If you have decided getting sober would improve your life in 2022, you might be unsure how to best achieve this.
It’s perfectly natural to be faced with questions when you’re contemplating a major life change like quitting drinking.
You’re probably asking yourself whether you need to pack your bags and head to residential rehab or whether there are alternatives – and there are alternatives. Research shows that most alcohol use disorders respond favorably to outpatient treatment.
You could even be wondering what sobriety really means. On one level, sobriety just means not drinking alcohol, but as you engage with the recovery process, you’ll discover that long-term and meaningful sobriety involves much more than simple abstinence.
Now for the good news: getting sober is not complicated. It may be challenging, and it is likely to be uncomfortable, but the process is straightforward. The more you learn about this process, the more seamlessly you can navigate it.
How Long Does It Take to Get Sober?
While there is a timeline for alcohol withdrawal, it pays to approach getting sober by viewing your recovery as an ongoing process rather than a fixed event. NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) defines addiction as a chronic and relapsing condition, so it makes sense to pursue recovery with this firmly in mind.
That said, the crucial event that characterizes getting sober is detoxification and withdrawal. Without detox, your recovery and sobriety cannot get traction.
Studies show that sustained alcohol abuse leads to structural and functional changes in the brain. When you stop drinking alcohol and your body eliminates these toxins, this is known as detox. The alcohol withdrawal symptoms you will experience during detox are a result of your system temporarily struggling to cope without alcohol. As all alcohol is purged from your system, the withdrawal symptoms subside. For most people, symptoms have dissipated within five days.
The precise alcohol detox timeline hinges on several variables, notably:
- Duration of alcohol abuse
- Amount of alcohol you consume
- Previous attempts at detox and withdrawal
- Underlying physical or mental health conditions
Alcohol withdrawal is diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe. The symptoms of mild alcohol withdrawal usually peak 24 hours after the last alcoholic drink, subsiding in four to five days. Home detox can be practical in some cases of mild alcohol use disorder.
Severe alcohol withdrawal, by contrast, can be dangerous and possibly even fatal. Roughly 5% of those detoxing from alcohol will experience delirium tremens (DTs), the severest form of alcohol withdrawal. As well as disturbing hallucinations, raised body temperature, and raised heart rate, DTs can be deadly. For this reason, medical detox offers the safest and most comfortable route to detoxification for more severe cases of alcohol use disorder.
In the event of PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome), the adverse symptoms of withdrawal can linger for a month or longer.
For most people, though, the process of getting sober is complete within a week. With your system detoxified, the process of lifelong recovery can begin. So how do you get that started?
How to Get Sober?
To reiterate, getting sober and staying sober are part of an ongoing, evolving process.
Alcohol use disorder is a progressive and relapsing condition. Between 40% and 60% of those in recovery will relapse at least once, according to NIDA estimates.
How to get sober from alcohol, then?
NIDA reports that there are four stages characterizing alcohol recovery:
- Initiation of treatment
- Early phase of abstinence
- Maintenance of abstinence
- Advanced recovery
This NIDA model considers getting sober a lifelong process. You can also use the following model to get an idea of what staying sober means in reality.
1) Initiation of treatment
The first stage of recovery properly begins with detox already complete.
Outpatient rehab is effective for most mild and moderate alcohol use disorders. For severe alcohol use disorders, especially with co-occurring mental health disorders, inpatient rehab is often recommended.
Getting sober is about much more than not drinking alcohol. Through counseling and therapy sessions, you’ll discover more about addiction in general and your alcohol use disorder in particular. You will also equip yourself with the skills to identify what triggers you to abuse alcohol, and you’ll learn how to implement healthier coping strategies instead.
During this initial phase of alcohol recovery, it’s common to experience feelings of denial, and it is also normal to feel ambivalent toward your recovery. If you encounter these emotions, this is perfectly normal during early recovery.
Wherever you choose to engage with addiction treatment, your treatment team will help you to personalize a plan for long-term abstinence and sustained sobriety.
