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How to Recover From Alcoholism

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents


Alcoholism is a chronic disorder characterized by an individual’s dependence on alcohol, negatively impacting their physical, mental, and social well-being. Recovering from alcoholism requires a multifaceted approach, often involving medical assistance, therapy, and support groups.

Recovery is crucial for personal well-being and improved relationships, work, and community integration.

Statistics underscore the urgency of comprehensive recovery strategies. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes alcohol’s contribution to over 3 million annual deaths. At the same time, the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) highlights AUD’s prevalence, impacting over 14 million adults in 2020.

Neuroscientific studies reveal how extended alcohol consumption reshapes the brain’s reward system, amplifying cravings and reducing control. Genetics contribute significantly to alcohol use disorder (AUD) susceptibility, accounting for around 50% of the risk, as reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Successful recovery hinges on medical intervention to address addiction’s physiological aspects. Medications like naltrexone and acamprosate alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings, bolstering sobriety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) stands as a vital behavioral treatment, as per Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) research, restructuring thought patterns and behaviors tied to alcohol use.

Peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) also provide invaluable communal aid in recovery. An “Addiction Science & Clinical Practice” study demonstrates AA participation’s link to higher abstinence rates and improved psychosocial functioning.

How do I Stop Drinking?

Deciding to stop drinking involves setting a strong intention, recognizing triggers, embracing new activities, acknowledging progress, and valuing the positive changes with sobriety. This journey demands dedication and patience but leads to a healthier and more fulfilling life.

The detailed steps for how to stop drinking are listed below:

  • Make Your Intentions Known: Inform friends and family about your decision to stop drinking. Their support can be pivotal during challenging moments and help create a network of accountability.
  • Avoid Triggers and Temptation: Identify situations, places, or people that trigger your desire to drink. Minimize exposure to these triggers to reduce the risk of relapse.
  • Try Something New: Replace drinking-related activities with new hobbies or interests. Engaging in activities you enjoy can help redirect your focus and create a positive environment for change.
  • Reward Progress: Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Set milestones for yourself and reward your progress with something meaningful to keep your motivation strong.
  • Enjoy the Benefits: Embrace the positive changes in your life. A few of the benefits of sobriety are improved health, better sleep, enhanced relationships, and increased productivity.

Should You Cut or Quit Alcohol?


The answer to “Should you cut or quit alcohol?” depends entirely on your circumstances, health objectives, and relationship with alcohol. Consulting with a healthcare professional can provide personalized guidance tailored to specific needs.

Cutting back on alcohol consumption can be a positive step for many individuals. Moderate drinking, as defined by health authorities, has been associated with lower health risks. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may have certain cardiovascular benefits.

However, for those struggling with alcohol dependence or aiming for substantial health improvements, quitting alcohol might be necessary. Heavy drinking is linked to various health issues, including liver disease, mental health disorders, and an increased risk of accidents. For individuals with alcohol use disorder, total abstinence is often recommended to avoid triggering relapses and to facilitate a healthier lifestyle.

What are the benefits of cutting alcohol?

Cutting down on alcohol consumption can have numerous benefits for both short-term and long-term health. Here are some key benefits of cutting down on alcohol consumption:

Short-term benefits of cutting alcohol consumption:

  • Better sleep quality
  • More energy
  • Improved memory
  • Better immunity
  • Enhanced overall physical and mental health
  • Fewer alcohol-related symptoms, like headaches, heartburn, indigestion, and stomach upsets
  • Less fatty build-up around the liver
  • Better absorption of nutrients like vitamins B1 and B12, folic acid, and zinc
  • Fewer injuries
  • Saving money

Long-term benefits of cutting alcohol consumption:

  • Lower risk of health problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption, such as liver disease, heart disease, and certain cancers
  • Reduced risk of health conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, and skin conditions such as rosacea
  • Lower blood sugar
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Weight loss
  • Authentic connections

What are the Benefits of Quitting Alcohol?

Quitting alcohol consumption can have numerous benefits for both physical and mental health.


