Exploring the Sober Horse Thief Metaphor

Exploring the Sober Horse Thief Metaphor | Transcend Recovery Community

There’s a story that is often discussed in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and it goes like this: There is a drunk and obnoxious horse thief. That drunken horse thief might get sober and stay that way, but he or she will still be a horse thief.

The point is that someone who gets sober is still going to have all the thoughts, behaviors, and poor choices that they once had before they got drunk. Just because they got sober doesn’t mean that who they are is going to change.

This is an important point to make to both a recovering addict as well as his or her family. Putting an end to drinking or drug use is only the beginning of recovery. The rest is a long journey of changing one’s life.

Fortunately, there are many groups that provide significant support to those who are in recovery. These groups and their programs are aimed at changing those thoughts, behaviors, and choices so that life becomes more manageable. Programs like the 12-steps and SMART Recovery can help one change who they are in very fundamental ways.

When someone does not change who they are after getting sober, they are referred to as a “dry drunk” by AA members. This is a person who has gotten physically sober but not emotionally or psychologically sober. They might continue to engage in disruptive or risky behavior. They might continue to participate in relationships in destructive and harmful ways. In essence, someone who hasn’t changed might continue to behave in the following ways:

  • Inability to delay their gratification.
  • An admiration for deviant or risky behavior.
  • Exhibits a low self esteem.
  • Highly insecure in relationships.
  • Engages in attention seeking behavior.
  • Feelings of alienation from others.
  • Tends to suffer from anxiety or depression.

One of the tasks then of recovery is learning how to stop being a horse thief, not just a sober one. To do that someone needs to have the following insights:

  • Putting an end to drinking or drug use is the start of a life transformation.
  • Feeling ambivalent about sobriety can lead to relapse. Someone needs to be entirely committed to sobriety.
  • Recovery is a process, not an event. It’s going to be a slow unfolding of making better choices, engaging in new behavior, and spending time with new people. A new life will slowly develop as a result.
  • A recovering addict needs to play an active role in their own recovery, recognizing what they need in order to make the process their own.
  • The challenging situations in one’s life is a result of their own choices and behaviors. In order to make a life change, one needs to take complete responsibility for it.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, contact the support of a mental health provider. Doing so can put that person in touch with an array of resources so that he or she doesn’t only become sober but also changes the many facets of his or her life.


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