The health issues associated with alcoholism paint a bleak future for alcoholics. Chronic heavy drinking doesn’t just cause cirrhosis of the liver and seizures. It can also cause dementia, cardiovascular disease, and several forms of cancer.
People considering recovery often wonder if it’s possible to reverse the damage caused by years and decades of heavy drinking.
Alcohol recovery is the only way anyone can ever reverse the damage of alcoholism.
But how long does recovery from alcohol take?
In this article, we’ll explore how long it takes to recover from alcoholism. We’ll also discuss how long it takes to reverse alcohol damage.
Stage I: Detox & Acute Alcohol Withdrawal
Detox is the beginning point of recovery where an alcoholic stops consuming alcohol. Once someone stops drinking, their body cleanses itself of all traces of alcohol.
For many recovering alcoholics, detox is often the hardest stage of recovery. The first 48-72 hours are the most difficult. This is due to acute alcohol withdrawal.
Some people describe acute alcohol withdrawal as a bad hangover. For others, the withdrawal can make them so physically ill, they medical help and observation.
Acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur in the first 48-72 hours of detox. The symptoms include:
- Nausea & vomiting
- Elevated body temperature & blood pressure
- Delirium tremens
- Tremors & shakiness
Shakiness and delirium tremens are most common in severe alcoholics. This occurs because the nervous system needs time to readjust itself after alcohol consumption stops.
These symptoms tend to subside after 72 hours. But they can last longer depending on the severity of an individual’s alcoholism.
Getting through the first 72 hours is crucial. Only then will your body be able to begin repairing itself of alcohol damage.
How Long Does Detox Take?
Detox can take anywhere from 7 to 10 days. Detox clinics usually admit and release patients within this time frame.
However, if you decide to detox in a rehabilitation center, you may have to undergo detox for up to 30 days. Some rehabilitation centers even keep patients in detox anywhere between 45-60 days.
The time that a person spends in detox depends on a number of factors, including:
- The severity of their alcoholism
- Their history of alcoholism
- Other addictions besides alcohol
- Diagnosis of co-occurring mental or medical issues (depression, eating disorders, seizure disorder, etc.)
- Weight & age
If you’re looking into detox, consult with your physician. Alongside a therapist (and possibly a psychiatrist), they can map out a detox plan for you. Not only so you’re as comfortable as possible, but so you lower your chances of relapsing.
Stage II: Early Abstinence
Early abstinence occurs after the first 72 hours after a person stops drinking. It can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. Again, this depends on the severity of a person’s addiction to alcohol.
After 72 hours, your body will already start to establish a new equilibrium that’s free of alcohol. Your blood sugar levels will return to normal and you may start to sleep better.
However, it’s common to experience cravings during and after detox. Cravings are one of the biggest things that make alcohol recovery so difficult beyond the detox phase.
Cravings & Anhedonia
It’s not only the body that physically craves alcohol because it’s no longer receiving it. Alcohol is often a crutch for people looking to cope with stress. Once that crutch is gone, it becomes harder to deal with stress.
That’s why anxiety and low mood are often attributed to the early abstinence phase. Though some individuals sleep better, disruptions in sleep patterns can also occur.
Anhedonia, which refers to the inability to feel pleasure, is common, as well. Recovering alcoholics tend to feel bored, antisocial, and depressed in the first few weeks and months of early abstinence.
How the Body Recovers During Early Abstinence
The adverse side effects you may feel during early abstinence are rough. But the health benefits you’re achieving by not drinking far outweigh them.
After a month of abstinence, liver fat can decrease up to 15%. This is great news considering that liver fat accumulation can result in liver damage and liver disease.
Long-term, heavy alcohol use can compromise our immune systems. When this occurs, we become more susceptible to colds, flu, and pneumonia.
But once you stop drinking, your immune system repairs itself. Then, your likelihood of getting sick decreases. This can all happen the moment you stop drinking and into the first month of abstinence.
When you stop drinking, your skin’s appearance will also improve. And because you’re no longer consuming excess calories from alcohol, you’ll start to lose weight, too.
If you experience boredom or stress associated with abstinence, coping mechanisms are crucial. You don’t want to relapse. You want to be able to experience a full recovery and reap all the benefits of reverse alcohol damage.
Stage III: Living Sober
The reverse effects of alcohol damage start to kick in after the first month of abstinence. This doesn’t mean that a person fully recovers from alcohol damage in that time frame.
Severe alcoholism causes significant damage that’s not so easily reversible. A person can develop permanent brain damage and fertility problems, for example.
It can take the body years to recover from these types of damage. In some cases, the damage is irreversible.
However, by staying focused on the path to recovery, it is possible to reverse alcohol damage.
People who stay sober long-term decrease their chances of developing cancer. A person who gives up heavy drinking is more likely to conceive, and they’re more likely to reverse brain damage.
Talk to your doctor or addiction provider about your treatment plan. That way, you maximize your chances of reversing alcohol damage completely.
Make Alcohol Recovery a Reality
The road to recovery from alcohol dependence is long and hard. But it is possible with hard work, dedication, and self-care. If you’ve struggled to overcome your addiction to alcohol, you can reverse alcohol damage.
For more information about alcohol recovery, explore our blog!