Starting the Journey: Understanding the Stages of Alcohol Recovery

Alcohol Recovery

The road to recovery is a long one, but modern alcohol treatment centers have come a long way. The gradual establishment of new routines, new normalcy and the pursuit of happiness can take time—but understanding the road’s path makes all the difference.

The specifics of an individual’s addiction, certainly, require insight. For most people, the path to recovery follows a trajectory which stems from a “rock bottom” point. While waiting for such an ultimate low isn’t necessarily a good idea, it remains a common foundation upon which many struggling people rise from.

Again: Everyone is different. By being honest with yourself, however, you can embrace the many tools of recovery which exist in today’s world. To get the most out of alcohol recovery programs and self-growth, however, one will need to first understand the typical stages associated with them.

Stage One: Admitting You Have a Problem

For many, this step is the hardest. Still, it’s an important step. A lost job, lost income or even failing relationships can signal a problem—yet this discovery needn’t be horrible. It can be humbling and even empowering. Even if the individual pursues outpatient rehab as opposed to inpatient treatment, understanding one’s own faults is invaluable.

Stage Two: Find Support in Those Around You

Once an addicted individual acknowledges they have a problem, they can begin crafting their own solutions. For many, successful sobriety attempts stem from trial and error. The modern holistic recovery center emphasizes community for this reason. Community keeps people accountable, of course, but it also assures support when one needs it.

Support doesn’t necessarily need to be organized, either. It exists within one’s family, friends and inner self. One can always learn something from those around them. Likewise, they can share words of wisdom with others who suffer.

Stage Three: Medical Detox

This step is an important one, as it concerns the tangible steps needed to assure physical health. The first days of sobriety can be physically challenging, riddled with withdrawal symptoms, hangovers or even ongoing sickness. Depending on the severity of addiction, the individual may indeed need medical supervision.

For this reason, another important aspect of the modern outpatient rehab center targets Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS. While studies about PAWS are constantly growing, the medical world knows enough about PAWS to help struggling individuals overcome addiction. In the early stages of PAWS, medication isn’t only suggested—but urged. Patients need to lean on their sober communities frequently, but they also require the power of science to excel.

Stage Four: Examining One’s Life

Many alcohol recovery programs help patients discover the source of their inner turmoil, so as to help the individual turn their life around. Depending on the individual’s addiction substance of choice, this process will vary. For many, cutting ties with an addiction may feel like cutting ties with an old friend. Most recovering addicts travel through this mourning phase, emerging into a much happier lifestyle.

Stage Five: Taking Action

While understanding one’s addiction is important, little change can occur until action is taken. Eventually, initial mourning will yield. Eventually, anger will pass. Many who seek support in an alcohol rehab center learn to understand this. Still, an alcoholism treatment program isn’t required to take positive action.

First, one must replace bad habits with new habits. Healthy habits take time to develop, but they will develop nonetheless if there is a conscious effort. Try changing your morning exercise routine, your diet or even the media you watch. Read more books, and embrace the positive forces in your life. Many who suffer from addiction discover empowering things during recovery. Eventually, the process of self-discovery alone can be enough to promote lasting change.

Step Six: Managing the Highs and Low

The first weeks, and even months, of sobriety are filled with emotional highs and lows. As you make positive changes, you may feel surges of positivity. You may even feel as if you’re walking on air. Some who engage recovery refer to this as the “pink clouds” stage. During this stage, you’ll find you sleep better, save more money, look better and have ample time for hobbies.

The core of these things, of course, stems from a lack of addictive chemicals coursing through one’s body. When a person’s chemistry reaches a healthy balance, the dramatic change may feel like a high in and of itself. The positive changes will remain the same, but both highs and lows should be acknowledged.

Step Seven: Building Discipline

Once a recovering person reaches equilibrium, they’ll need to stick to their goals like glue to continue the change process. For many, the struggle with addiction can last years. If you’ve been behind on your taxes, have suffered from debt or have other health issues—this discipline is absolutely necessary to assure ongoing support.

There will come a time when one will need incredible strength to address such problems in life. Getting sober is hard enough, but managing day-to-day tasks is much more important in the long run. You’ll eventually tackle life’s harder subjects, don’t worry. Whether you’re overwhelmed with current tasks or are struggling with potential relapse, a rock-solid core will sustain you.

Step Eight: Reach Out to Your Community

The next step in recovery is fostering a greater sense of community. Within communities similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, those who’ve made self-recovery progress learn to trust their own opinions, pursue a higher sense of purpose and reclaim joy within their lives.

In any event, it’s also healthy to recognize the usefulness of various programs. It’s incredibly important to seek psychotherapy if you feel you need it. If you pursue ongoing care, aftercare, or anything in between, it’s also important to let your treatment facility know.

