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Updated on October 18, 2023
7 min read

How Long Does it Take to Recover From Alcohol Abuse?

The time it takes to recover from alcohol abuse is different for everyone. The brain typically needs at least 2 weeks to reverse the damage from alcohol.

Recovery is a lifelong goal; withdrawal is usually the hardest during the first week. Nevertheless, it’s essential to start an alcohol detox to get better.

Recovering from alcohol abuse can seem complicated and endless, which makes many people apprehensive about recovery. However, knowing what challenges and benefits to expect can make recovering from alcohol abuse more worthwhile and even easier.

In this blog post, we cover how long it takes to recover from alcohol abuse and how to maintain long-term sobriety.

Alcohol Recovery Timeline

Although people recover from addiction differently, most people will generally follow these stages:

  • 72 hours after your last drink: The first 3 days can be difficult due to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may persist for days to weeks.
  • 14 days after your last drink: You’ll stop experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and your body will start to function normally.
  • 30 days after your last drink: Visible health improvements such as weight loss, improved blood pressure, and clearer skin.
  • Three months after your last drink: Improved confidence, energy, and overall health.
  • One year after your last drink: A full recovery with little to no cravings.

While these timeframes might seem straightforward, every person will react differently to treatment. This is because every case varies, depending on how much damage has been done to your brain and body.

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How Long Does It Take for Your Brain to Recover from Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol abuse can cause brain matter to shrink due to brain cells changing in size. It’s a result of brain cells dying and brain tissue shrinking. However, studies have shown that the brain can begin to reverse the damages from alcohol abuse in as little as 2 weeks.2

When you stop drinking alcohol, and your body removes all residual substances, your brain cells begin to normalize. Some researchers say this is the only time that recovery truly begins.2

As the brain recovers, you can also retrain it to avoid triggering a relapse. Mindfulness and meditation can help form better habits that support long-term sobriety.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

If you suddenly stop drinking, your body will react adversely to the lack of alcohol, causing alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of your alcohol use disorder (AUD). Mild symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment and memory
  • Insomnia or restlessness
  • Fatigue

Symptoms of Heavy Drinking

Moderate alcohol consumption should be relatively safe and cause mild and short-term effects. However, these effects can be amplified when you engage in heavy alcohol use or binge drinking.

Heavy alcohol users may experience severe symptoms, such as:

  • High fever
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium Tremens (DT)

What is Delirium Tremens (DT)?

DT is a severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal and requires immediate medical attention. Its symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Hypertension
  • Hallucinations
  • Autonomic hyperactivity (tachycardia and hypertension)

DT can result in medical complications like cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory arrest, or aspiration pneumonitis. These conditions can lead to severe infections or death.

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Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Starting the recovery process for alcohol abuse begins with detox. This process can be done at home or in a hospital setting.

The first 48 hours are when the alcohol withdrawal symptoms are the most severe. During these episodes, people recovering from alcohol abuse are sedated to prevent exhaustion and injury.

Here’s what to expect:

6-8 Hours After Your Last Drink

An abrupt cessation of alcohol intake can manifest these symptoms as early as 6 to 8 hours after the last drink. Symptoms during this time include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Mild fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular sleep

These symptoms might subside by the second day.

24-72 Hours After Your Last Drink

Some people may experience visual, auditory, and/or tactile hallucinations. Seizures might also occur during the first 12 to 48-hour time period.

Most people recovering from alcohol addiction experience mild symptoms. However, 5% of these people might experience DTs.

DTs commonly manifest 48 to 72 hours after the cessation of drinking. DTs can cause a person’s body temperature to become dangerously high or cardiac or peripheral circulation failures. These are all life-threatening situations.

4-5 Days After Your Last Drink

Most withdrawal symptoms will disappear after 4 to 5 days. However, in some cases, symptoms may last from one week to a month.

Meanwhile, people who experience DT may feel symptoms for 3 to 4 days. They may even last up to 8 days.

