Recovering from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a personalized process, meaning that no addiction is the same and everyone heals in their particular way. Several components can influence the recovery timeline, such as how long the individual has been addicted, how much alcohol is consumed, medical history, and personal life.
1 in 10 Americans over age 12 have alcohol use disorder (AUD). With alcohol use disorder (AUD) being both a progressive and recurring condition, the timeline stages for alcohol recovery is an ongoing process rather than a time-sensitive matter. Recovery is not intended to be a “quick fix” but rather a lifelong journey of choosing to create and maintain a happy and healthy life in sobriety.
While in treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), each patient will have a comprehensive treatment plan that caters to and is best suited for them and their situation—family history, goals, personal background, interests, etc.
The Stages of Alcohol Recovery
The early stages of recovering from an AUD are the most strenuous as the body begins to wean from the thing it’s been dependent on for so long. When alcohol enters the body, it triggers the central nervous system (CNS) and brain cells, releasing serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine, also known as the “happy hormones” or “feel-good hormones,” are neurotransmitters associated with happiness, pleasure, and motivation. After the effects of alcohol wear off, those happy feelings do too—which is why people continue to drink.
Once you choose to recover and taper off a substance, the mind and body have no other option but to adapt, sending it into a shock. Often, in these early stages, patients experience extreme sadness and depression. Those sad feelings will fade as the body begins detoxing and healing from addiction.
Most addiction treatment facilities suggest a minimum 30-day stay for detox; however, long-term treatment plans are accessible for those interested in or in need of extended care. Due to the physical, psychological, and emotional strain of medical detox, long-term treatment is often recommended for those undergoing medical detox. Inpatient treatment provides patients with the assistance and supervision they require throughout the early stages of recovery.
The First Three Months
The most debilitating stages of recovery often happen to be the first couple of months. In the early stages, the body is going through withdrawal from the alcohol detox and experiencing unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms. This is also when individuals start to create a new life for themselves—implementing and maintaining healthy habits, making new friendships, creating new routines, and experimenting with new hobbies and activities.
During these 90 days, throughout detox and inpatient treatment, individuals will undergo therapy that teaches healthy coping skills, methods, and habits to supplant drinking. Patients must attend group or individual therapy sessions to understand better and communicate where they’re at in their recovery and healing journey.
Three to Six Months
Following inpatient treatment, which typically lasts three months, patients will have the freedom and opportunity to utilize the habits and foundation they built while in treatment. Maintaining sobriety after treatment isn’t always easy, but it’s possible and rewarding. If patients find that they need assistance and guidance, outpatient care is available to provide support on their sobriety journey.
This is when patients are free to take control and create the life they want to live. Exploring enjoyable activities and enjoyable hobbies is essential to keeping your mind occupied. Triggers and temptations are bound to happen in recovery, so it is critical to be in sober-friendly environments surrounded by good people. One of the essential things when making new friends and exploring new hobbies is establishing boundaries to engage in sober-friendly activities.
The people you surround yourself with will either make or break you—which is why you want to ensure that they will benefit your recovery journey, not hinder it. This stage of recovery is often the most challenging, as it is the stage where you’re “on your own”—not entirely, but you’re finally able to make decisions for yourself following inpatient care. It’s imperative to create a routine and maintain a schedule for yourself daily—this makes it harder to slip up and facilitates structure and prioritization.
Six to Twelve Months
Once you pass the 6-month mark, it’s common to believe that therapy and group meetings are no longer necessary. While it may be tempting to stop attending group meetings, surrounding yourself with a positive community that understands what you’re going through is essential for long-term recovery.
Recovery is a life-long choice, which means prioritizing your health and wellness must come first and foremost. Once this stage is reached, it’s often the most rewarding. The discipline, teachings, and changes are finally paying off. The healthy habits and coping mechanisms developed are now going to help maintain and achieve a life of sobriety.
How to Maintain Long-Term Sobriety
While everyone has unique ways of coping and staying healthy and sober, a few sound strategies are recommended for all individuals in recovery—no matter what stage you’re in.
Here are a few tips for staying sober in recovery:
- Have a robust support system
- Stay in safe and sober-friendly environments
- Attend support groups or 12-step meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous)
- Manage your triggers
- Practice positive affirmations
- Spending time doing things that make you feel good
- Practice self-care for enjoyment and stress relief
- Exercise often
- Eat a nutritious and balanced diet
- Prioritizing mental and physical health
Maintaining a life of sobriety may consist of a lot of effort and sometimes sacrifice; however, it is even more rewarding to be mentally and physically healthy.
If you or a loved one are battling an alcohol use disorder (AUD), our medical detox and treatment options are available to help you obtain a life of sobriety.