Note: If someone is concerned about their alcohol consumption and is considering quitting, it’s recommended that they seek medical advice to help them cut down and stop their drinking safely. Medical professionals can provide support and guidance to help manage withdrawal symptoms and ensure a safe and successful recovery.

What Happens if Someone Stops Drinking Alcohol?

When someone stops drinking alcohol, their body goes through a series of changes that can have short-term and long-term effects on their physical and mental health. Here is a timeline of what happens to the body when someone stops drinking alcohol based on the search results:

Short-term effects of stopping alcohol consumption:

  • Within 6-12 hours: Withdrawal symptoms may arise, including shaking, sweating, nausea, and anxiety, particularly for heavy drinkers.
  • Within 24-48 hours: More severe withdrawal symptoms could occur, like seizures, hallucinations, and confusion, occasionally posing life-threatening risks.
  • Within 72 hours: The liver begins recovery, while blood sugar and blood pressure may normalize.
  • Within 1 week: Improved sleep, enhanced mood, and increased energy levels might be noticed.
  • Within 2-4 weeks: Liver function improvement, weight loss, and better skin hydration could become evident.
  • Within 1-3 months: Further liver function enhancement, with reduced risk of certain cancers such as liver cancer.
  • Within 6-12 months: Liver function potentially returns to normal, further decreasing risks of liver disease and associated health problems.

Long-term effects of stopping alcohol consumption:

  • Improved physical health: Enhanced liver function, lowered blood pressure, blood sugar, and risk of health issues like liver disease, heart disease, and certain cancers.
  • Improved mental health: Better mood, reduced anxiety and depression symptoms, and improved sleep quality.
  • Better appearance: Enhanced skin, weight loss, and overall improved appearance.
  • More energy: Increased energy levels and enhanced physical performance.
  • Better relationships: Improved relationships with family and friends and more authentic connections with others.
  • Saving money: Significant financial savings.

Are there Withdrawal Symptoms Related to Quitting Alcohol?

Yes, there are withdrawal symptoms related to quitting alcohol. When someone stops drinking alcohol after chronic or prolonged consumption, they may experience a range of physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can include:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure

The severity of withdrawal symptoms can depend on various factors, such as the amount and duration of alcohol consumption, age, and overall health. It’s important to note that severe withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening in some cases, and immediately medical attention should be sought if someone experiences severe symptoms.

What are the Treatments to Recover from Alcoholism?


Treatments to recover from alcoholism involve a multifaceted approach that addresses addiction’s physical, psychological, and social aspects. The major and most common treatments for alcoholism are detoxification, counseling and therapy, medication, and support groups.

Detoxification, often the initial step, involves managing withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision. It’s estimated that around 70-80% of people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms, while 10% may suffer from severe symptoms such as seizures or delirium tremens.

Counseling and therapy play a crucial role in addressing the psychological aspects of alcoholism. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is widely used to help individuals change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with drinking. Another effective approach is Motivational Interviewing, which enhances the individual’s motivation to quit drinking.

Therapy sessions are recommended alongside support group participation. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most well-known support groups and follows a 12-step program. Research indicates that participation in AA can significantly improve abstinence rates and overall well-being.

Medication can also aid recovery. Disulfiram, for instance, creates unpleasant reactions when alcohol is consumed, acting as a deterrent. Naltrexone reduces alcohol cravings and the pleasurable effects of drinking. Acamprosate helps manage withdrawal symptoms and promotes abstinence. These medications, especially with counseling, have increased the likelihood of sustained recovery. Studies suggest combining medication and behavioral interventions can lead to higher abstinence rates than treatment alone.

Among these treatments, a comprehensive approach that combines detoxification, counseling and therapy, medication, and support groups is often recommended for individuals seeking recovery from alcoholism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about one-third of people who receive treatment for AUD experience no further symptoms one year later, and an additional 27% drink at low-risk levels without symptoms.

