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Recovering from alcohol addiction is challenging. The emotional, physical, and psychological effects of alcoholism are intense, especially when quitting drinking.
Alcohol use recovery should be viewed as an ongoing process with a high risk of relapse. Knowing what to expect after quitting can help pave the way to lasting recovery.
Recovery from alcoholism requires time, effort, willpower, and support. When you decide to join a formal alcohol treatment program, you’ll begin a journey through distinct recovery stages. You’ll also learn to develop a healthy and sober lifestyle.
These are the four stages of alcoholism recovery:
When you seek help from a professional alcohol rehab program, voluntarily or not, treatment initiation is the first stage of recovery. Denial and hesitation can be your worst enemies in the first days of your recovery.2
People who don’t admit they have a drinking problem have difficulty engaging in treatment programs. During treatment initiation, the goal is to help you actively decide to participate in the program and accept abstinence as the goal.3
After you admit to having a problem with alcohol, you must understand and accept that there is a potential solution. To reach this thinking, a substance abuse counselor may help you:
During initiation, you will also discuss your alcohol and drug use history. Your counselor will work with you to develop a personal treatment plan.
Once you’ve committed to treatment, you’ll enter the second stage of rehab. This is called early abstinence. Early abstinence from alcohol is linked to positive treatment outcomes.4
Early abstinence is most easily achieved in a residential treatment program. In these programs, alcohol is not readily available, and nobody is actively drinking.
However, this can be the most challenging stage to cope with due to:
Challenges at this stage of treatment include:3
During this stage, your counselor will teach you the coping skills necessary for leading a sober lifestyle. The tools you learn will help you throughout recovery.
You will learn:
After around 90 days of continuous abstinence, you’ll move to the third stage. This stage is called maintaining abstinence. If you begin in a residential treatment program, you’ll move to the follow-up counseling phase of your rehab program on an outpatient basis.
One focus of this recovery stage is to maintain abstinence by avoiding relapse. You’ll learn the warning signs that might indicate or lead to relapse.
You’ll also discover how to use the tools you learned in early abstinence in other areas of your life. You’ll find that your future quality of life depends on more than simply not drinking alcohol.
Counselors and other recovering alcoholics will teach you new coping skills and tools to help you:
This stage starts at around 3 months into your rehab program. It will last until you’ve been clean and sober for approximately 9 to 12 months.
After the first year of abstinence and recovery, you’ll reach the fourth and final stage of rehab: advanced recovery. You’ll use the tools and skills you’ve learned during rehab to live a satisfying, fulfilling life.
During this stage, you’ll learn how and continue to:
Many successful people in recovery engage and work with others in early recovery by sharing their experiences. They also help them become:
Recovery is more than staying sober. It's discovering how to live a happier and healthier life.
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Alcohol withdrawal can start within hours of stopping drinking. It refers to the symptoms some people experience when they decide to stop drinking excessively.
Not everyone will experience the same withdrawal symptoms. Some people will have less severe symptoms than others.
Initial withdrawal symptoms are due to the absence of alcohol and the body's reaction. Longer-term symptoms often revolve around the social and psychological issues that contribute to chronic alcohol use.
People are more likely to experience severe withdrawal if they:
The amount of time it takes for alcohol to completely leave the bloodstream depends on a person’s:
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are usually present within 8 hours after the last drink. In other cases, they may first occur days later.
Physical symptoms usually peak 24 to 72 hours after the last drink. These symptoms can persist for weeks. However, the timeline for alcohol withdrawal varies from person to person. Psychological symptoms may persist for years.
Here is a general symptom timeline for alcohol detox:
Mild symptoms, including headaches, mild anxiety, insomnia, small tremors, and an upset stomach, may occur.
Here, your blood sugar may normalize. You may also feel dehydrated due to the diuretic effect that alcohol has on the body. Some people experience hallucinations.
Some symptoms peak, level off, or resolve; others can persist for weeks or longer. However, often, the worst is over.
Drowsiness, headaches, grogginess, and other forms of mental fog may persist. Seizure risk is also the highest 24 to 48 hours after the last drink.
Hangover symptoms are likely finishing by this point. You may start to feel some of your alcohol cravings subside. You may also start feeling more mentally and physically healthy.
Delirium tremens (DTs) can appear in severe cases. DTs is a severe type of alcohol withdrawal.1
These symptoms are life-threatening and require medical attention. DTs can cause:
You may be experiencing deeper sleep, which can cause your mental and physical energy to increase. As your hydration levels even out, you may look more healthy and youthful.
Skin conditions, like eczema, rosacea, or dandruff, may improve after a week of quitting.
Unfortunately, for some, withdrawal symptoms can still be present after a week.
After a month of being alcohol-free, you may notice a weight reduction. In addition, your liver’s fat will have increased, making it easier for your body to get rid of toxins.
Your skin will also see a major improvement during the 4 weeks.
After an entire year sober from alcohol, you may notice that you’ve lost a significant amount of body fat. Additionally, the risks of cancers begin to reduce.
Alcohol harms the brain’s cognitive function. It takes at least 2 weeks for your brain to return to normal after drinking.6
After you quit drinking, your cerebellum responds very quickly, and you may notice your motor skill improving. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that helps coordinate and regulate physical movement.
Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:1
Other symptoms may include:1
The advantages of quitting alcohol can be easy to overlook, especially because alcohol gives some people many immediate, short-term perks. However, those benefits are short-lived. Alcohol can remain in your blood and affect your body longer than you think, especially if you depend on it.
There are many physical and mental health benefits you’ll enjoy when you quit drinking, including:
The longer you live without alcohol, the more improvements you’ll experience. This includes positive changes in your overall health, relationships, work, finances, and more.
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