The Process of Recovering from Alcohol
Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a disease that affects more than 14 million Americans. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA, defines AUD as a chronic relapsing brain disease illustrated by compulsive alcohol use, a negative emotional state when not using, and loss of control over alcohol intake . Lasting changes in the brain caused by alcohol abuse perpetuate AUD and make individuals vulnerable to relapse. The good news is that no matter how severe the problem may seem, evidence-based treatment with cognitive-behavioral therapies, dialectical behavioral therapy, and/or medication-assisted treatment can help people with AUD achieve and maintain recovery.
From active alcoholism to daily sober living, there are a number of steps to the process of recovery. These steps need to be taken in order for the best long-term outcome. The steps may seem simple in themselves but we don’t underestimate the courage and commitment it takes to make each one. Below, we have outlined the steps of recovery that we deem necessary to recover from alcohol addiction.
Step 1 of recovering from alcoholism – Asking for the right help. It is important to ask for the right help. A doctor, someone in recovery from alcoholism, an alcohol counselor, or an alcohol expert can help advise and support you in accessing alcohol recovery.
Step 2 of recovering from alcoholism – Stopping alcohol safely. If you are alcohol dependent, you will need to undergo an alcohol detox to stop alcohol safely. An inpatient alcohol rehab will put safety and comfort first, providing a full medical alcohol detox overseen 24/7 by a team of doctors, counselors, and qualified nursing staff.
Step 3 of recovering from alcoholism – Resolving and healing the reasons why you drank. Once you have safely stopped drinking it is vital that the reasons why you drank are comprehensively addressed. This will help you to better understand yourself and assist in preventing relapse. Trauma and personal issues should be treated by a qualified therapist/counselor. Mental health illnesses will also need to be comprehensively treated by a doctor and therapist.
Step 4 of recovering from alcoholism – Learning new coping strategies and recovery behavior. To avoid reverting to your old coping strategy of drinking and dysfunctional behaviors, it is essential to learn new and healthily coping mechanisms. These techniques can be learned through cognitive-behavioral therapies. In addition, certain holistic therapies are also proven to assist the healing and recovery process.
Step 5 of recovering from alcoholism – Implementing change into your life and foolproofing your recovery against relapse. Learning the tools of recovery is one thing. Implementing them under pressure is quite another. You will make mistakes. As long as you do your best to rectify them and regard your recovery from alcoholism as a learning curve, you will continue in your personal growth.
Step 6 of recovering from alcoholism – Ensuring you have the right support to help you maintain alcoholic recovery and continue to grow. Your old drinking friends will be of no use to you getting sober. As a recovering alcoholic, it is important to have the right ongoing help and support, accessed in a temptation-free environment. This may be in the form of attending AA meetings, seeing an alcohol counselor, or attending rehab aftercare.
Step 7 of recovering from alcoholism – Continue to practice and use the tools of recovery. There is no magic pill when it comes to recovering from alcohol addiction. It takes time, patience, perseverance, and willingness to continually adapt and evolve. If you continue to put the tools of recovery into practical application on a daily basis, you will reap all the benefits alcoholic recovery has to offer.
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How Long Does it Take the Liver to Recover from Alcohol?
Alcohol is incredibly taxing on the liver. Fortunately, it is one of the most resilient organs in the body. So long as you intervene early, you should be able to recover completely. However, drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time means the liver doesn’t get a chance to recover. This can result in severe and permanent alcohol liver damage. Fatty liver can happen in anyone who drinks a lot. Alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis are associated with the long-term alcohol abuse seen in alcoholics .
The main function of the liver is to metabolize (or break down) everything we put into our mouths and swallow by breaking down toxins and filtering harmful chemicals from the blood. The liver can regenerate its cells, which means it can heal itself after you stop drinking alcohol.
The process of regeneration, where the liver creates new cells to replace old ones that are damaged or dead, is known as hepatocyte proliferation. The general, your liver will begin to repair itself as soon as you stop drinking alcohol. Just because the process begins quickly doesn’t mean it’s a fast process.
