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Overcoming Alcoholism: A Recovery Timeline
Alcoholism is a harmful and tragic disease that can wreak havoc on your health, your relationships, and every other area of your life. Alcohol addiction is powerful, but there is hope for people who suffer from it. With the right approach and plenty of support, recovery is possible. How long does it take to recover from alcoholism? The answer is different for each person, and it comes down to understanding how alcohol affects the body and what it takes to break the addiction.
There are many terms you may hear in reference to alcohol consumption, including:
- excessive drinking
- alcohol use disorder
- binge drinking
- alcohol dependence
- alcohol misuse
- alcohol addiction
Some of these terms are synonymous, but it is important to understand the difference between drinking too much and having an alcohol addiction.
Drinking in Excess
Consuming alcohol in excess at any time, even just once, can be problematic and has negative effects on your judgment and health. There are thousands of tragic stories that are centered around “the one time” a person got drunk and lost control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking is defined as consuming more than 4 servings of alcohol in one sitting for females (5 for males) or drinking more than 8 servings in a week (15 for males). Drinking any amount of alcohol is considered excessive for those who are pregnant or underage.
However, just because a person drinks in excess or even participates in binge drinking does not mean they are dealing with an addiction. Still, this type of behavior can be problematic and can lead to alcohol dependence long-term.
Alcohol is designated as a depressive drug and often promotes a feeling of relaxation and calm. Some people will begin to consume more and more alcohol to maintain these feelings for long periods of time. Eventually, the body will start to build up a high tolerance for alcohol. This means you would need to consume more alcohol on a more frequent basis to achieve the same effect. Over time, you may not be able to function without feeling the effects of alcohol in your system, a condition known as alcohol dependence.
Becoming Addicted to Alcohol
The path from dependence to addiction is a short one. Once a person relies heavily on alcohol to make it through the day, physical cravings start to develop. The body will begin to experience uncomfortable and even painful symptoms when the blood alcohol content level is not high enough. These are actually withdrawal symptoms and can be very difficult to manage and overcome. In time, a person becomes addicted to alcohol and requires frequent consumption to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. The urge to drink is powerful and almost constant and it is difficult or impossible to limit your alcohol intake. Most people with alcohol addiction are unable to stop themselves, even if they want to.
The Effects of Alcoholism
Every human body processes alcohol differently due to genetic distinctions. Some people metabolize it quickly while it can take hours longer for others. Some feel the effects of alcohol in minutes after just a few sips while others can consume an entire serving without noticing much change if any at all. Regardless of what you are able to perceive when you drink alcohol, it impacts every major system of the body.
When alcohol is introduced into the bloodstream, it widens the blood vessels, promoting increased blood flow throughout the body. This raises body temperature at first but has the opposite effect later. It also leads to the release of hormones that can eventually constrict those same blood vessels, elevating blood pressure.
For many people, a drink or two can promote a feeling of relaxation. However, too much can significantly lower inhibitions and lead to more negative side effects than positive ones, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and even blackouts. Many people also deal with shame and remorse for the actions that resulted from their temporarily impaired judgment the night before.
People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol are more likely to experience an injury from an accident, including motor vehicle accidents. They are also more at risk of being involved in an unfavorable sexual situation or acts of violence. Pregnant women who drink are more likely to experience a miscarriage or stillbirth.
There is no research to affirm that long-term drinking, even in moderation, is considered beneficial and healthy for the body. In fact, alcohol use has far more detrimental side effects than positive ones. Drinking in excess or consuming alcohol on a regular basis can lead to numerous health problems, including:
- Certain cancers, including liver, rectum, colon, mouth, breast, and more
- A variety of cardiovascular diseases
- A compromised immune system
- Problems with the digestive system
- Liver disease
Alcohol use can also lead to hormone imbalance, osteoporosis, and muscle weakness over time.
Mental Health Problems
People who abuse alcohol are far more likely to experience memory loss and develop dementia later in life. In teens and young adults, drinking in excess can stunt brain development. Alcoholics are also at risk of developing other mental health issues; around 30% of people with an alcohol use disorder also have depression.
Professional and Social Repercussions
Once a person becomes dependent on alcohol, it can start to destroy personal and professional relationships. Alcohol consumption at most places of work is never tolerated but an alcoholic may find themselves sneaking it in any way. It can also lead to more missed days, which often results in job loss.
People who struggle with an alcohol use disorder are often irritable, volatile, and difficult to get along with. They may spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a month on drinking, leaving them short on money for other necessities. People who suffer from alcohol addiction are rarely able to care for themselves, much less their partners or children. An alcoholic will often choose drinking above all else, which can cause division and pain among family and friends. When the hole is this deep, recovery is the only way out.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From Alcoholism?
While there are certainly windows or time frames that one can expect during a particular phase of recovery, there is no set answer to how long it may take someone to achieve full recovery. Defining recovery itself can be challenging, as it may look different from person to person. For one, it might be the ability to completely resist alcohol in all situations, even if it is challenging. For another, it may be the ability to drink in moderation without losing control. Talking with a professional can help you set realistic goals for what recovery and healthy life should look like for you.
It’s important to note that for most people who struggle with alcohol addiction, recovery is not a straight line. It tends to ebb and flow and relapse is a harsh reality. For many recovering alcoholics, the conscious decision not to abuse alcohol requires a lifetime of effort and support. However, with help, hard work, and determination, people who once felt enslaved to alcohol are able to live normal and healthy lives. While it may always require some small amount of effort, most people find that it gets easier and easier with time.
A Recovery Timeline
True recovery from alcohol addiction has many phases that may overlap or repeat during the journey. No matter how lengthy or intense the addiction has been, taking things one day at a time or even one moment at a time is often the best mindset.
