Alcohol Recovery Stages: What You Can Expect and How You Can Recover

Recovering from alcohol abuse is a difficult road; however, the benefits are worth the struggle. Once free from the clutches of alcohol, you will feel mentally, physically, and emotionally renewed. You’ll be able to restore relationships, recover your career, and even build your savings account back up.

How Long Will Alcohol Recovery Take?

Many people make the mistake of assuming that recovery from alcoholism will take a finite amount of time. Unfortunately, addiction is a chronic disease, meaning that you’ll be battling with it for the rest of your life. That being said, there are a number treatment programs out there that vary in length. Some of the more common ones might be 28 days in length, but there are also 90-day or 6-month long programs for those with more serious issues.

What Kind of Alcohol Rehab Facility is Best?

Because everyone is different, there is no universal treatment plan or program. Each alcohol rehab facility is slightly unique in order to account for the needs of its patients in a personalized manner.

Generally, a program that offers a well-rounded treatment plan comprised of evidence-based practices is ideal. These might include behavioral treatments, medication assisted treatment, and mutual-support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Throughout your care, you’ll likely see a number of professionals, including your primary care provider, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or an alcohol counselor.

You have the option of choosing an outpatient facility, where you go to the facility every day to receive treatment. On average, 70 percent of people in these programs successfully complete it. Inpatient treatment is where you live at the facility while receiving treatment, which is a good option for those with more serious addictions.


The first stage in the alcohol recovery process is withdrawal. This is often the hardest stage to get through and what causes most people to head back to the bottle. Symptoms of withdrawal can set in as early as six hours after your last drink. These might include:

  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness

Alcohol Recovery Stages: What You Can Expect and How You Can Recover

If you only have a slight addiction, these symptoms might be all you experience. However, for those with a more serious addiction, there’s a 10 percent chance you’ll experience more complicated symptoms. These higher-level symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Fever

In less than 5 percent of patients, seizures can occur. These typically happens within 48 hours of the time that you stop drinking, which is why it’s important to undergo withdrawal in a medically supervised environment. However, in 3 percent of patients, seizures happen 5 to 20 days after the last drink.

Another complication of withdrawal is delirium tremens, which happens 1 to 4 days after withdrawal begins. Typically, this only occurs in people who have been drinking heavily for many years. This is a serious disorder that can induce hallucinations and cause your central nervous system to become hyperactive. In up to 5 percent of people, death can occur.

Overall, the symptoms of withdrawal typically peak with 24 to 72 hours after you stop drinking. However, there’s a chance they can last for weeks, which is known as protracted withdrawal.

Early Treatment

After you’ve safely made it through withdrawal, you’ll finally begin to receive treatment for your illness. Many people are still reluctant to change in this state, tending to feel as though they’ll just continue to use alcohol as soon as they leave the treatment program. They might also have a lot of emotional issues, including guilt or shame about their drinking, depression, and even anger about being forced into treatment.

Alcohol Recovery Stages: What You Can Expect and How You Can Recover1

There are a number of therapeutic principles your treatment program will use to help you. These might include:

  • Helping you see you’re not alone
  • Giving you appropriate behavior to imitate
  • Instilling hope for recovery
  • Teaching you to express your feelings
  • Improving your self-esteem by helping others
  • Educating you on addiction
  • Providing a family-like environment to help resolve conflict
  • Correcting the distorted perception others have of you
  • Assisting you in developing socialization techniques

Middle-Stage Treatment

After a few months, you’ll be in the middle of your treatment program. At this point, you might begin to find your cognitive faculties returning. It might be easier to make decisions, remember things, and even concentrate better. Your brain won’t be back to normal yet, but it will be on its way to repairing itself and restoring equilibrium. Overall, you’ll begin to feel much more stable.

During this time, you might receive a number of behavioral treatments. These can include cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, marital and family counseling, and even intervention therapy to help get you back on track.

Alcohol Recovery Stages: What You Can Expect and How You Can Recover2

Unfortunately, you’ll also be at risk for relapse during this stage. To avoid relapse, you’ll need to constantly keep in mind the negative consequences of alcohol abuse. In one survey that looked at former addicts, 65 percent of people said there was more than one reason for quitting alcohol. 46 percent said that the mental, physical, economic, and social problems associated with alcohol were why they quit. 22 percent said legal trouble was behind their cessation, while 30 percent said that the support of family and friends was crucial.


The last and most important stage of alcohol recovery is the maintenance phase. During this time, you’ll officially complete your treatment program and re-enter the real world. This increases your risk of relapse even more, which is why it’s important for you to continue attending AA meetings or sessions with a counselor. Overall, numerous studies have found that participation in AA is very helpful in maintaining short-term abstinence.

The overall timeline for healing from alcohol abuse is different for everyone, meaning that the process might take months or years. Your body will continue to adjust to a sober lifestyle for quite some time, as your liver, brain, and other organs need time to properly heal. However, by staying committed to your rehab plan, you’ll be able to feel healthier and more whole than you have since you started drinking.