The Stages of Alcohol Recovery: What To Expect – The specifics of each person’s alcohol recovery are different, but for most people, the process follows a similar trajectory. It often begins with a series of adverse events, commonly referred to as “rock bottom,” resulting from excessive drug or alcohol use, such as a DUI or overdose. This state is followed by admitting to oneself and others that there is a serious problem, making the decision to seek help, undergo detox, and enter a rehab center.
Somewhere in there comes the establishment of a “new normal” and a continual willingness to work on problems that led to substance abuse in the first place. There may be setbacks, such as relapse, but, over time, things should get better, and the person should become more able to cope with the stresses of life without the use of drugs or alcohol.
How Long Does Alcohol Recovery Last?
Many people erroneously believe that recovery from alcoholism can occur in a measurable amount of time. Unfortunately, addiction to any substance is a chronic disease, meaning that most people will struggle in one shape or form for the rest of their life. That said, there are a number treatment programs out there that vary in duration, from just a few days to a month, or, in some cases, even 90 days to six months.
Which Alcohol Recovery Facilities Are The Most Effective?
Because each individual is different with specific needs, there is no universal treatment program that works for everyone. In fact, each alcohol rehab facility is somewhat unique to account for the needs of its clients in a personalized manner.
Generally, an effective treatment program should offer a comprehensive approach to evidence-based practices. These might include behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment, counseling, and support groups. Throughout a patient’s care, he or she will likely visit with a number of medical and mental health professionals, including a primary care provider, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or an addictions counselor.
Rehabs often provide clients with options for receiving treatment such as residential, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient formats. Residential programs are more structured and useful for people who need 24/7 supervision and support. Outpatient programs are more flexible and ideal for those who have external obligations to attend to, such as work, school, and family.
Withdrawal and Detox
The first stage of alcohol recovery is detox, which is accompanied by alcohol withdrawal. This stage is often the hardest stage to go through and what compels many people to relapse. Withdrawals from alcohol can be life-threatening, so if at all possible, those experiencing this are urged to seek care in a clinical setting where they can be closely monitored.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can onset as early as six hours after the last drink and may include the following:
If you only have a relatively mild addiction, these symptoms might be all you encounter. However, for those with a more severe problem, there’s a chance that other intense symptoms will manifest, including accelerated breathing, fever, chills, and sweating.
In less than 5% of patients, seizures will occur. These usually happen within 48 hours of the last drink, which is why it’s vital to undergo withdrawal in a medically-supervised environment. In 3% of those patients, however, seizures may not occur until five or more days after the last drink.
Another possible complication of withdrawal is delirium tremens (DTs), a condition that happens one to four days after withdrawal onsets. This condition tends to occur most often among people who have been drinking excessively for many years.
DTs is a very serious disorder that can produce hallucinations and cause hyperactivity in the central nervous system. In up to 5% of people suffering DTs, death can occur as a result.
In general, the symptoms of withdrawal typically peak within 24-72 hours after a person stops drinking. However, there’s a chance that some psychological symptoms can persist for weeks or months, also referred to as protracted withdrawal.
After a person has completed detox, he or she will begin to receive treatment for addiction. Many people are still resistant to change during this stage and may feel as though they’ll turn to alcohol use again as soon as they leave the treatment program. It’s also common to experience emotional issues, such as depression, guilt, or shame about being an alcoholic, and resentment about being coerced into treatment.
There are a number of therapeutic principles an effective treatment program will use to help their clients. Using psychotherapy, counseling, and support resources, reputable treatment centers strive to ensure that the client realizes that they’re not alone and that recovery is indeed possible.
Treatment programs also encourage clients to express themselves and help others do so, as well. Rehab should foster a sense of community, educate their clients about addiction, and provide them with the tools they need to develop healthier coping skills and prevent relapse.
After a few months, people often find that their normal cognitive functioning is returning. There might be an improvement in decision-making, problem-solving, recalling information and memories, and concentration. The brain probably isn’t going to be back to normal just yet, but it will be well on the path of repairing itself and restoring stability.
Overall, the person in recovery should begin to feel much healthier and in control of their life. During this time, the person might continue to receive a number of behavioral treatments such as psychotherapy and counseling and participate in peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Unfortunately, however, as with any time in one’s life a person is still at risk for relapse. To prevent this, individuals must be diligent and remind themselves of the consequences of returning to alcohol use, which are usually numerous.
There’s also a danger of becoming overconfident and placing oneself directly in the face of temptation and then succumbing to its power. For this reason, people in this stage of recovery may still have to avoid certain family members or friends who drink in order to ensure their sobriety remains intact. In fact, leaning on loved ones who support sobriety may be more beneficial than ever.
The last but certainly not the least important stage of alcohol recovery is maintenance. By this time, the person has completed a treatment program (including aftercare) and reentered the real world. These circumstances increase a person’s risk of relapse even more, however, which is why seeing a counselor or therapist and participating in group support is critical.
The overall timeline for alcohol recovery is different for everyone and might take months or even years. And because addiction tends to be chronic, a “full” recovery may not be possible, meaning that one may have to field cravings and avoid certain situations from time to time.
The body will continue to adjust to sobriety for quite some time, as the liver, brain, and other organs require time to heal properly. Nonetheless, people who remain committed to their treatment and recovery plan for the long haul will be healthier, more confident, and may experience a state of well-being and stability that they never thought possible before taking the first step to sobriety.