Deciding to become abstinent can be a very difficult decision for the chronic alcohol user. However, what if you were to consider how your life would be now if you had quit one year ago? Six months ago? Even just one month ago…
But take heart. Making the decision now can reap palpable benefits in a matter of days. The following is the typical alcohol recovery timeline, an effects schedule for short- to long-term alcohol abstinence, as well as tips to help bolster your recovery.
12-24 Hours of Alcohol Abstinence
The first day of abstinence often starts out as a typical hangover, but as the day wears on, symptoms such as anxiety, tremors, confusion, and nausea/vomiting may manifest.
If you are undergoing a medical detox, you will be administered a saline drip, as well as b-vitamins, which are often lacking in long-term alcohol users. A benzodiazepine, such as lorazepam, will likely be used to quell anxiety and panic.
If you are detoxing at home, the key is to stay hydrated, focus on nutrition, and avoid refined sugars and fats. Unfortunately, you may not have much of an appetite, so just do your best. If you must, just try eating anything healthy that you can stomach (i.e., fruit.) It will get better.
The good news is, even in the first few hours, your blood sugar levels will start to normalize if you treat yourself appropriately.
You may also be experiencing increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and sweating. I do stress that a medical detox is advisable in cases when symptoms are this severe. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is potentially fatal, and medical supervision prevents relapse, which is very common at this stage.Related: Alcohol and Anxiety
Also, in the first two days, visual, audio, or tactile hallucinations may occur. If you are detoxing at home, please do not do this alone. Make sure someone trustworthy is there with you.
24-48 Hours of Alcohol Abstinence
For some, this may be the roughest part of withdrawal. Insomnia is common, as is shakiness and dizziness. During this time, however, your blood pressure and heart rate should be stabilizing, and your body temperature should be back to normal.
In the first 1-2 days, relapse is a very real threat if you are detoxing on your own. Anxiety will likely persist, and moodiness and irritability are common. Chills that feed into anxiety are common, and sleep may be impossible regardless of how fatigued you feel. Headaches and random sharp pains around the head and neck may occur in severe cases.
Not everyone is out of the woods after two days. For some severe alcohol abusers, seizures and delirium tremens are still on the table. This is also the period in the alcohol recovery timeline in which people are most prone to relapse. However, most will find that most of the acute effects of withdrawal are over.
48-72 Hours of Alcohol Abstinence
Anxiety may persist, but improved sleep will likely come during this time for many. However, some will continue to experience hangover-like symptoms, pain, and a real desire to relapse. If confusion, seizures, or severe hallucinations occur while you are detoxing at home, please call 911 immediately.
One Week of Abstinence
If you have made it through one week, you will probably start to notice a real difference. Sleep quality will be improving (particularly REM sleep) which will bolster daytime energy. You may notice that other negative effects of drinking alcohol are subsiding. These effects are wide-ranged and can be anything from an improvement in eyesight to a reduction in water weight.Related: How Alcohol Affects the Digestive System, Con’t.
Between 7-10 days, you will slowly start to feel the benefits of alcohol abstinence increase. But of course, cravings will persist.
Two Weeks of Abstinence
Long-term, excessive drinking results in a shrinking of the brain. But by 14 days sans alcohol, the brain begins to replenish volume loss. Recovering users may notice a significant improvement in motor skill function, memory, and cognitive ability.
Some regions associated complex thinking, such as the cerebral cortex, however, may be slower to improve in several ways.
After about 30 days, liver function will show improvement, and fat in the liver may be reduced by 15%. This reduction in fat boosts the liver’s ability to dispel toxins from the body. You may see a loss in belly fat and improvements in skin appearance and energy.
Some people continue to suffer from some anxiety or encounter depression after the first month. Depression may result from the brain’s continual adjustment and reduction in the number of neurotransmitters.
If you are still struggling during this time, and have not already engaged in counseling or therapy, I strongly recommend that you consider that you doing so. This is a critical turning point in the alcohol recovery timeline.
Three Months of Abstinence
After three months, most major bodily functions should have returned to normal (sans any irreversible damage), and your confidence should be well-established. However, this is also a time when people may become overconfident and mistakenly believe they can either overcome triggers and temptations or are safe in having “just one or two.”
Moreover, don’t fall privy to delusions that you have this thing beat.Related: What Is Substance Abuse?
Six Months of Abstinence
After half a year or so, your newfound habits will have become second nature. Moreover, being sober has completely replaced being an alcohol abuser.
But remember, recovering alcoholics are always potentially vulnerable. Celebrate your sobriety but don’t take it for granted.
One Year of Abstinence
After one year sobriety, you may have noticed you’ve lost weight. The average weight loss by this time is around 13 pounds. Your risk of many cancers, including mouth, liver, and breast cancer have decreased. Unless you have permanent liver damage, your liver should be functioning optimally.
Also, regions of the brain associated with complex tasks, such as decision-making, problem-solving, and analysis are beginning to return to normal function.
Areas of the brain responsible for problem-solving, decision-making, and analysis are also beginning to recover by this time.
After five years of abstinence, your risk of relapse drops to under 15%.
Alcohol Recovery Timeline: Benefits of Sobriety in Summary
- Improved vitamin and mineral absorption
- Increased metabolism, weight loss
- Reversal of some alcohol-related liver damage
- Decreased stress and anxiety
- Lower blood pressure
- Improvement in cognitive ability and memory
- Reduced risk of cancer, stroke, and heart failure
As challenging as each stage may seem, each will get easier in some ways, and more and more benefits will become apparent. Focusing on the positive changes, rather than the difficulties, it one of the key behaviors that help people further their recovery.
If you or a loved one are addicted to drugs or alcohol, please call us today for consultation. You don’t have to suffer alone. We can help!