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Alcohol Recovery Timeline

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

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Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

The alcohol recovery timeline should be viewed as an ongoing process rather than a time-limited event, with alcohol use disorder both a progressive and relapsing condition.

Today, we’ll guide you through what to expect from a typical recovery timeline for alcohol, from detox and withdrawal through to sustained sobriety at an Orange County rehab.

Understanding the Alcoholism Recovery Timeline

Everyone has a different experience with alcohol use disorder, and as such there is no boilerplate recovery timeline. The following variables can all impact recovery:

  • How long you have been drinking
  • How much you have been drinking
  • Medical history
  • Physical comorbidities
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Home environment

With the right treatment – typically a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment), counseling, and psychotherapy – it is perfectly possible to enjoy sober life long-term. Treatment should be personalized in line with your history, circumstances, and treatment goals, as well as addressing any underlying co-occurring disorders like anxiety, depression, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), there are four general stages to alcohol recovery:

  • Treatment initiation
  • Abstinence: early phase
  • Abstinence: maintenance
  • Advanced recovery

This model views recovery from alcohol addiction as a lifelong process.

1) Treatment initiation

Reaching out for help from professional addiction treatment services like alcohol rehab sees the first stage of recovery begin, regardless of the results.

Whether you engage with treatment voluntarily or you are committed to rehab against your will, treatment cannot begin until you have detoxed from alcohol – more on the timeline for that below. In severe cases of an alcohol use disorder, withdrawal in a medical detox center is advisable.

During this first phase of recovery, it is commonplace to have feelings of denial or ambivalence toward recovery.

The goal of your treatment team at this stage is to help you commit to actively engaging with treatment and to accept long-term abstinence as your overarching goal.

A treatment plan can be personalized, preparing you for ongoing sobriety.

2) Abstinence: early phase

The early abstinence phase of alcohol recovery is one of the most challenging phases due to the following:

  • Psychological dependence on alcohol
  • Ongoing withdrawal symptoms
  • Triggers making you crave alcohol
  • Physical cravings for alcohol
  • Feelings of depression

During this stage of recovery – especially during high-risk situations – you can employ the coping strategies you have been learning in recovery to minimize your chances of relapse.

You may find peer-support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous valuable. Alternatively, you could explore secular alternatives like SMART Recovery.

3) Abstinence: maintenance

After three months or so of sobriety, you will enter the third stage of alcohol recovery, maintaining abstinence.

If you started your recovery in residential rehab, you will now step down the continuum of care to outpatient therapy.

You’ll continue to embrace a sober lifestyle while working to reduce your chance of relapse. This involves familiarizing yourself with the warning signs of relapse.

Also during this phase of recovery, you will learn how to build healthy sober relationships, to avoid substituting alcohol addiction for other addictions, and you’ll also see the benefits of improvements to exercise and nutrition. You should start feeling and looking better.

NIDA recognizes that this stage of maintaining abstinence begins three months after starting your recovery, and lasts until you have been sober for five years.

At this point of your recovery, you will typically stop engaging with counseling, although you may continue attending 12-step support groups.

4) Advanced recovery

The fourth and final stage of recovery from alcohol addiction starts after you have been sober for five years.

You’ll focus on longer-term goals while maintaining a consistent and productive schedule, however this applies to you.

By this stage of your sobriety, you will continue forging relationships with people who don’t drink alcohol, and you will spend your free time taking part in activities that don’t involve alcohol.

The risk of relapse drops from between 40% and 60% to around 15% after 5 years of sobriety.

So, now you have an idea of how recovery from alcohol use disorder pans out long-term, how quickly and effectively can your brain recover from the effects of alcohol abuse?

Brain Recovery

Abusing alcohol can trigger structural and functional changes to your brain.

In the event of sustained and heavy drinking, you cause shrinkage to the brain, according to research presented at the AAN (American Academy of Neurology).

Prolonged alcohol abuse can also cause the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Mental fog

It takes just two weeks of abstinence for your brain to start recovering from volume loss, according to this study.

The researchers also discovered that the cerebellum responds rapidly to the absence of alcohol, manifested in improved motor skills. Cortical areas, by contrast, take longer to heal.

Brain recovery from alcohol timeline will hinge on many variables, notably how much you’ve been drinking and the length of time you have been alcoholic.

How does detox and withdrawal from alcohol unfold, then?

Alcohol Withdrawal Recovery Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal can be categorized according to the following stages:

●  Mild withdrawal: Insomnia, anxiety, heart palpitations, headaches, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

●  Moderate withdrawal: The above symptoms, plus abnormal breathing, confusion, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and mild hyperthermia.

●  Severe alcohol withdrawal: The above symptoms, plus attention problems, hallucinations, disorientation, and seizures.

How much you have been drinking and the duration of alcohol abuse influence the alcohol withdrawal timeline, as well as any underlying mental or physical health conditions. While all cases of alcohol detox are different, we’ll outline a typical timeline next.

6 hours sober

Minor withdrawal symptoms can present at this stage.

12 to 24 hours sober

Hallucinations can manifest during this stage of withdrawal.

24 to 48 hours sober

Minor withdrawal symptoms persist, including tremors, stomach upsets, and headaches.

For those experiencing mild alcohol withdrawal, symptoms peak after 24 hours, and should start dissipating after four or five days.

48 to 72 hours sober

DTs (delirium tremens) is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal affecting about 5% of those detoxing. Raised heart rate and body temperature can be accompanied by seizures. DTs can be fatal.

72 hours sober

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are peaking by this stage of detox.

Symptoms can persist for a month or more in the case of post-acute withdrawal. For most people detoxing from alcohol, symptoms subside after five days.

Alcohol Recovery at Renaissance

If you’re ready for a life free of alcohol, we have a variety of personalized outpatient treatment programs here at Renaissance Recovery Center.

If you need medical detox, we can help connect you with a detox center near you. After the process of alcohol withdrawal outlined above is complete, you’ll be ready to engage with our evidence-based treatment programs, including IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs).

Through a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment), counseling – both individual and group – and psychotherapy like CBT, we’ll help you commit to lifelong sobriety.

Reach out to admissions today to get things started at 866.330.9449.

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country