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Getting Past Alcohol Cravings When You’re in Recovery

Alcohol Cravings

Individuals who attempt to stop drinking when they are in the throes of alcoholism suffer one of the toughest cases of withdrawal brought on by any type of drug abuse. Even when a drinker has been in alcohol recovery for months, keeping the desire to drink completely at bay is hard. Cravings arise at unexpected times, and the ease of procuring alcohol makes it even more difficult to avoid giving in.

Surrounding yourself entirely with non-drinkers is virtually impossible, and many of the people in your life will have trouble grasping the serious nature of your battle to stay clean and sober after living with alcohol addiction. It is not uncommon for friends, family, and acquaintances to even offer drinks and “tastes” to a person in recovery. They simply don’t understand how damaging this can be.

This article will explore the timetable many people face when they question how long it will be until the alcohol cravings subside on a more permanent level. If you are an alcoholic who wants to quit for good or you have already entered the beginning stages of alcohol addiction recovery, here’s an idea of what lies ahead in the process of withdrawal.

Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Expectations

If you are a drinker who has progressed to the level of drinking every day and feel you must always have a drink in hand, you are likely suffering from alcohol addiction. In today’s world, alcohol is one of the most readily available and socially acceptable drugs that people of all ages commonly use. The very idea of alcohol avoidance seems to be a complete impossibility. Addiction to this drug is most often a progressive circumstance. Most people suffering from alcohol dependency begin with just an occasional drink and don’t realize they have succumbed to the power of the addiction until it is too late.

It is distressing, to say the least, to come to the realization that you have developed a dependency on alcohol. In fact, it is quite terrifying, and most individuals face deep depression when they begin to confront their problem, often going through a long period of denial. When a person with alcohol dependency attempts to quit cold turkey, they can develop acute alcohol delirium, which can compound the difficulties they face by pushing them even deeper into their addiction. It is a very common occurrence for someone to completely quit drinking very suddenly when they recognize the severity of their drinking problem. In these cases, dangerous and severe effects of withdrawal manifest nearly immediately.

As soon as you come to terms with the fact that you have a drinking problem, alcohol cessation should be approached with the aid of a recovery program. Detox from alcohol is the first step in beginning the process, but it is essential to detox in a clinical setting, where medical professionals can assure you are safe. If you are questioning how to quit alcohol, you are not the first. It may seem like an impossible task, and the solution is different for each unique situation, but you can’t do it alone.

Overcoming Alcohol Dependency

Overcoming Alcohol Dependency

The process of beating addiction is going to be different than it is for anyone else, although the basic methodology is the same; treatment of a medical nature to combat the effects that alcohol has on your body, counseling and therapy to treat and curb cravings and the mental effect of alcohol dependency, and building a network of social support from those in your life who can lend the emotional backing you will need to continue to lead a clean and sober life after you have completed a recovery program.

When you engage in a clinical detox with trained medical professionals, they will ensure your vital signs remain stable and can aid in lessening the withdrawal symptoms that many people face, like:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Clammy skin
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability

The benefits of entering a true recovery program are myriad and include symptom management through professional medical management and continued counseling. There are various types of therapy that help people in different ways. One of the questions you may be asking is “How long does medical alcohol detox take?” Detox is a multifaceted process that can’t be pinned down to a simple timeline. Phase one of recovery is the medical detox program that safely sees you through voiding all of the alcohol out of your body and walks you through the beginning phase of moving past the physical effects that alcoholism imposes on you.

The detox process tends to be a completely different experience for every person, due to variables in their personal health and their relationship with alcohol. The most important reason for a clinical detox program is that it helps the alcoholic to safely move past a potentially fatal withdrawal.

Will Withdrawal From Alcohol Last for a Long Time?

When a person is suffering from a severe addiction to alcohol, symptoms of withdrawal will usually begin within five to ten hours of the last drink they imbibe. Some people struggling with alcohol dependency are not quite as deep into physical dependency and have a bit more time before the first effects of withdrawal start.

As we look at a timeline of alcohol detox, what to expect varies for each individual, depending on just how severe their alcohol addiction is. Five to seven days is usually a good rule of thumb for those with alcohol dependency, when trying to figure out how long acute withdrawal will last. Typically, professional detox programs last for about a week. For an alcoholic who is more severely addicted to alcohol, a longer withdrawal period is not uncommon. There are no rules when it comes to acute withdrawal, though. It is different for everyone.

