Stuck in a Loop; Why Recovery Requires More than Just Detox to Move Forward


The journey toward sobriety is a personal experience. Each individual enters an alcohol treatment program for a unique reason. Some have tried to stop drinking on their own, but alcohol withdrawal symptoms were too severe to manage alone. Others arrive at a detox center after a hospital stay or intervention, knowing the side effects of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) not only hurt the user, but their family and friends suffer along with them.

While achieving freedom from alcohol starts with cleansing the body, going through a period of detoxification, it is important to realize that detox isn’t treatment – it is preparation for inpatient alcohol rehab care designed to help people reclaim their lives without alcohol.

Sadly, many people don’t realize that surviving the horrible withdrawal phase is not enough to overcome the actual dependency. They get stuck in a loop, where they go through detox, start drinking again, enter another detox program, return to using, seek help – the cycle continues because most people are not able to go forward with their life without significant help that includes alcohol withdrawal treatment and an immediate transfer to inpatient alcohol rehab center for additional therapy.

The first step in breaking the relapse cycle is understanding what role detox plays in the alcohol recovery journey, and why it isn’t a cure for alcoholism or dependency.

Detox Alone Stops Short of The Goal

When the goal is achieving freedom from alcohol, detoxification is not the solution.

Detoxification alone without subsequent treatment generally leads to resumption of drug use . . . treatment consists of behavioral therapies (and) treatment should be tailored to address each patient’s drug use patterns and drug-related medical, mental, and social problems.” – National Institute on Drug Abuse

Like the disease itself, alcohol withdrawal treatment varies based on an individual’s needs during this critical period. Withdrawal symptoms may be mild and uncomfortable, or severe, even life-threatening. According to WebMD, common symptoms may include:

  • “Anxiety
  • Delirium tremens (DTs), a life-threatening issue that can make you restless, upset, and confused and cause fever, hallucinations, and seizures
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations, when you see or hear things that aren’t there
  • Problems sleeping
  • Shakiness, especially in your hands
  • Unstable changes in blood pressure and heart rate”

Professional guidance and supervision during the detoxification phase ensure that people have a safe environment, where they cannot hurt themselves or others as they cleanse the body of all addictive substances.

The elimination process may take a few days or more than a week, and even after there is no more alcohol in the system, symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, anxiety and depression, may persist.

There is no panacea, no magic pill, to cure alcoholism or dependency. Alcohol treatment centers work with clients to develop a disease management program based on their overall health, how long they have misused alcohol and underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and mental health disorders that require medication or therapy. Depending on the severity of the disease, clients may spend one to three months in an alcohol withdrawal treatment facility, or they may choose an outpatient program that allows them to continue living at home, working, and going through daily life. Most people transition from detox to inpatient treatment after the first month, although Elevate works closely with clients, encouraging them to set the pace for moving from one phase in the recovery journey to the next when they feel stronger enough and ready to move forward with more strenuous exercise and intense therapy sessions.

Alcohol Recovery Programs

Detox Cleanses the Body: Alcohol Recovery Programs Restore Health & Wellness

Simply removing alcohol is not enough to support a healthy lifestyle. Many people report that an image of an alcoholic beverage is enough to trigger an uncontrollable urge to return to using.

While detox is designed to rid the body of alcohol, support services in alcohol recovery programs fill the body new skills, coping techniques and knowledge that will help them successfully navigate life beyond the treatment center.

Individualized recovery plans in an alcoholism treatment program typically include:

  • Counseling sessions – private and group sessions with peers and support network
  • Opportunities for self-reflection – designed to help clients explore what led them to this point in their life, their personal strengths and weaknesses, triggers that could awaken the desire to return to risky behavior, and imagining how one would react to emotionally charged situations on the outside.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)– helpful for recognizing one’s distortions in ingrained thinking patterns, developing self-confidence, gaining a better understanding of what motivates certain behavior and learning coping mechanisms to replace old responses to stressful events.
  • Alternative (Complementary) Therapy – alcohol treatment centers encourage clients to use dance, yoga, mindfulness activities, and other expressive therapies to get in touch with their inner feelings and share their experiences with others when words don’t come easily.
  • Learning new coping skills – deep breathing exercises, reaching out to support network members, calming one’s mind and body, and intentional thinking help recovering addicts cope with life’s challenges instead of returning to alcohol when things don’t go as planned.
  • Nutritional Counseling – educating treatment center clients about proper diet is an integral part of every non 12 step alcohol recovery program because healthy bodies are better able to handle physical and emotional stress.
  • Exercise programs – whether hiking alone, communing with nature, or playing an invigorating game of basketball with others in the program, physical fitness activities help restore the body, strengthening muscles and bones to carry one through recovery and beyond.

Detox Has One Focus: Holistic Alcohol Treatment Centers Address the Whole Person

Detox has one goal – manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms so a person can move forward with an alcoholism treatment program – either outpatient or residential inpatient alcohol rehab – designed to support a lifetime of sobriety.

An alcoholism treatment program is designed to treat the whole person, not just the disease.

