While everybody wants to hear that there is a definitive timeline for recovery from alcohol abuse, the truth is every person is different and will heal at a different rate. Factors that affect an alcohol recovery timeline include the length of time drinking, the amount of alcohol consumed, any mental health issues, medical history, and your home environment.
This is why it’s imperative you have an individualized treatment plan that is designed around your unique background, history and goals. Recovery from alcohol involves not only physical recovery but also addressing any underlying emotional and mental health issues (such as PTSD).
What to Expect in the First Year of Alcohol Recovery
Depression is very common during the first few weeks of treatment. As your body weans itself off of alcohol, your brain is also adjusting; Alcohol abuse lowers the number of neurotransmitters in your brain making you more prone to depression or anxiety. As your brain recovers over time, most people find that depression improves. Most alcohol rehab centers suggest a minimum stay of 30 days to stabilize your body.
First three months.
This is the stage where you work on developing healthy habits and attending regular group or one-on-one therapy sessions. You may make a nutrition plan with a dietitian to get your body back in shape, make an exercise plan, or look into re-entering the workforce.
Three to six months.
Once you have a schedule in place and are comfortable with it, you may gain confidence and be tempted to hang out with old drinking friends, or tell yourself it’s okay to have just one drink. Most recovering alcoholics struggle with temptations and managing triggers during this time. It’s important to stick to your new schedule and healthy habits to avoid a relapse.
Six months to one year.
During this time, your healthy habits will have become more ingrained, and you may be tempted to stop attending your group sessions. While it may seem like a drag to go to weekly meetings, surrounding yourself with a positive support system is vital to your continued sobriety.
The longer you abstain from alcohol, the less chance you have of having a relapse. According to one study once you have achieved five years of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than 15 percent.
Prolonged, heavy drinking shrinks the brain. 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, lead by researcher Gabriele Ende.
The cerebellum was very quick to respond to a lack of alcohol – which was displayed in 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 front cerebellar circuitry to recover; this is the part of the brain responsible for problem solving, decision making and analysis. People who have abused alcohol for a period of time sustain significant damage to the circuit ways across different regions of the brain.
Issues to Be Addressed for Long-Term Sobriety
As you can see by our alcohol recovery timeline, alcohol addiction is a disease that needs to be managed long-term.
For long lasting sobriety, it’s important that the following issues be addressed:
- 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