2) Early phase of abstinence
Many people find the early phase of abstinence especially challenging. This is not surprising given the likelihood of experiencing the following cluster of adverse outcomes:
- Ongoing alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Feeling psychologically dependent on alcohol
- Strong cravings for alcohol when triggered
- Physical cravings for alcohol
- Low mood and depression
Remain on guard against the people, places, and things that trigger you to abuse alcohol. Avoid buckling to cravings and relapsing by making full use of the coping strategies you learned at rehab.
For many people at all stages of recovery, peer-support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) play a valuable role. Similar secular 12-step programs exist, such as SMART Recovery.
If you are getting sober without AA, lean heavily on your sober support network, from friends and family to beyond.
3) Maintenance of abstinence
NIDA considers the maintenance of alcohol abstinence phase begins after three months of sobriety.
For those who spend 30 to 90 days in residential rehab, it is commonplace to step down the continuum of care to a less intensive form of outpatient therapy.
Regardless of whether you are now based at home or at a sober living home, you should by now be embracing a sober lifestyle and actively working to lessen the likelihood of relapse. As you build more sober relationships, you should find yourself feeling more confident in your recovery.
Also, with no alcohol and with improved nutrition, sleep, and exercise, you should now be looking and feeling much better.
According to NIDA, this third phase of alcohol recovery lasts until you reach five years of sobriety.
4) Advanced recovery
In the final phase of advanced alcohol recovery, you usually stop engaging with therapy and counseling. Many people will continue to attend 12-step groups like AA, though.
The risk of relapse drops substantially after you have been sober for five years. If you make it this far, research shows that you have only a 15% chance of relapse.
If you find yourself needing to get sober from drugs rather than alcohol, detox will vary in terms of intensity and timescale depending on the substance in question.
Opioid withdrawal can be treated with FDA-approved medications just like alcohol withdrawal. While the medications are different, the overall detox process unfolds in the same way.
Treatment for substance use disorder also involves the same combination of MAT, psychotherapy, and counseling as a treatment for alcohol use disorder.
Get Your Loved One Sober
If you have a friend or family member addicted to alcohol and who you feel would benefit from getting sober, the first step is often the most demanding: getting the person to admit they have a problem with drink or drugs.
Expect to meet with denial, but try to ensure that your loved one gets a diagnosis. Alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder are diagnosed based on the responses to eleven questions laid out in DSM-5.
Once you have determined the scope and severity of alcohol use disorder, you can help your loved one to engage with the appropriate level of care. This does not necessarily mean they’ll need to pack their bags and head to an inpatient facility either.
Rather than attempting to force your loved one to get sober, show them instead that you are there to help them pursue a road to recovery by their side before your relationship is unraveled by alcoholism and its powerful effects.
Whether you need help for yourself or a loved one, we can help you make dramatic changes to your life right now.
Get Sober at Renaissance Recovery
Here at Renaissance Recovery Center, we can help you cope with getting sober and then embrace staying sober.
If you feel your journey needs to start with a medical detox, we can connect you with a local detox center. You can then engage with the process outlined above while benefiting from medications to ease both alcohol withdrawal symptoms and cravings, as well as around-the-clock medical supervision.
With that part of getting sober out of the way, you can engage with the right level of outpatient care for your needs. As well as traditional outpatient programs, we also offer more intensive treatment in the form of IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs). This allows you access to the same services you would find in an inpatient rehab center, but without the restrictions or cost.
Our evidence-based programs offer you a combination of the following:
- MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Holistic therapies
For those unable to access a treatment center, we also offer virtual therapy here at Renaissance. With our virtual IOP, you can attend therapy sessions online.
When you complete your program and transition from getting sober to staying sober, you’ll have constructed a firm foundation for ongoing recovery. We also ensure you have the aftercare you need as well as a relapse prevention plan and management plan to fall back on. So, whether you need help getting sober or you want to connect a loved one with the care they need to combat alcoholism, reach out to our friendly admissions today at 866.330.9449.