People often hear about how risky excessive alcohol use can be—but it may be less often that they will consider the advantages of remaining abstinent from alcohol altogether versus cutting back or quitting temporarily. As noted, each individual is unique in their own way, and his or her recovery experience will, therefore, be so as well. Nevertheless, medical and mental health experts agree that there is a general timeline that a person new to abstinence will follow.
The Benefits of Abstinence
- Increased absorption of essential vitamins and minerals
- More efficient metabolism that promotes weight loss
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Diminished risk of stroke
- Reduced risk of heart failure
- Decreased anxiety and stress
- Lowered blood pressure
- Boosted immune system
- Reversal of alcohol-related liver damage
Because every person’s body is different, the short- and long-term effects of sobriety are largely based on his or her overall physical health and previous duration, frequency, and severity of alcohol abuse.
Acute Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can onset within just a few hours after the last drink has been metabolized and can persist for several days. In the case of very severe alcohol use, tremors, seizures, delirium tremens, and even death can occur if alcohol is stopped suddenly or “cold turkey.” For this reason, medical detox is recommended to help people safely sober up cope with the following symptoms:
- Profuse sweating
- High body temperature
- Increased heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Cravings for alcohol
- Shakiness and tremors
- Increased anxiety
Purging from the many toxins related to alcohol may require two weeks or longer. Thus, this initial period of recovery is often the most challenging to endure. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Low energy or sluggishness
- Mood swings
- Increased anxiety
- Increased depression
- Sleep disturbances/insomnia
- Reduced sex drive
Depending on the individual, these post-acute withdrawal symptoms can ensure in some form for several months. During this time, intense alcohol cravings will probably manifest, and for this reason, a long-term residential stay at a rehab center can be very beneficial. In a medically-monitored recovery facility, residents have no access to alcohol or illicit drugs, so the environment is not conducive to relapse.
Alcohol Recovery Timeline
12-24 hours after the last drink:
During the first day, blood sugar levels will start to normalize. Because of this, it’s critical to remain hydrated and maintain healthy nutrition by consuming healthy fruits and vegetables and avoiding simple carbs and refined sugars.
48 hours following the last drink:
Two days of alcohol withdrawal is considered to be a milestone. Still, most people will continue to experience withdrawal symptoms. At this point, shakiness and/or dizziness may have set in. On the bright side, body temperature should be relatively normal, and blood pressure should be stabilizing.
72 hours after the last drink:
After three days, most drinkers in recovery will enjoy a cessation of the worst symptoms of withdrawal. However, the most severe, excessive drinkers will probably continue to feel malaised and shaky.
One week since the last drink:
The quality of restful sleep should be improving, meaning that individuals will have more energy throughout the day. Regular alcohol consumption can cause chronic dehydration, so as those in recovery restore their body to an adequately hydrated state, skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema may improve.
Two weeks following the last drink:
Disturbingly, excessive drinking over the long-term can cause the brain to shrink. Therefore, after two weeks, the brain begins to regain its lost volume gradually. Consequently, recovering alcoholics often report notable improvement in motor skills. However, the regions of the brain associated with complex thought may be somewhat slower to improve.
One month after the last drink:
After 30 days, there is a marked improvement in liver function, and liver fat may be reduced by up to 15%. With less fat impairing the liver, it is better able to perform the essential function of purging toxins from the bloodstream. Likewise, individuals may notice a decrease in belly fat and additional improvements in skin health and energy levels that continue to rise at this point.
For those who have not, now is an excellent time to reconsider the use of rehab or other forms of support. There are 12-step programs and other peer support groups, as well as therapy and counseling designed to strengthen resolve and negate the threat of relapse. Unfortunately, the first six months of recovery is the period in which most relapses occur.
Many people experience bouts of depression following one month of sobriety. This depression is chemically-produced as the brain restabilizes and attempts to cope with the void previously filled by alcohol.
Three months since the last drink:
Energy levels will be significantly improved in addition to confidence and dedication to sobriety. Beware that this newfound strength does not become arrogance or overconfidence, which leads one to assert that they are immune to the temptations of relapse. A smart, confident individual in recovery, rather than testing their strength against triggers, knows when they must avoid them altogether, and is unwilling to risk the possibility that they will return to drinking.
Six months after the last drink:
New sober habits have become second nature, and it takes less mental and emotional energy to remain sober. Furthermore, additional effort will be required to relapse since it’s not practical for one’s new lifestyle. However, participating in counseling, therapy, and peer support is always a good idea, since individuals may not yet be out of the woods.
One year after the last drink:
After one full year of sobriety, weight loss is common, and in fact, the average amount of weight lost at this time is around 13 pounds. A person’s risk for mouth, throat, liver, and breast cancer is significantly reduced, and previously poor liver functioning has dramatically improved.
Marvelously, brain areas involved with problem-solving, decision-making, imagination, and judgment are all being restored.
Living an Alcohol-Free Life
Five years of sobriety is a remarkable achievement, and at this point, an individual’s risk of relapse is less than 15%.
The journey to sobriety is not comfortable. Yet, when one acknowledges how much healthier he or she is in mind and body, in hindsight, they are often surprised to find that the dysfunction person they thought they once were was merely a representation of their darkest selves that can be overcome indefinitely.
Getting Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
You can begin your path to recovery now by seeking professional help. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offers comprehensive, clinically-proven addiction treatment programs in both inpatient and partial hospitalization formats. Both tracks feature essential services, such as psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, participation in group support, experiential activities, substance abuse education, and more.
We also offer holistic practices, such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness therapy, which have been shown to improve outcomes when used in combination with psychotherapy and counseling.
Finally, those we treat can take advantage of our aftercare planning services designed to help patients locate resources such as therapists, counselors, and group support outside of the center for long-lasting recovery support.
Long-term recovery must begin with the first step: acknowledging that one has a serious problem and must seek help. Ask yourself, where could you be in one month? Six months to a year? Five years? You could still be struggling with addiction, or you could be healthier and happier in recovery. We urge you to take that first step now and contact us today!