Treatment Methods for Alcoholism:

Treatment Method
Brief Description
Managed withdrawal process under medical supervision to safely address physical dependence.
Counseling and Therapy
Various forms of therapy, such as CBT and Motivational Interviewing, to address psychological aspects.
Use of drugs like disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate to aid in reducing cravings and maintaining abstinence.
Support Groups
Participation in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for peer support and following a structured recovery program.

What Medications are Used to Treat Alcoholism?

Medications play a crucial role in treating alcoholism, helping individuals overcome their dependence on alcohol and manage withdrawal symptoms.

Several major medications have been approved for this purpose, each with its mechanism of action and effectiveness.

One of the most commonly recommended medications is disulfiram. It works by causing unpleasant reactions when alcohol is consumed, discouraging its consumption.

A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that disulfiram significantly improved abstinence rates and reduced alcohol cravings.

Here is a table listing various medications used to treat alcoholism, along with a brief description of each:

Brief Description
Disulfiram creates an aversion to alcohol consumption by causing adverse reactions when alcohol is ingested. It helps reinforce abstinence.
Naltrexone reduces alcohol cravings and the rewarding effects of alcohol by blocking opioid receptors, thereby assisting in relapse prevention.
Acamprosate helps stabilize brain chemistry disrupted by long-term alcohol use, reducing withdrawal symptoms and supporting the maintenance of abstinence.
Although not FDA-approved specifically for alcoholism, topiramate has shown potential in reducing heavy drinking and increasing days of abstinence.
Baclofen, a muscle relaxant, has exhibited effectiveness in reducing alcohol cravings and promoting abstinence, but further research is needed.
Similar to baclofen, gabapentin has shown promise in reducing alcohol consumption and cravings, but additional research is required.

While disulfiram is a widely recommended option, the choice of medication should be based on individual patient characteristics, preferences, and medical history. It’s important for individuals seeking treatment for alcoholism to consult with a medical professional to determine the most suitable medication for their specific needs and circumstances.

What Types of Therapies are Used to Treat Alcoholism?

There are several types of therapies used to treat alcoholism, each aiming to address the physical, psychological, and social aspects of the disorder. The table below lists the main therapies employed for treating alcoholism along with a brief introduction:

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
MET aims to increase an individual’s motivation to change by addressing ambivalence and encouraging self-efficacy. It’s typically short-term and directive.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
DBT integrates cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness and acceptance strategies, helping individuals manage emotions and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
12-Step Facilitation Therapy
Based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), this therapy encourages participation in 12-step support groups and fosters spiritual growth and self-acceptance.
Contingency Management
This approach provides tangible rewards for abstaining from alcohol, reinforcing positive behaviors and discouraging substance use.
Family Therapy
Family therapy involves the individual’s family members to address family dynamics and improve communication, providing a supportive environment for recovery.

What Support Options are Available for a Recovering Alcoholic?


Support groups provide a safe and non-judgmental environment for individuals to share their experiences, challenges, and successes. Connecting with peers who understand the struggles of addiction can be immensely helpful. Some prominent support groups for alcoholics include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): One of the oldest and most well-known support groups, AA follows a 12-step program that encourages participants to acknowledge their powerlessness over alcohol and seek a higher power’s help. Regular meetings, sponsorship, and working through the steps are central to AA’s approach.
  • SMART Recovery: This science-based program employs cognitive-behavioral techniques to empower individuals in their recovery journey. SMART Recovery focuses on self-empowerment, self-reliance, and building coping skills to manage urges and triggers.
  • Celebrate Recovery: A faith-based program that combines spiritual principles with a 12-step approach. It emphasizes healing from a biblical perspective and supports various addictive behaviors, including alcoholism.

Support groups are effective in treating alcoholism. Clinical-Delivered Twelve-Step Facilitation and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy in treating alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Peer support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other mutual support groups, have been associated with positive outcomes in individuals with alcohol problems. AA affiliation has been linked to better outcomes, including increased self-efficacy and healthy coping.

These groups provide emotional support and practical tips to refrain from drinking, which can help maintain abstinence. Behavioral treatments, also known as alcohol counseling, involve working with a healthcare professional to identify and change behaviors that contribute to distressing aspects of drinking.

