Monday 31 August 2015

How Long Does it Take to 'Recover' From Alcohol Addiction?

When I first quit, and for the months/years before I quit, one of my big questions was: how long does it take before you feel okay about not drinking?

It's very difficult to get an answer to that one!

For starters, everyone is - obviously - different. Secondly, it depends on your definition of 'okay', and, finally, the changes happen so slowly that you're barely aware of them until you look back later on.

It's a bit like ageing. You can't see the lines forming, or everything starting to sag, until one day you look in the mirror and think Yikes! It's my mother! (Only in the case of getting sober, the changes are wholly positive).

Slowly, slowly, baby step by baby step, you find that you've gone from:

I can't have a drink. Aaarrrgghhh! to:

I can't have a drink! I'm okay with that, at least for today, to:

I can't have a drink! I'm okay with that, at least for the next few months, to:

I can have a drink! But why on earth would I ever want to?

Admittedly, there's a fair bit of shilly shallying along the way which goes a bit like this:

Perhaps after all this time I can have just one drink. I can moderate! I've learned my lesson about overdoing it....

That's one we have to learn to knock on the head over and over again, like a constant game of whack-a-mole, until it eventually goes away.

So, how long does all that take?

Don't hold me to this, but based on my experience, and the stories I've read from other people, there does seem to be a bit of a pattern.

Here's my rough guide. Please add your comments and experiences below....

1. It takes 3 days to 3 weeks to get over the worst of the physical stuff. The headaches, fever, insomnia, fog, constipation etcetera. I drank a fair amount - a bottle, sometimes two, of wine a day, but, even so, within a few days I was physically okay.

2. It takes about 100 days for sober to start feeling like the 'new normal.' By then, hopefully, you're at the I can't have a drink. I'm okay with that, at least for the next few months stage.

If you're just starting out, then I know 100 days sounds like an awfully long time, but it's really not! Think about how quickly the time usually passes from New Year to Easter. That's all it is.

And during that time miraculous things start to happen that'll keep you going.

You'll sleep better, you'll start losing weight (hopefully!). Your moods will improve. You'll have more energy, less anxiety. Your skin, hair, eyes will transform. It's slow, but it's amazing.

By the time you get to 100 days you start to realise how good life without alcohol can be.

3. It takes about 6 months to get to the point where you suddenly realise that you can drink. But why on earth would you ever want to?

This is where I am now. A light bulb moment. You realise that it's no longer about denial. You feel FREE! I do hope that I'm not talking too soon, but I know that other people have said the same about six months.

I still get cravings, but they feel much like Jason Vale describes when he uses the analogy of driving a car with the indicators on a different side from the one you're used to. It takes a long time to break an ingrained habit.

Every now and again you still use the windscreen wipers instead of the indicator. You just think oops. Silly me. Adjust. Move on. I no longer have to retreat to the bathroom for an hour and immerse myself in bubbles, breathing deeply and chanting be gone foul wine witch.

4. It takes 2 years, apparently, to stop getting the occasional mood swings, cravings and doubts triggered by PAWS (see my post on Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome), but each episode gets shorter and easier to handle. Once you're used to them, it's no worse than PMT (although, to be fair, people have literally got away with murder using PMT as an excuse).

So, if you're at the beginning of this journey and feeling scared and unsure, then don't be. It's six months of ups and downs, and a hell of a lot of introspection, in exchange for a lifetime of liberation.

No brainer.

Love SM x


  1. So true! I love your 'baby steps'. Helps me get through difficult patches knowing they will pass (rather like riding the waves of a hangover, only much less distressing). I NEVER thought I would be happy being alcohol free but I am. I think I'm getting my mojo back. Just a little bit. Stay strong. LNM x

  2. I agree. Although I was ok for about 30 days and then my anxiety and depression overwhelmed me. It probably took me to about 100 days to recognize this, get help, start medication and begin to heal years of hidden problems.
    Just not drinking is step one. Take the other steps necessary to heal.

  3. Very useful for newbies. I am 13 months and still having crazy mood swings but they are getting less with each month.

  4. I think you're spot on. 6 months seems to be when people really decide that they don't want to drink for the rest of their life. I think when you wake up in the morning and drinking isn't the first thing on your mind, that's a sign that your life has changed.
    I don't think we can ever say, "I'm never drinking again." without some trepidation, I've seen too many people start again after five or more years. And I've seen them struggle hard to get back to not drinking, even when they want to.

  5. I'm at 4 months today and weirdly I was driving past a pub when the word 'prison' just popped into my head!! I was thinking of all those people who go in first thing and spend the day drinking. You know those (usually) guys, who are in the same pub, in the same place everyday. No different than a cage really.

  6. Having just past 100 days I was so glad to read this just to remind me that it will keep getting easier and better. I've mostly coped ok as I've been so determined but the last couple if weeks have been hard. Rereading your blogs and recognising the stages has been a life saver. It really has! It's all just part of a long journey and being reminded that how I feel is ok and normal gets me through the hard times. I am looking forward to turning a corner at 6 months ;-) xxx

  7. Awesome! So encouraging to read :)