It’s also a good idea to find a reliable sponsor while attending various meetings. See how you relate to others and share your insights with them. Keep in mind, however, that these sponsors aren’t trained psychotherapists.

Step Nine: Acknowledging the Possibility of Relapse

Once you’ve settled into your new lifestyle, it’ll be important to acknowledge the realities of possible relapse. It’s all too easy to become complacent, and it’s even easier to be hypervigilant to the point of unhealthy behavior. Addiction recovery is a lengthy process—a process defined by those around us, our inner wisdom, diet and everything in between.

Relapse occurs when one feels most vulnerable, so it’s important to take care of yourself during trying times. Recognize the conditions which predate your relapses, and realize that sometimes entire months can pass before a relapse—a relapse which can significantly slow down one’s overall recovery.

alcoholism treatment program

Step 10: Fall in Love with Living

The modern alcoholism treatment program helps those who’ve lost touch with life fall back in love with living. As they say, life is about the journey—not the destination. If you stay grounded, stay present and continue navigating through your life’s work, life’s challenges will begin to become lighter burdens.

Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. The journey, alone, is certainly worthwhile. Once you discover your inner ambition, you’ll find that the everyday struggle becomes much, much lighter.

Step 11: Connect with Your Family

Many individuals suffering from addiction experience family turmoil. Day-to-day family routines can impact one’s schedule, jeopardize relationships and make relapse more likely. Those who experience feelings of depression, mania, anxiety, and other fluctuations have a higher chance of relapse. Both at work and at home, it’s important to avoid tackling too many projects at once.

It’s important to work hard, work diligently and work often. If you feel distressed about feeling sad during the holidays, speak to your therapist as soon as possible. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you feel overwhelmed. Trained advisors are available, around the clock, to help you through life’s many struggles.

Step 12: Understand Your Weaknesses

Many who fall into addiction do so because of many events, not a singular occurrence. Relapse is much more likely within the first 90 days of recovery. Many may even feel overconfident, resulting in risky moves which could cost an entire year’s worth of progression.

When you attend an alcoholism treatment program, your addiction counselor will help you identify people, things and places associated with substance use. They’ll also work with you to develop the strategies needed to avoid relapse triggers. Work on these strategies often, and be open to the idea of counteracting them with healthy, alternative approaches if the need arises.

Step 13: Understand It’s an Ongoing Process

While relapse is more likely to occur within the first 90 days of your recovery, the dangers to this recovery are very real. If things are going well for you, understand that the good times are a result of hard work, faith, creativity and an acknowledgment of one’s own inner turmoil.

Because of these factors, finding inner peace must be a priority. Relapse rates for people with substance abuse problems are similar, if not higher, than relapse rates for other chronic illnesses. As an example, the relapse rate for substance abuse of any kind is roughly 40 to 50 percent. The relapse rate for hypertension is approximately 60 percent. The relapse rate for alcohol abuse in particular: 90 percent.

Step 14: Pursue Advanced Recovery

Long-term addiction recovery requires an ongoing commitment to change. To sustain a fulfilling life, an individual needs to establish many healthy relationships. They also need to eat a nutritious diet, get plenty of rest, get plenty of exercise and resolve any personal problems they’re grappling with.

Once you’ve achieved one year of sobriety, celebrate the milestone! Take comfort in your intuition, and remember to follow your heart. A happy, joyful recovery revolves around continuity. Doing what works best for your personal situation, of course, is a lifelong process.


Step 15: Perpetuate Self-Discovery

The final step, and one which should be mentioned more, is the pursuit of self-growth and harmony. Despite what popular social media, the news, or other online resources say, it is entirely possible to create your own education. Search, far and wide, for answers.

It can’t be said enough: Trust your inner wisdom, and trust in your ability to follow it. These feelings of worthlessness will pass. Likewise, the feeling of being ‘controlled’ by your addiction will eventually subside. Fear can be a potent motivator, but it is also one which—once more—is weightless when one first learns to trust themselves.

Seek Help Today

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction, seek help today. A quality alcohol treatment program is an incredible resource, one which can change your life completely. Moreover: It can change the lives of others. If your life feels barren, meaningless, or even frightening—do not worry. These are natural processes which must be let go, and they are natural processes which exist for us to find true meaning in life.

Always remember: You are in control of your own destiny. As you reconnect with your family, your friends and your hobbies, you’ll soon discover that you’ve fallen back in love with life. Pursue this love, and understand that the journey is about constant self-growth, self-care, the nurture of others and the pursuit of peace for those around you. Be kind to yourself, and never forget to celebrate your personality in full. Those around you care about you, and life is certainly one worth living within its grand mystery.

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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