How Long Does it Take to Recover From Alcoholism?

The recovery time from alcoholism can vary depending on the severity of the addiction and the individual’s response to treatment. However, here are some general timelines for recovery from alcoholism based on the search results:

  • Within a week of quitting alcohol, the body begins to heal.
  • After three months in recovery, the brain, body, and confidence and security in healing will have made huge steps forward. Concentration will improve, energy will increase, and overall well-being will improve.
  • After a year of sobriety, all but the most severe cases of alcohol abuse will have achieved a full recovery or something close to it. It is extremely rare for post-withdrawal symptoms to persist to this point.
  • Achieving and maintaining a sober life for 5 to 7 years is the peak time where reversible changes happen, although changes usually start in the first year of quitting alcohol. Any further damage because of alcoholism & substance abuse retreats if one quits drinking. A lot of brain changes cannot be reversed.

How do the Stages of Alcoholism Impact the Process of Recovery?

The impact of alcoholism’s different stages on the recovery process is significant, influencing recovery in distinct ways:

During the early stages of Alcoholism, studies have shown that individuals often underestimate the severity of their alcohol consumption and its potential consequences. According to a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), early intervention and treatment during this stage have been linked to a significantly higher rate of successful recovery, with individuals responding well to less intensive therapeutic interventions.

Transitioning to the Middle Stage of Alcoholism, research indicates that denial and concealment of drinking patterns are common behaviors. The American Journal of Psychiatry underscores that individuals in this stage experience heightened physiological and psychological dependence on alcohol, leading to a more complicated recovery process. Studies also suggest that implementing medication-assisted treatment combined with behavioral therapies can notably enhance recovery prospects during this phase.

Late-Stage or End-Stage Alcoholism is frequently associated with alarming health consequences. The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights that individuals in this advanced stage often face severe physical ailments and mental health challenges due to prolonged alcohol abuse.

Medical literature consistently demonstrates that specialized care, including inpatient or residential treatment, is imperative to address individuals’ complex medical and psychological needs at this stage. Studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) emphasize the critical role of ongoing support systems in sustaining long-term sobriety among those with advanced alcohol addiction.

What Happens to Your Body After 3 Months of No Alcohol?

After three months of no alcohol, the body experiences changes that can lead to numerous health benefits. Here are some changes that can occur:

  • The liver gets a break and doesn’t need to work as hard to keep the body healthy, which can help minimize any damage that alcohol might have been causing.
  • Sleep quality should continue to improve, which can improve overall health.
  • Increased hydration can help with energy, and brain fog and improve skin health.
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as urges, cravings, and thoughts around alcohol can be reduced and become much more manageable.
  • The body may experience broader health benefits, such as weight loss and improved blood pressure.

How Long Does it Take to Reverse the Effects of Alcohol Abuse?

Reversing the impact of alcohol abuse varies based on an individual’s history and health. General timelines to reverse the effects of alcohol abuse include:

Time Frame
Effects of Recovery
Immediate Impact
Ceasing drinking halts further alcohol-induced damage.
Within a Week
Body healing begins, brain normalizing.
Three Months
Significant progress in brain, body healing, and confidence.
5-7 Years
Peak time for reversible changes with substantial healing. Progress typically starts within the first year.
Is Alcohol Damage Reversible?
Yes, alcohol damage can be reversible to some extent. Research indicates that some level of damage caused by alcohol use disorder may self-correct after several months to a year, depending on the severity of use. However, it is important to note that not all effects of alcohol abuse can be fully reversed, and some damage may be permanent. The extent of reversibility depends on factors such as the duration, severity, and frequency of alcohol abuse, as well as individual factors.

What Triggers a Relapse During Alcoholism Recovery?