The duration of the healing process will vary depending on each person and how much they drank, how long they drank, and other factors like the presence of any liver damage before quitting drinking. It could take anywhere from a month to several years for your liver to completely heal after you stop drinking. However, various factors will influence this time frame like your age, the amount you drink each day, and if you quit drinking cold turkey versus tapering off.
How Long Does it Take for the Brain to Recover from Drinking?
Drinking alcohol causes brain damage, as most of us know, and caution is well warranted about what we choose to do while under its influence. What isn’t so well known is the hit our brains take much later, after alcohol has left the system. Research shows that our cognitive abilities, like attention and memory, are debilitated even when alcohol in the blood is no longer measurable.
Impaired performance in these abilities reflects poorer concentration and focus, decreased memory, and reduced reaction times. Why this happens is largely about how embattled our bodies and brains are from the chemical assault that comes with heavy drinking.
The brain won’t return to form for many hours, perhaps more than a day in some cases. And attention, memory, reaction time, and decision-making abilities aren’t fully engaged until that happens. Believing we can jump right into our regular routines and perform as usual is unrealistic.
Excessive alcohol consumption can have long-lasting effects on neurotransmitters in the brain, decreasing their effectiveness or even mimicking them. Alcohol also destroys brain cells and contracts brain tissue. Some people with a history of excessive alcohol use develop nutritional deficiencies that further damage brain function.
Those who use alcohol excessively and for long periods of time also risk thiamine deficiency as a result of poor nutrition, which may result in the development of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), sometimes commonly referred to as “wet brain”. This condition can cause persisting mental confusion, eye movement disturbances, difficulty with coordination, and persistent learning and memory problems. if it is recognized early enough, it may be reversed through diet and supplementation. However, if the condition represents a chronic situation, the condition may not resolve even with the use of megavitamin supplementation.
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Can Your Heart Recover from Alcohol Abuse ?
There are numerous cardiovascular issues associated with alcohol use and abuse. There is conflicting research about potential benefits linked with mild to moderate alcohol use. Despite some of these research findings, people should not begin drinking alcohol in an attempt to improve their cardiovascular health, and people with cardiovascular issues should stop drinking alcohol altogether.
Some of the potential cardiovascular issues associated with using alcohol include:
- High blood pressure is often associated with the use of alcohol. Having high blood pressure is a risk factor for numerous other related health condition. Many individuals who stop drinking alcohol, become involved in formal treatment that may involve the use of medications, and take on various other lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet and getting sufficient exercise, can correct this situation relatively quickly.
- Chronic heavy drinking weakens the heart muscle and reduces its effectiveness in pumping blood. People who stop drinking alcohol and get treatment can reverse some of these symptoms to some extent, but in chronic cases, cardiomyopathy may be permanent .
- Irregular heartbeat is associated with chronic alcohol abuse. Again, individuals who abstain from alcohol and get treatment can reverse this issue to some extent, particularly within the first year of recovery. However, the damage may not be entirely reversed.
High cholesterol levels
- High cholesterol levels are associated with chronic use and abuse of alcohol. Abstaining from alcohol in addition to other forms of treatment, such as dietary changes and the use of medication, can help to reverse this issue.
Heart attack or sudden cardiac death
- Individuals who are moderate to heavy alcohol users are at increased risk for death due to heart attack. The risk drops significantly in the first year after one abstains from alcohol; however, cardiac damage may not be fully resolved.
In most cases, the full extent of the damage produced by chronic and heavy alcohol use on the cardiovascular system is not fully resolved. Usually, any reversal of damage occurs rapidly in the first months to the first year of abstinence and then slows down following that. Individuals need to also pay attention to other lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, getting plenty of rest, and stress management to experience their full potential of recovery.
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How long for the immune system to recover from alcohol?
Does drinking alcohol decrease your immune system? Many individuals are aware that excessive drinking can be harmful to the liver and other vital organs. However, there is another, less obvious, body system that is vulnerable to the negative effects of alcohol: the immune system. Because of alcohol’s effects on the immune system, people who drink to excess are at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases, may have more complications after surgery. They often take longer to recover from illness than those who drink at lower levels.
Disruptions in immune system function also contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption. When you give up drinking, you will also be giving up the many colds, flu bugs, and illnesses that you may have been unable to ward off due to chronic drinking in the past.
