Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the world. Between 2000 and 2010, alcoholism rates in the United States increased by nearly 50 percent, and approximately one in every eight American adults today meets the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
The good news is that with treatment, most people can overcome alcoholism. About a third of people treated for alcohol addiction have no further symptoms one year later, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Many others reduce their drinking significantly and report fewer alcohol-related problems after entering rehab.
For some people, liver damage caused by alcohol addiction is reversible. If you quit using alcohol completely, repairing your liver after heavy drinking may be possible.
Recovery from alcoholism is a gradual process with no set timeline. That said, most people go through alcoholic recovery stages.
The alcoholic won’t admit to having a problem. People at this stage won’t willingly seek treatment, but they may be sent to rehab.
People in the contemplation stage are aware that their drinking is causing problems, and they are considering making a change. They may intend to seek treatment but won’t commit to it.
The person is committed to changing negative behaviors and is taking steps to seek treatment and begin recovery.
The individual is taking concrete steps to tackle addiction, usually by going through detox and entering an alcohol treatment program.
This post-treatment phase focuses on staying sober and sustaining the achievements made during treatment.
People in the termination stage have completed treatment and overcome their addiction. They are thriving in sobriety, free from cravings and temptations to drink.
People won’t always necessarily follow these steps in a linear, forward progression. The path to recovery can be a bumpy one, and it’s not uncommon for people to slip back a stage or to cycle through the various stages several times before they permanently stick to sobriety.
At the end of the day, recovery from an alcohol addiction isn’t just about staying sober; it’s about reinventing your life so that you find peace and other benefits of quitting alcohol.
This usually involves making a number of important lifestyles changes that can include everything from eating healthier, starting new hobbies and exercising to making new friends and finding healthy alternatives to drinking.
Studies show that engaging in mind-body relaxation techniques can be effective in long-term relapse prevention. Practicing self-care, learning to say no and avoiding unnecessary stress — a common trigger for relapse — are also vitally important. Many people require additional support through sober living, support groups and medication to maintain their sobriety.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, you’ll know you’re truly in recovery when you achieve the following four milestones:
Multiple studies have found that relapse rates range from 60 to 90 percent during the first year following treatment, and people are at risk of post-acute withdrawal syndrome during their first two years of recovery.
Unlike physical withdrawal, post-acute withdrawal syndrome causes psychological or emotional symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, trouble concentrating, fluctuating energy levels and sleep difficulties that can lead people to drink again.
Some individuals may still experience impulsive behaviors and make risky decisions after they have stopped drinking. These people are known as dry drunks in recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Symptoms of dry drunk syndrome should be addressed immediately because they put a person’s sobriety at risk.
Fortunately, a number of strategies can help people in recovery cope with these symptoms and avoid alcohol relapse.
To learn more about how to succeed in early recovery, download The Sobriety E-book from DrugRehab.com. The expert-endorsed e-book explains how to set new goals, work on relationships, manage your time and learn how to recognize and handle stress, triggers and cravings.
Returning home after treatment can be extremely challenging. In the home environment, people in recovery may encounter many of the same stressors or negative influences that led them to drink in the first place. They may also find it difficult to maintain the routines they learned in treatment and lapse into old patterns that are not conducive to recovery.
If people in recovery don’t have a supportive, substance-free home to return to, they may benefit from staying at a sober living facility after completing treatment.
Sober living homes are highly structured alcohol- and drug-free living environments that help reinforce the healthy habits learned in rehab. Residents live alongside others in recovery, creating a strong and tangible support network focused on maintaining sobriety.
In addition to staying completely sober, individuals residing at a sober living home usually sign a contract agreeing to follow a strict set of rules. While each home is different, typical rules require residents to comply with random drug testing, abide by curfews, complete various chores and participate in support groups.
Many sober homes also provide counseling, vocational training, life-skills training and other services that can aid your recovery.
Millions of recovering alcoholics find that continued participation in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous is crucial to maintaining their sobriety. These support groups consist of men and women who share their experiences in addiction and provide hope and accountability for one another.
Meetings are plentiful and typically free, and participation is confidential. In AA, participants are encouraged to follow a set of twelve steps for recovery that begins with surrendering to a high power. Next, members learn how to cope with addiction, avoid triggers and find peace in their sobriety by working the 12 Steps in order.
AA members are also encouraged to choose a sponsor, which is another AA member further along in sobriety who can act as a mentor or recovery coach. Anecdotally, many alcoholics, especially those in early recovery, find the relationship with their sponsor a key to avoiding relapse. While it’s not mandatory to find a sponsor, more than 80 percent of AA members have one.
Although there’s a lack of definitive research on the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous, membership surveys that the organization has conducted every three or four years since 1968 suggest the program is working well
According to AA’s 2014 membership survey, 36 percent of the 6,000 AA participants from the U.S. and Canada had been sober for more than 10 years. Another 24 percent reported being sober for between one and five years, and 13 percent had been sober for five to 10 years.
Individuals who have trouble maintaining sobriety may also benefit from medications for alcoholism.
Two drugs in particular, naltrexone and acamprosate, have been shown to reduce alcohol cravings and counteract alcohol dependence, but they have not been widely used for that purpose. Hoping to change that, the medical community has begun to emphasize using these drugs to treat moderate to severe alcoholism.
In January 2018, the American Psychiatric Association issued new clinical practice guidelines for physicians that recommend offering the medications to patients with moderate to severe alcohol use disorder.
Similarly, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense in 2017 revised clinical guidelines to recommend that VA physicians offer naltrexone, acamprosate or disulfiram to patients with moderate to severe alcoholism.
According to the Association for Addiction Professionals, a number of myths may discourage patients from using medication to manage their alcohol addiction.
Common myths about medication-assisted treatment for alcoholism include:
Medications have been used in the alcohol detox process for decades, and they can be useful in treatment when used in conjunction with other types of alcohol counseling and therapy, according to the Association for Addiction Professionals.
Drugs such as naltrexone and acamprosate are not addictive and don’t cause euphoria — and using them to treat alcohol dependence is similar to using a nicotine patch, inhalers or the medication Zyban to quit smoking.
That said, medications aren’t right for everyone. They may cause side effects. In addition, they cost money and will be ineffective unless taken as prescribed. To find out if medications can aid your alcohol recovery, check with your doctor.
While there is no cure for alcoholism, recovery from the disease is possible. With treatment, vigilance and support, you can break free from the bonds of addiction and start living a better and brighter life.