Alcoholism The main triggers that can lead to a relapse during alcoholism recovery are listed below:
  • Social Triggers: Social situations where alcohol is present, such as parties or gatherings, can trigger relapse. Being around friends or acquaintances who still drink can also be challenging.
  • Environmental Triggers: Environmental cues, such as passing by a familiar bar or visiting a place associated with past drinking, can evoke cravings and trigger a relapse.
  • Emotional Triggers: Emotional states, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or boredom, can be powerful triggers for relapse. Alcohol may have been used in the past as a coping mechanism for dealing with these emotions.
  • Memories and Associations: Certain memories, objects, smells, or even specific times of the day can trigger cravings and thoughts about drinking. These triggers are associated with past drinking experiences and can be challenging to overcome.
  • Lack of Support: Lack of a strong support system or not engaging in ongoing treatment and therapy can increase the risk of relapse. Support from family, friends, and support groups is crucial in maintaining sobriety.

How Can You Prevent a Relapse While Recovering from Alcoholism?

To safeguard against relapse during alcoholism recovery, individuals can adopt the following measures:
  • Avoid certain people, places, and things that used to lead you to the person using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Keep yourself busy and avoid boredom by doing productive activities
  • Live a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of rest
  • Participate regularly in a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), for support.
  • Identify and manage external triggers, such as social, environmental, or emotional circumstances, that remind you of your former alcohol use.

What Should You Do if You Relapse During Recovery from Alcoholism?

If you experience a relapse during recovery from alcoholism, here are some steps you can take:
  • Reflect and Identify Triggers: Analyze the reasons behind the relapse and pinpoint the triggers that played a role. This introspection aids in adjusting your recovery strategy effectively.
  • Seek Support: Lean on your support network—be it a sponsor, counselor, or groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)—for guidance and encouragement through this challenging phase.
  • Reevaluate Your Treatment Plan: Assess your treatment plan and consult healthcare professionals or substance abuse counselors to make necessary revisions based on your evolving needs.
  • Learn from the Experience: Utilize the relapse as a learning opportunity. Understand its contributing factors and devise strategies to prevent recurrence. This might involve refining coping mechanisms, stress management, or seeking additional therapy.
  • Forgive Yourself: Practicing self-compassion is vital. Recognize that a relapse is a setback, not a definition of your recovery. Approach the situation with kindness and recommit yourself to the journey ahead.

What is the Relapse Rate for Alcoholism in Adults?

In a study conducted by NCBI, 21.4% of recovering alcoholics relapsed in their second year of recovery, but only 9.6% relapsed in years three through five, and only 7.2% relapsed after five years of recovery.

Do Women in Recovery from Alcoholism Relapse More Frequently Than Men?

The question of whether women in alcoholism recovery relapse more than men has conflicting findings. A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggested a lower relapse rate among women (22%) than men (32%). But, over time, the same study found that more women were turning to drug use after relapse, even using multiple drugs slightly more than men. This aligns with another study that highlighted women’s stronger pleasurable responses to drugs, leading to higher relapse rates. A more recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse discovered that women experienced stronger cravings than men during recovery, increasing their relapse risk. Despite some confusion, a common consensus among most sources is that women face a higher relapse likelihood compared to men. The underlying reasons for this difference remain complex, involving biological, psychological, and social factors.

How to Heal from Alcoholism?

Healing from alcoholism means taking a comprehensive approach to recovery that addresses not only drinking habits but also thoughts, behaviors, exercise, nutrition, and healthy relationships. The main steps to healing from alcoholism are listed below:
  • Seek Therapy: Therapy helps manage stressors and underlying mental health issues that trigger drinking urges. Techniques like relaxation and stress management are crucial.
  • Adopt a Holistic Approach: Treatment considers thoughts, behaviors, exercise, nutrition, and relationships. This holistic strategy promotes overall well-being.
  • Join Support Groups: Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous offer literature, a safe space to share, and a supportive network.
  • Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan: Create a plan to avoid relapse. Identify triggers, learn coping skills, build support networks, and seek help when needed.
  • Commitment and Follow-through: Recovery demands dedication and persistence. With determination and support, lasting sobriety is possible.
  • Consider Long-term Follow-up Care: Long-term care, including therapy and support groups, is crucial for maintaining recovery.
  • Don’t Go Alone: Seek help from professionals, join support groups, and rely on loved ones for guidance.

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Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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