Another example of how varied the experience can be, is demonstrated by the fact that one person with a mild addiction to alcohol may suffer harsher withdrawal symptoms than an individual with extreme addiction. The factors that play a part in each person’s addiction and recovery are so varied that it is unwise to look for concrete answers to questions about average timelines. It is more prudent to focus your attention on working out a recovery program that will be most beneficial to you.

Overcoming the dangerous effects of withdrawal is one of the primary steps in recovery from alcohol addiction. Many people don’t realize that alcohol is a dangerously addictive drug and that withdrawing from its grip on their body is not only uncomfortable, but it can cause physical pain and even be potentially deadly. For this reason, a comprehensive detox program, conducted by medical professionals, is imperative as one enters a recovery program.

The “DTs” – Delirium Tremens

One of the most severe effects of withdrawal that alcoholics suffer is delirium tremens (DTs). Although it is generally only associated with the most severe cases of alcohol addiction, its dangers are worth pointing out.

Some people refer to the DTs as “the shakes,” and they usually begin to affect an individual between two and four days after they take their last drink. The duration for which a person may suffer from delirium tremens can range from 24 hours to five days.

The cause of this severe shaking condition can be explained as the body’s nervous system fighting to adjust to not having the alcohol it is accustomed to. The reason that the DTs can be fatal is that these extremely harsh tremors can cause seizures, which can be deadly. The condition also includes other side effects including periods of deep sleep, fatigue, and hallucinations. As you can see, the effects of quitting alcohol demand the assistance of medical professionals for the detox period; quitting cold turkey alone is simply not safe.

PAWS – Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

The effects of acute alcohol withdrawal are the first obstacle you must overcome upon entering a recovery program, but sadly it may not end there. Several months into sobriety, some individuals experience a sudden bout of symptoms like the effects of alcohol withdrawal. This phenomenon is called protracted withdrawal, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. The symptoms of this experience often drag a person who has already finished detox and begun recovery back into alcohol abuse. Individuals with the best chance of achieving full recovery seek continued support and a comprehensive program of recovery after finishing detox. They must be aware of the possibility of post-acute recovery syndrome and ready to face this obstacle.

PAWS tends to manifest in a more psychological than physical way. Some of the symptoms that individuals suffering from this syndrome experience include:

  • Alcohol cravings
  • Emotional overreactions to various circumstances
  • Insomnia and sleep disorders
  • Depression, and its resulting fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Panic attacks and anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior

When someone already suffers with psychological issues such as personality disorders, anxiety, and depression, this part of the recovery process from alcoholism is even more complex. Those who are suffering from the effects of post-acute withdrawal syndrome begin to act out in noticeable ways. They may lash out at others when it is least expected. Some suffer from mental trauma that puts up a roadblock to their success in establishing a clean and sober lifestyle after suffering from alcoholism and going through rehabilitation.

Recovery Steps

Recovery Steps

Once a person has completed detox, it is imperative that they enter an intensive recovery program to receive the critical support they need. This is yet another way that the recovery process differs for each individual, as their unique program of recovery must be developed to ensure complete recovery. It is such a specific process to each person that it is important to acknowledge that some individuals may come out of rehab and adjust to their new lifestyle with relative ease. If they begin to feel the effects of PAWS, they are able to get through the obstacle smoothly with help from their network of support.

Not everyone has this experience, however, and some people need readily available support and continued intervention to return to a “normal” life. Some individuals benefit most from personalized counseling, while others find that therapy groups, sponsorship in a twelve step program, and treatment from medical professionals is the best way to get through this tough time.

What Is the Time Frame for Alcohol Recovery?

Post-acute recovery syndrome is a difficult situation that can last for as long as two years for those who are recovering from the most severe cases of alcoholism. The effects they feel from PAWS are not consistent during this phase and may strike at any time. Although they are not as intense as the symptoms of acute withdrawal are, it is still a difficult circumstance to overcome.

It is usually most beneficial for an alcoholic to remain under the watchful eye of trained professionals by entering a rehab program after completing detox. These programs offer guidance as you begin the recovery process and allow the professionals to assist in the management of PAWS when it first strikes. The tools they provide for battling the effects of PAWS will prove to be invaluable after you are out of rehab and continuing your recovery process outside of a clinical environment.

