What happens when you finally take the plunge and decide to get sober? Getting sober from alcohol addiction can be a scary process, particularly if the details on what happens after are fuzzy. Will the newly sober addict get withdrawals? What are they like? How long do they last?
These questions are a natural part of getting sober, as it can be confusing about what the best course of action is. To answer some questions and dispel some of the confusion, here’s some good information on understanding the alcohol recovery timeline.
The General Alcohol Recovery Timeline
1. The First Few Days
Depending on how heavily a person drinks, the first few days after entering into recovery can cause them to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary in their severity and type, and factors like a person’s age, length of time they were drinking, how much they drank, etc., can determine what sort of withdrawal symptoms (if any) that they have.
Some withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, headaches, difficulty sleeping, mild to severe tremors, and depression. These symptoms will be the most pronounced in the first few days of sobriety but will lessen as the body returns itself to a normal state.
If the withdrawal symptoms are severe, persist beyond 24 hours, and include extreme nausea, fever, delirium, heavy sweating, or severe blood pressure spike, seek help from a medical professional right away. The safest course of action is to enter into a detox facility with medical professionals who can safely manage withdrawal symptoms and ensure that nothing serious happens.
2. The First Three Months
In order to lessen the chances of a relapse, these first few months should be spent identifying triggers and unhealthy behaviors that contribute to an addict’s decision to take up the bottle. Having a clear understanding of what pushes them to the bar helps them also find ways to change or avoid those types of behaviors. Taking this step with an addiction recovery specialist or other mental health professional is wise – they may be able to pick out the triggers that aren’t easily noticeable.
During this time, the body continues to recalibrate itself and return to normal function. The longer that an alcoholic is in recovery, the more the chances of getting various alcohol-related illnesses (liver damage, high blood pressure) decreases.
3. Three to Six Months
After the initial period of withdrawal and working to avoid any triggers that might initiate a relapse, the next three months in the recovery process are spent further identifying unhealthy behavior and working to establish more healthy habits. What this looks like depends on each individual case.
One addict in recovery may choose to focus on building more of a spiritual life, and another may throw themselves into a new fitness program. The idea is to change the habits that lead directly to the bottom of a bottle for ones that won’t.
4. Six Months to One Year
After some healthy habits have been established, this period of time is best used strengthening those habits and continuing to progress through recovery. Some recovering addicts may find that they have underlying mental health issues that they feel better equipped to work through with a mental health professional, and others may just be getting out of long-term rehab.
Whatever the situation, it’s around this time that the temptation to drink lessens considerably – new habits are being built upon, relationships are being repaired, and the body has begun to repair itself.
5. One Year or More
Most alcoholics find that the more time they have remaining sober, the easier it is to resist the temptation to drink. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the risk for relapse ever goes away entirely. The best way to keep those temptations from rearing their ugly heads is to continue working on a healthy, sober lifestyle. Attending meetings with a support group (like SMART recovery, or something similar) can be an effective way to stay on top of things and maintain those healthy habits.
What Does It Mean to Be “Recovered”?
Recovery from alcohol addiction is a lifelong process. There isn’t a moment where someone wakes up and they have reached that point of being “recovered.” Relapse is always a possibility, as remote as it may seem. An old adage goes, “We stopped drinking in a day, we can start drinking in a day.”
To maintain a healthy life in recovery and mitigate the risk of any relapses, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If attending meetings and support groups helps, then that sort of extra support should be sought out without hesitation. In order to stay recovered, the sober alcoholic needs to maintain the life they have built for themselves.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Trying to get and stay sober can be an overwhelming task. The first twelve months on the alcohol recovery timeline are crucial to ensuring that an addict can maintain their sobriety. If they are confused about how best to do that, working with a professional to create an individualized treatment plan is a great way to increase the chances of successful recovery.
Dr. Ronaye Calvert-Conley is the CEO and Founder of Revive Detox, a Joint Commission Accredited and Legit Script Certified Addiction Treatment Center in Los Angeles, CA. She earned her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Alliant International University in Los Angeles in 2007 and has extensive experience working in the addiction and recovery field and the LGBT community. To learn more about Dr. Calvert-Conley click here.