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What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to dependence, preventing you from functioning normally without alcohol. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) refers to a set of impairments that can last for weeks or months after quitting alcohol. It’s also referred to as post-withdrawal syndrome or protracted withdrawal syndrome.7

PAWS is characterized by symptoms similar to mood and anxiety disorders, such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Difficulty maintaining social relationships
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Apathy or pessimism
  • Sleep disturbances or problems

PAWS can last until the brain can naturally produce endorphins and dopamine, which can take 6 months to 2 years.7

How Treatment Can Help You Recover

Seeking professional addiction treatment can help in many ways, such as:

  • A safe environment for recovery
  • Medical detox to minimize the effects of withdrawal
  • Medical supervision and monitoring
  • Teaching techniques to maintain sobriety
  • Peer support groups
  • Therapeutic intervention
  • Mental health treatments and therapies

Alcohol Rehab Treatment Options

Various treatment options can help you recover from AUD. These programs can provide the necessary tools to create a stronger foundation for long-term sobriety.

Available treatment options include:

Since people react to treatment differently, it’s essential to talk to a doctor or an addiction specialist. They’ll be able to recommend treatment options that cater to your needs.

What to Expect with Long-Term Sobriety

People with long histories of alcohol abuse can still recover and become productive members of society. A common saying in AA groups is, “All you have to do is quit drinking and change your whole life!” However, to do that, there are challenges to overcome.

Challenges of Long-Term Sobriety

Sobriety can be difficult to maintain since it may be challenged by triggers leading to relapse. One of the biggest challenges to staying sober is dry drunk syndrome.

Dry drunk syndrome is a term used to describe a person who still experiences issues or behaviors associated with AUD despite quitting alcohol. Symptoms include:

  • Mood Issues
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Lying about behavior
  • Secretive
  • Not continuing treatment
  • Not setting up a support system

Benefits of Long-Term Sobriety

People who drink are at risk of developing long-term health problems and diseases. Maintaining long-term sobriety lessens the risk of various complications, such as:

  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Stroke
  • Stomach bleeding
  • Diabetes

Stopping alcohol consumption can also make you feel healthier and more energetic. You’ll also be able to maintain better relationships with friends and family outside the influence of alcohol.

Relapse Prevention Through 12-Step Programs

Anyone recovering from addiction is prone to relapse, so they need access to support groups that follow the same recovery principles. 12-step groups provide lifelong support groups where people offer help through active listening.

Telling and listening to recovery stories can remind people of the challenges of drinking alcohol and motivate others to continue recovering. Much of the discussion revolves around managing the following without drinking alcohol:

  • Family problems
  • Social or relationship problems
  • Work or school problems
  • Financial or legal troubles

Some examples of 12-step programs include:

Summary

Recovering from alcohol abuse is different for everyone. The brain typically needs at least 2 weeks to reverse the damage from alcohol. However, withdrawal symptoms may persist for longer.

Recovery is a long process and can take up to one year. During recovery, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms from the lack of alcohol in your system.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can have various side effects ranging from mild to severe. Fortunately, there are treatment programs that can help you manage withdrawal and maintain sobriety. Contact an addiction specialist to get the help you need.

Updated on October 18, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on October 18, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.
  2. Alcohol related brain damage and recovery.” Life Works, Priory.
  3. Alcohol Use Disorders: Diagnosis and Clinical Management of Alcohol-Related Physical Complications.” National Clinical Guideline Centre, Royal College of Physicians (UK), 2010.
  4. Laudet et al. “Pathways to Long-Term Recovery: A Preliminary Investigation.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, National Libraruy of Medicine, 2002.
  5. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.
  6. Treatment - Alcohol misuse.” NHS, Crown, 2022.
  7. Bahji et al. “Management of Post-Acute Alcohol Withdrawal: A Mixed-Studies Scoping Review.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, National Library of Medicine, 2022.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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