Seeing addiction through sober eyes opens a world of opportunities for clients. Without the painful and distracting alcohol withdrawal symptoms experienced during detox, clients get a clearer picture of the negative consequences of alcoholism and over-indulgence. And, once the alcohol is completely out of the body, clients are better equipped to work with medical staff and counselors as they implement new activities in the treatment plan.

Detox is critical; however, it doesn’t teach life skills or address the physical and psychological aspects of alcohol addiction. It doesn’t provide physical healing to the organs, tissues and body systems damaged by prolonged alcohol consumption and malnutrition, or give clients the tools they need to maintain make better decisions and avoid risky behavior. In short, detox alone is not an effective treatment for the disease, rather it is one stone on the path to sobriety, albeit a very important first step.

Specialized Alcoholism Treatments & Re-Training Deliver Success

Specialized recovery treatments for alcoholism and alcohol dependency include many aspects other than helping clients abstain from alcoholic beverages, including nutritional counseling, education, and meal planning.

This is important because people seeking treatment for alcohol-related disorders often have unique medical conditions specific to their consumption habits. Their nutritional needs during recovery are different than someone who enters a rehab facility for cocaine, opioid or other drug addictions.r

For example, about 20 percent of heavy drinkers, and those diagnosed with alcoholism develop alcohol-related fatty liver disease. The condition is often fatal unless alcohol is stopped or significantly reduced. Studies also confirm that people with cirrhosis often present with malnutrition. The good news is that abstinence and a proper diet can reverse alcoholic fatty liver, preventing disease progression.

About 10 percent to 15 percent of people with alcoholism develop cirrhosis, but many survive it. Many are unaware that they have it, and about 30 percent to 40 percent of cirrhosis cases are discovered at autopsy (Anand 1999). The 5–year survival rate for people with cirrhosis who stop drinking is about 90 percent, compared with 70 percent

of those who do not stop drinking. However, for late-stage cirrhosis—that is, when jaundice, accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites), or gastrointestinal bleeding have occurred—the survival rate is only 60 percent for those who stop drinking and 35 percent for those who do not.” – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Dietary changes, and developing new ways of thinking about food and nutrition, prepare a recovering alcoholic for the future, one where they fuel their body with a plant-based diet and lean proteins that support sobriety and health.

Rediscovering – or, perhaps discovering for the first time – what brings inner joy, satisfaction, and peace, is an essential element of inpatient recovery programs. Along with learning new life skills – planning and cooking nutritious meals, avoiding risky behavior and coping with high-stress situations – clients also learn how to live, without guilt or chemical inducements. They learn how to relinquish unhealthy relationships and build new ones in their communities.

Breaking the cycle of on again, off again periods of sobriety sandwiched between heavy using and detox visits is difficult. At times, most people feel frustrated, tired of the battle and ready to give up. Relapse is a known and accepted part of recovery; the key to success lies in acknowledging past mistakes and embracing change to prevent past errors from becoming tomorrows habits. Essentially, achieving long-term sobriety is a life-long commitment to never give up on pursuing the best life possible.

Long Recovery Journey

Accept Detox For What It Is: The First Step on A Life-Long Recovery Journey

Detox is the first, and perhaps most important, step on the road to recovery from alcohol dependency and related illnesses. However, the two-four week period does not prepare participants to move forward with their life, free from addiction and the negative consequences. During such a short period of time, it is impossible to replace years of risky behavior with healthier habits.

That is why transitioning to a 3-6 month inpatient treatment center is advisable for those who find themselves caught in a loop. Intensive, specialized treatment in a controlled environment allows clients to:

  • Learn more about designing (and following) diet and exercise regimes that promote health and wellness
  • Face painful experiences, and learn how to move beyond the hurt and disappointment
  • Develop healthy relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and rehab center mentors and staff
  • Engage with their home communities, volunteer, and become advocates for better access to rehab services and solutions that diminish the stigma
  • Discover what motivates certain behaviors – good and bad – in oneself and others
  • Use coping techniques to diffuse an emotional situation calmly
  • Avoid triggers that may produce the urge to return to using alcohol as a crutch
  • Recognize when their resolve is weakening and reach out to after-care team members or other support network members before a crisis evolves
  • Manage underlying chronic health conditions and mental disorders effectively

Break the Cycle With Elevate Rehab On-Site Detoxification & An Alcoholism Treatment Program

With an on-site detoxification center, offering individualized alcohol withdrawal programs, our clients receive holistic care that includes short term prescriptions when medically necessary, and compassionate staff to help them manage withdrawal symptoms in a safe, comfortable environment. Frequent massages and aromatherapy provide symptom relief, helping patients adjust to a drug-free protocol as soon as possible. When clients are ready, they transition to a residential inpatient program designed to break the relapse cycle.

Tim Sinnott, MFT

With several advanced degrees from the University of San Francisco (Doctor of Education in Counseling and Educational Psychology and Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, emphasis in Marital and Family Therapy), Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies (Certificate, Summer School of Alcohol Studies), and the University of California, Santa Cruz (Certificate in Alcohol Studies, Advanced Counselor Training Program), and a strong history of directing recovery facilities, Tim is a capable speaker and leader in addiction treatment services. Tim also has extensive marriage and family counseling knowledge and prides himself on his ability to connect with clients and professionals on an individual basis.

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