What to Expect in the First Year of Alcohol Recovery
Depression is ubiquitous during the first few weeks of treatment. As the body weans itself off of alcohol, the brain is also forced to adjust; prolonged alcohol use alters the brain’s level of neurotransmitters, making the patient more prone to depression or anxiety. As the brain recovers over time, most people find that depression improves as well.
Due to the physical and emotional strain of alcohol detox and the mental health considerations, most treatment centers recommend a minimum 30-day stay, but long-term treatment is also available. This allows individuals to have all the support they need in the early stages of recovery.
First Three Months
The first three months of recovery are some of the most critical to the overall process. During this time, the risk of relapse is the highest because the body is going through withdrawal and stress and craves the routine and feelings associated with drinking.
Throughout these crucial 90 days, the patient will learn new coping mechanisms, implementing healthy habits to replace drinking, and attending regular group or one-on-one therapy sessions to help maintain newfound sobriety.
Three to Six Months
Inpatient treatment typically wraps up after the first three months, meaning that maintaining sobriety during the next few months will mean relying heavily on the foundation and habits built up since getting sober. Many people choose to continue with outpatient treatment to help them on their path to recovery, while others choose to continue independently.
Most recovering alcoholics struggle with temptations and managing triggers during this time, so it’s important to stick to the new schedule and healthy habits. Some people relapse during this phase because they have stopped recovery-oriented practices learned at the beginning of their recovery.
Six Months to One Year
During this time, healthy habits have become more ingrained, and the patient may be tempted to stop attending group sessions. While it may seem unnecessary to go to weekly meetings, being surrounded by a positive support system is vital to continued sobriety.
The longer the patient abstains from alcohol, the chances of a relapse lessen more and more.
In fact, one study showed that once the patient has achieved five years of sobriety, the chance of relapse is less than 15 percent.
Prolonged, heavy drinking shrinks the brain and can have adverse effects such as mental fog, anxiety, and mood changes due to prolonged and excessive use. Within the first 14 days of abstinence, the brain recovers quickly from volume loss, according to a study conducted by the Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany, led by researcher Gabriele Ende.
Researchers noted that the cerebellum was quick to respond to a lack of alcohol, displayed a noticeable improvement in motor skills. Cortical areas of the brain that involve complex thinking were slower to heal.
Long-term abstinence from alcohol allows the frontal lobe circuitry to recover, including generating new cell growth; this is the part of the brain responsible for problem-solving, decision making, and analysis. People who have abused alcohol for a longer period of time sustain significant damage to the circuit ways across different regions of the brain.
Issues to Be Addressed for Long-Term Sobriety
Alcohol addiction is a disease that requires long-term management. It is an individualized process, and no two people go through recovery or experience treatment the same way. However, regardless of which stage of the recovery process a patient is in, there are common aspects that need to be addressed to achieve long-lasting sobriety for all recovering alcoholics, including:
- Mental health issues, if any.
- Underlying emotional issues
- Identifying triggers
- Establishment of healthy habits including diet, nutrition, exercise, and sleep
- Having a strong support network of family, friends, sponsors
- Help with finding employment or furthering education.
These issues can contribute to a relapse, so it is important to address every area to ensure the best chance for sobriety. Beachway can help navigate aftercare services to help maintain a life of sobriety.