Will the Alcohol Cravings Last for a Long Time?

Rehabilitation and recovery help you to get past the psychological need to consume alcohol, but cravings for the taste and its effects still occasionally creeps into your day. You may be wondering if the cravings only last up to two years, while you are still in danger of experiencing PAWS. Unfortunately, the two are not exactly associated.

In time, the severity of your alcohol cravings will become less intense, but, in many cases, the cravings take several years to subside entirely. In some situations, the cravings are present for the rest of their lives, but the relapse-prevention techniques that they learn in their recovery process help them to get past the desire to drink.

The determination of whether the cravings ever end, or when they end for some individuals, is one of those situations that is unique to each person. Generally speaking, someone with a more severe addiction is going to experience cravings for a longer time, but that is not a hard and fast rule. Factors such as one’s circle of friends and family also contribute greatly to this phenomenon. If you are living in a house where alcohol is consumed or if you regularly associate with people who drink around you, fighting cravings is more difficult.

The most effective way to approach the management of cravings is not to focus on a specific timeline for when they will subside or go away entirely, but rather to channel your recovery toward overcoming these desires when they arise. Recovery from alcoholism is not a chore that you must simply complete and forget about; it is an ongoing process that you will work at for the rest of your life. The first parts of recovery are the most difficult and dangerous to get through, but after that you will be armed with the proper coping techniques to help you manage future cravings for alcohol.

Practice makes perfect, as they say, and that holds true for managing cravings. The difficulty you experience at first with putting the coping mechanisms you learn into practice will get easier over time, as you see these strategies working in your daily life. Eventually, it becomes second nature to implement these practices when you experience cravings. Don’t worry so much about how long you will be nagged by the cravings but focus your efforts on developing the best techniques for making cravings less of an issue as you move through your daily activities.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Statistics in Maryland and the U.S.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Statistics in Maryland

What the numbers tell us about alcohol and drug dependency is alarming. Consider what Maryland and other the country as a whole has been struggling against.

  • 1,318 people died in Maryland in 2013 due to drinking.
  • 18% of adults in MD say they binge drink, consuming more than seven drinks in a sitting.
  • In 2017, over 19 million Americans fought substance abuse, 17% of which were for alcohol.
  • One out of 8 Americans adults had an abuse problem with both drugs and alcohol at the same time in 2017.
  • 5.2% of women and 9.4% of men over the age of 12 in the U.S. had a substance abuse problem in 2017.
  • Over 65% of Americans in prison are classified as addicts.
  • 8.5 million Americans suffered co-occurring substance abuse and mental health problems in 2017.
  • From 2011 to 2015, one in ten crashes and one in three fatal crashes were caused by impaired driving in MD.

The statistics you see here make it very clear that the dangers of alcohol dependency and its toll on families and communities throughout the United States is not something to take lightly. The fact that alcohol abuse is extremely common and presents imminent danger makes it all the more important to have treatment and support readily available to those who suffer from this disease.

It can take time to find an appropriate alcohol recovery program to fit your unique situation. Some programs may work better for one person than they will for another. Alcohol disease has a very different effect on every individual, and the specifics of each person’s circumstance such as career issues, family situations, mental health disorders, and various other factors can make the treatment process more complicated.

With the proper arsenal of coping tools, your strategy will become a technique that easily fights off cravings when and if they arise. There is no set-in-stone approach to recovery from alcohol recovery. If you need help managing the next stage or have questions, talk to us. At Maryland Recovery, we can teach you tools to help you overcome your dependency.

Reviewed by Christopher Schwartfigure MS, LGPC, CAC-AD

  • "Maryland Recovery gave me the tools and counseling to accept my past and forge a new future for myself. Life today has a hope and brightness to it that had not experienced before. I got a job and an apartment with the help of Maryland Recovery. I am able to be part of my family’s life again."
  • "I am certain that this program helped save my life. I was provided with an opportunity to learn how to live a sober life. I learned to be responsible and accountable for my behavior. When practicing the principles of the program and remaining willing to grow on this journey, I experience a freedom I never knew, but always wanted."
  • "The only things that I knew when I arrived at Maryland Recovery (MR) was that I was broken: spiritually, emotionally, and physically broken and that my way of doing things had gotten me there. The people at MR understood who I was better than I did. They assured me that I was not alone, with that came a glimpse of hope and some relief."
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