How Do I Stop Drinking?
Are you concerned about your alcohol intake and the physical effects of alcohol? What are the early signs of alcoholism? When are you considered an alcoholic? Maybe you just want to learn how to reduce alcohol consumption, but not fully stop? What happens when you give up alcohol? These are the questions that you may be itching to ask. Or questions that beg to be answered. Read on to learn how to stop drinking alcohol and how there are many different alcoholism treatment options for anyone who is struggling with an alcohol use disorder. The following tips may be helpful:
- Put it in writing. Making a list of the reasons to curtail your drinking — such as feeling healthier, sleeping better, or improving your relationships — can motivate you.
- Set a drinking goal. Set a limit on how much you will drink. You should keep your drinking below the recommended guidelines: no more than one standard drink per day for women and for men ages 65 and older, and no more than two standard drinks per day for men under 65.
- Keep a diary of your drinking. For three to four weeks, keep track of every time you have a drink. Include information about what and how much you drank as well as where you were. Compare this to your goal.
- Don’t keep alcohol in your house. Having no alcohol at home can help limit your drinking.
- Drink slowly. Sip your drink. Drink soda, water, or juice after having an alcoholic beverage. Never drink on an empty stomach.
- Choose alcohol-free days. Decide not to drink a day or two each week. You may want to abstain for a week or a month to see how you feel physically and emotionally without alcohol in your life.
- Watch for peer pressure. Practice ways to say no politely. You do not have to drink just because others are, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to accept every drink you’re offered.
- Keep busy. Take a walk, play sports, go out to eat, or catch a movie. When you’re at home, pick up a new hobby or revisit an old one.
- Ask for support. Cutting down on your drinking may not always be easy. Let friends and family members know that you need their support. Your doctor, counselor, or therapist may also be able to offer help.
- Guard against temptation. Steer clear of people and places that make you want to drink. If you associate drinking with certain events, such as holidays or vacations, develop a plan for managing them in advance.
- Be persistent. Most people who successfully cut down or stop drinking altogether do so only after several attempts. You’ll probably have setbacks, but don’t let them keep you from reaching your long-term goal. There’s really no final endpoint, as the process usually requires ongoing effort.
Alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis suddenly stops drinking alcohol. The more you drink regularly, the more likely you are to develop alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. You may have more severe withdrawal symptoms if you have certain other medical problems.
A severe form of alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens (DT). Delirium Tremens can be highly disorientating and scary – and it can even cause death. This is one of the more severe reactions indicated by hallucinations, confusion, agitation, tremors, and a high fever. The reported number of death for people who experience delirium tremens is anywhere from 1 to 5%. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms start as early as two hours after drinking, peaking in severity approximately two to three days after the last drink.
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Alcohol Treatments in New Jersey Rehab Center
Detox from alcohol is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated process of alcohol withdrawal, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to alcohol use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.
Cravings are very common during detox from alcohol and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of alcohol withdrawals.
Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for alcohol use disorder and mental health disorder are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.
Dual Diagnosis Programs in New Jersey
Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, and alcoholism often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the mental disorder and the substance abuse problem are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) can improve addicts’ behavior. CBT targets negative and maladaptive thought patterns as it promotes positive emotions and beliefs, while DBT helps clients address conflicting impulses so they can make healthy choices. Both therapies treat substance abuse and mental health disorders. Therapy also empowers clients to identify, avoid and mitigate cues that trigger drug cravings.
Individual and Group Counseling
Addiction and mental health counseling occur in both individual and group settings. One-on-one treatment sessions may address unresolved trauma, unconscious conflicts, and specific struggles, while group sessions often involve training in life skills, stress management, conflict resolution, and social connections. Group counseling also gives clients the chance to share their thoughts and experiences to develop social support, which is essential for lasting recovery.
Recovering from alcoholism is not an easy task. If you or a loved one are struggling with long-term substance abuse, showing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression, contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up NJ can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.
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 NIAAA – https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
 NIAAA – https://alcoholtreatment.niaaa.nih.gov/what-to-know/alcohol-use-disorder
 NIAAA – https://arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/recovery-aud-part-2/natural-recovery-liver-and-other-organs-after-chronic-alcohol-use