are losing nothing if you break your first day of sobriety. But if you have been locked up for a year and believe in a year of sobriety, going back to using is a far more costly sacrifice.

Sober time in prison is not like time in a coma. There is access to drugs and alcohol, and almost anyone can get it if they want it. Even someone with no money can work it off.

You make a conscious decision while locked up to not use, and that makes you a sober person.

When you are released, celebrate your time in sobriety. You earned it, and remember, breaking it is a great sacrifice to all your hard work, because it isn’t just one day. It is your life.