What To Expect As A Recovering Alcoholic

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Recovering from alcohol addiction is a challenging journey that requires commitment, understanding, and support, as it is a lifelong process.

However, that journey is worthwhile because it can be lifesaving. It is not only about abstaining from drinking but also about embracing a new, healthy, and joyful life.

Understanding Recovery

Alcohol use disorder is a treatable disease. Research suggests that the majority of patients who develop AUD can and do recover over time. That counters the misconception that the fate of the individual who suffers from AUD is sealed.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol recovery is a dynamic process that involves both remission from alcohol use disorder symptoms (except for craving) and ceasing heavy drinking.

Cessation of heavy drinking is defined as:

  • For women: No more than three drinks per day and no more than 7 in a week.
  • For men: No more than four drinks per day and no more than 14 in a week.

Yet, abstinence (stopping drinking altogether) is considered the safest course, especially for individuals with co-occurring disorders and women who are pregnant or trying for pregnancy.

If remission and cessation are achieved and maintained over time, you may be considered recovered.

Recovery is also noted by:

  • Fulfillment of basic human needs.
  • Flourishment of social and spiritual life.
  • Physical and mental health improvements.
  • Increased overall quality of life and well-being.

What to Expect

Recovery is a journey, not a destination. It is a multifactorial process of overcoming alcohol dependence through:

Abstinence is the first step, but the underlying issues that led to alcohol misuse must be dealt with to prevent relapse. Recovering should involve creating a new life where you redefine fun and stop glamorizing alcohol use.

According to various studies, recovery involves three main phases.

Abstinence Phase

During the abstinence stage, which usually lasts for one to four years immediately after you stop drinking, the focus is on dealing with cravings, whether physical or psychological and accepting that you have an alcohol addiction.

You can experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, irritability, disturbed sleep, fluctuating energy, and concentration.

The dangers of this phase are its duration and the withdrawal symptoms present as peaks and valleys, which can be deceptive and misleading. Rest assured that you have made substantial improvements.

Repair Phase

This stage usually takes two to three years. It’s where you take ownership for any damage alcohol or substance abuse may have caused to your relationships, career, finances, and, most importantly, self.

Overcoming negative self-talk and self-shame is crucial to preventing relapse and maintaining long-term sobriety, according to this Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study. It can predict behavioral adaptation required for recovering alcoholics. You should understand that you are not your alcohol addiction.

Growth Phase

This stage usually happens three to five years after you’ve successfully stopped drinking. It’s an exciting phase where you get to reinvent your life and learn how to identify the triggers that made you predisposed to AUD and stressors that can potentially lead to relapse.

Both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mind-body relaxation techniques are of great help when you’re going through the growth phase.

Challenges and Issues in Recovery from Alcohol

Alcohol produces pleasurable effects by activating the brain’s reward systems. It can also alleviate discomfort. That is positive reinforcement. When the drinking patterns are repeated, the brain shifts control from its prefrontal cortex to the basal ganglia, where the habits are formed.

All of this is temporary, as excessive drinking leads to tolerance, which means drinking more for the same effect. When the euphoric feeling can’t be achieved, it leads to misery and negative emotional states. A shift from positive reinforcement to negative reinforcement.

This cycle of drinking and withdrawing leads to the development of alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism disrupts the prefrontal cortical areas’ functions responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and regulation of emotions. This makes it harder to control urges and alcohol cravings, feeding into the alcohol addiction cycle, especially when faced with stress.

This is where therapy and mental health awareness come in to break the cycle through learning functional coping strategies during and after you stop drinking, thus preventing relapse.

The environment and the social circle you are surrounded by are possibly other challenges. You cannot heal in the same environment that hasn’t best served you in the past.

Poor self-care, which can be simply remembered by the acronym HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, and tired), is one of the biggest threats to maintaining sobriety.

Bottling up emotions and isolating also pose a challenge to recovering alcoholics.

Navigating the Storm

The road to recovery can be assisted through:

Rehabilitation

Alcohol rehab (which includes therapy and counseling) forms the backbone of the recovery process. They address the root causes of abuse and addiction, identify triggers, develop coping skills, and prepare for a life without the crutches of alcohol use.

Behavioral health interventions are an important part of the recovery process of the recovering addict:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A form of psychotherapy where you learn how your behavior is affected by your thought processes. You also learn adaptive methods of behaving in your social environment.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy: A counseling technique designed to help you find the motivation to change.
  • Contingency management: A type of behavioral therapy that discourages alcohol use or encourages abstinence through incentives and positive reinforcement.
  • Combined behavioral intervention (CBI): It combines CBT, motivational enhancement therapy, mutual peer support, and other support systems.

Concomitant mental illness increases the risk of substance abuse. Managing those illnesses is essential to maintaining long-term sobriety. They can be managed as well during this stage.

Support

Support for the individual in an alcohol recovery marathon doesn’t stop when abstinence is achieved. Long-term sobriety is the goal to avoid relapse. This goal requires a strong foundation of ongoing support.

Alcohol use disorder puts a lot of strain on familial relationships. Family members can use family therapy. They can learn how to enforce healthy boundaries while emotionally supporting their loved ones. They can also learn self-care methods while caring for their recovering family members.

Mutual support groups, including 12-step programs and other models, are commonly part of the alcohol treatment plan for alcohol use disorder. The best-known mutual support group for alcohol use disorder is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for recovering addicts. It’s free and based upon mutual peer support and spirituality.

Alternative support models exist, such as SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training), which is evidence-based and focuses on changing behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. There’s also Secular AA for non-religious individuals. Some are for women only.

Maintaining Sobriety: One Day at a Time

Recovering alcoholics can benefit from a change in the surrounding environment that has made them susceptible to alcohol abuse. Social gatherings where people drink don’t aid their long-term sobriety goal.

They can also benefit from mending old relationships, building and maintaining new healthy relationships, and having a community they can give back to, which offers them a sense of purpose.

Recovering alcoholics need to find new sober activities to do that can help in stress relief and viewing themselves from a different perspective separately from their alcohol addiction.

Redefining fun is important for former alcoholics. You should try to distance yourself from the days of past use and avoid reminiscing about the highs of the early days. It can be useful to remember the damage alcohol misuse has caused and that the highs were only temporary.

Your Recovery Journey Starts with You, Today

Recovery from alcoholism is a courageous journey that requires strength, tenacity, and support. Early detection averts greater harm. As with any other disease, it’s better to prevent alcohol problems from arising or to treat them before they increase in severity. The earlier you quit drinking, the more chances you have of a successful recovery and a brighter, more fulfilling, sober life.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease that requires addiction treatment, management, and maintenance. It is not a moral failure. The good news is AUD is treatable.

As with all chronic diseases, alcoholism doesn’t occur overnight. People in recovery must continue their efforts to maintain sobriety.

It’s also important to note that alcoholics who obtained help were more likely to get to three years of remission and, therefore, less likely to relapse than those who did not seek help.

If you or a loved one need help managing alcohol consumption, book an appointment with Curednation to start your recovery journey today.

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