Step One: A Willingness to Try
As tough as this may be to hear, recovery requires effort and readiness from the person suffering from addiction. Many alcoholics may be in denial while others may simply want to maintain their current lifestyle choices and have no interest in sobriety. For most people, it seems impossible to even think of a life without binge drinking or daily alcohol consumption.
No matter how difficult it may be to accept, you cannot force an alcoholic into recovery. The desire to become sober must be there first. If you have a loved one who is uninterested in recovery, make attempts to communicate openly and honestly about your concerns. Take steps to educate them on the risks of alcoholism as well. Have a plan in place so that when they are ready, you can help them take action quickly when the motivation to do so is high.
Detox: What To Expect
Those who are addicted to alcohol must first detox it from their system before they can move on to any type of real-world recovery. Detoxing from any drug is extremely challenging and also dangerous. Never attempt to help a friend or family member detox at home without first getting help and input from a trained medical professional. Depending on the situation, medical supervision may be required, especially if a person is at high risk for serious side effects.
During the first phase of detox, you may start to experience a variety of withdrawal signs. For most people, these begin anywhere between six and 24 hours after the last drink. Typical symptoms include:
- Body Aches
- Shaking or tremors
- Changes in heart rate or blood pressure
- Difficulty sleeping
In some instances, a person with a serious addiction may experience delirium tremens, a condition that leads to strong hallucinations, seizures, confusion, and fever. Without prompt treatment from a medical professional, delirium tremens can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
Symptoms tend to peak between the 48- and 72-hour mark before slowly easing off. For many people, some of the effects of detoxing can last up to three or four weeks. Experts often recommend that an alcoholic detox in a professional facility where there is constant support and medical assistance. Doctors and therapists can help provide treatments and coping techniques that help ease withdrawal symptoms. These can include medications, therapy, and more.
Preparing for a Sober Life
Once a person has completed the detox phase, the cravings for alcohol are not as powerful and constant. However, this does not mean that they will never return. The next phase requires just as much dedication and much more time so that a recovering alcoholic has the tools they need to resist the urge to abuse alcohol. During this phase, complete abstinence is still essential. Resisting alcohol on a daily basis will take a tremendous amount of work and support.
Over the next several weeks, it’s important to start building the skills and support network needed to successfully maintain sobriety. Therapy and counseling play a significant role in this step, as most professionals recommend both individual and group sessions to help people work towards their goals while focusing on healing their minds and bodies. For many people, this includes getting to the root of their alcoholism and dealing with the underlying causes.
This phase of recovery looks different for each person. Some may find success living at home under the care and supervision of loved ones while attending regular meetings and therapy sessions. Others will need constant accountability and continued medical and mental health treatment from a professional center or community.
Living Clean Long-Term
For most people, recovering from alcoholism is a long journey that requires continuous commitment. While some people may be able to drink again in moderation, most people find that avoiding alcohol altogether is the best and only way to avoid a relapse in the future. Once you are able to resume a more normal life, it is still important to stay connected to your support network and to take steps to set yourself up for success and not failure. Most people recommend attending a support group meeting or therapy session at least once a week in this phase, even if it has been months or years since the last time alcohol was misused. It can also be beneficial to find ways to help others in your community who are struggling with addiction.
How To Support a Loved One Recovering From Alcoholism
If someone you love is struggling with an alcohol problem and needs rehabilitation, there are many ways you can support them on their journey towards recovery.
Show Kindness and Empathy
A listening ear and a caring heart can go a long way when it comes to helping a recovering alcoholic. Keep judgment and harsh comments to yourself and offer as much emotional support as possible. It’s important to build trust with your loved one during this difficult time.
Don’t Take on More Than You Can Handle
When someone you love is struggling with addiction, it can take an emotional, mental, and physical toll on you as well. Be sure to get the support and help you need to care for yourself first. Learn to create boundaries when necessary. Most of all, never attempt to replace a medical or mental health professional unless you have the training and credentials to provide care.
Develop a Thick Skin
Recovery is challenging, especially during the first few weeks when alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be relentless. Many alcoholics may lash out or blame loved ones during this time. While it’s important to maintain mutual respect, be prepared for your loved one to say more than they mean during this time.
Can Alcoholism Be Cured?
Many people want to know how to cure alcoholism, especially those who are currently suffering from the effects of this disease. Many have heard stories of miraculous recoveries where someone woke up one day and never had the urge to drink again. While it is possible for someone to have a personal experience that deters them from alcoholism, the assumption that there is a quick cure for alcohol addiction can be harmful and even dangerous. Quitting cold turkey is rarely effective and often leads to serious relapse issues for many.
Unfortunately, there is no magic solution or treatment that prevents a person from craving alcohol or misusing it ever again. While there are some people who no longer yearn for alcohol, this typically applies to people who are years into the recovery process. Even so, most people would agree that overcoming any type of addiction requires a lifetime of commitment on a daily basis. In many situations, the temptation never goes away; it is just much easier to resist with the right support system.
The good news is that there are many methods, therapies, and treatments that are very effective at detoxing the body from alcohol, breaking addiction, and building a healthy and fulfilled life of sobriety. This is not an overnight process. It takes months and often years of effort to break the bonds that alcohol misuse can have on a person’s body and mind. With the support of caring loved ones and experienced professionals, total recovery is possible.
Break Free From Addiction With Clean Recovery Centers
Alcoholism can be dangerous and even deadly, but there is hope for everyone who suffers from alcohol addiction. Clean Recovery Centers specializes in helping people develop a recovery plan that suits their unique needs for the most success. By focusing on mental, emotional, and physical health and wellness, we take a holistic approach to recovery that helps people find hope, relief, and support when they need it most. Contact us today to learn more about the programs and services we offer for alcoholics and their loved ones.