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Is the question "Are you sober?" asking for whether one drinks alcohol or only whether one recovered from being addicted to alcohol?

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    I would understand it to mean "Are you currently under the influence of alcohol?" Dec 23, 2021 at 12:51
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    It can mean right now or in general.
    – Lambie
    Dec 23, 2021 at 15:30
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    Need some context. It could mean anything from "are you OK to drive?" up to "have you sworn off alcohol?"
    – Dan
    Dec 23, 2021 at 20:01
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    It can be a rhetorical question asked when something unusual or unlikely has been said or done, not an enquiry as the whether alcohol has actually been imbibed. Dec 23, 2021 at 21:58
  • @Dan First, I have read this as a question in OkCupid, but also heard it in TV. In most situations there it was clear that it was about whether someone recovered from being addicted (was in a TV show with 1:1 talks/ interviews), but in some others it sounded like a question whether one just does not drink alcohol (was in a social situation in a bar). If it can be both, depending on context, it would explain my confusion as non-native speaker, but then it would be really weird to have this as a out-of-context questionnaire. Dec 28, 2021 at 11:15

4 Answers 4

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This would be dependent on context. The more general case would be checking to see if the person was currently drunk.

And while that question would still apply to a person who previously had an alcohol or drugs problem it would have a secondary meaning in that case, have you started drinking again even if you are not drunk at the moment.

This second usage would require that the two people talking knew each other well enough for this information to be common knowledge between them.

Related question on English.

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    +1 on the secondary use. There's also a tertiary use among those who have been addicted, meaning not exhibiting behavior typical of those who are still addicted. Dec 23, 2021 at 15:11
  • Note that for the more general case (asking about current sobriety) if that is actually the intent I would expect the question to be phrased from the opposite direction (i.e. the classic cop question "Have you been drinking tonight?"). Dec 23, 2021 at 22:40
  • For the first case, you could also word it in the negative, "are you drunk right now?"
    – Cullub
    Dec 23, 2021 at 23:05
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    "Are you sober?" is common for when someone is going to drive (or operate heavy machinery) after they may have been drinking. "Are you drunk?" is good for when someone has just said something stupid. In either case we phrase it so the best answer is "yes". Dec 24, 2021 at 4:29
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    For the recovering alcoholic, it would often be phrased as "are you still sober".
    – Barmar
    Dec 24, 2021 at 14:59
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The one thing it DOESN'T mean is 'do you ever drink alcohol?' That would be 'Are you teetotal?'.

'Are you sober' might refer to a recovery from alcoholism. 'I've been sober now for 3 years!' (Well done!) Or it might simply be asking whether you're currently under the influence of alcohol. 'You're going to drive your car? Are you sure you're sober?'

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    That's the first time I ever saw the adjective "teetotal", and my first instinct was to deny its existence. Although I do find attestations to that word, it would be more conventional to phrase the suggested query as "Are you a teetotaler?" Dec 24, 2021 at 15:58
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    @John Bollinger I think this may be a difference between US and UK usage. I have encountered the adjective "teatotal" referring to both a meal and a person fairly often in fiction written and set in the UK, mostly before 1950.
    – David Siegel
    Dec 24, 2021 at 16:47
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    In America you could say, "Are you a teetotaler?" but not "Are you teetotal?". Though neither word is particularly common, at least in my region of the US. Dec 25, 2021 at 1:48
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    @StevenMatthews Agreed, any form of the word "Teetotal" is extremely rare in spoken English over here. It is much more commonly seen in written English, but even there, it is still rare. "Abstinence" is used much more often, but mostly people just ask "Do you drink?" Dec 25, 2021 at 18:07
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It's inquiring about their current state.

I would say that "Are you sober" would be an inquiry as to their current state of intoxication (or lack thereof), whether that be the result of alcohol or other drugs. It would basically be the opposite of asking "Are you drunk?" or "Are you high?"

If you wanted to ask about whether someone is maintaining a state of sobriety as a result of recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction, you would instead ask "Are you staying sober?"

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In addition to the meanings already mentioned: In some contexts (mostly medical), "sober" can also mean not having eaten/drunk anything (alcoholic or not) today yet...

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    I have always heard this inquiry expressed as "are you fasting?" not as "Are you sober?" This is in AmE.
    – David Siegel
    Dec 24, 2021 at 16:43
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    If you're asking that of a patient, then it would be rather ridiculous to use it that way, as the general population can't be expected to know of that other meaning, and getting the wrong answer could be problematic. That's just asking for a malpractice suit. Dec 24, 2021 at 18:45
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    No medical provider would ask if you are sober, at least not in the US. It's not a medical term and asking the patient to assess their own state of mental competence isn't something that's done. Dec 25, 2021 at 4:26

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