Alcoholic Recovery Stages (2023)

Alcoholism does not occur overnight. It’s a disease that typically develops gradually over time as a person drinks more and more regularly, which causes chemical changes to occur in the brain. It stands to reason that alcohol recovery is also a gradual process with no set timeline.

While recovery from alcoholism can take weeks, months or even years, most people progress through six stages of change as they overcome an alcohol addiction. Understanding these stages, first described in the 1970s by psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, can help you better understand where you or someone you know is at in the recovery journey and what might be standing in the way.

Stage 1: Precontemplation

During this stage, people are experiencing the negative impacts of their alcohol addiction, but they have no intention of changing their behavior.

At this stage, defense mechanisms are in high gear, and people are reluctant to even acknowledge they have a problem. They may try to avoid the topic of their drinking or minimize the negative impacts of their alcohol use.

They may also rationalize, or make excuses, for their behavior. For example, they may say they are drinking a lot because they are stressed because of work. Or they could claim that it’s common to drink to relax and say that it’s no big deal.

Alcoholics may even lie and blame others, rather than their addiction, for their problems. They usually resent suggestions that they should seek help or change their behavior.

Others in the precontemplation stage may feel hopeless and helpless about their situation or overwhelmed by the energy required to make a change.

Sometimes people in this stage do show up for addiction treatment, but it’s not by their own volition. Typically, it’s because family, friends, an employer or perhaps a court has forced them into treatment. Unfortunately, treatment is often ineffective at this stage because individuals simply don’t believe they have a drinking problem. It’s unlikely that a person in this stage would even be interested in information about alcoholism.

Because people in the precontemplation stage are resistant to getting any kind of help for their alcohol addiction, it can be helpful for others to raise their awareness of the risks and problems associated with drinking.

Engaging in subtle and sympathetic conversations and getting alcoholics to explore the pros and cons of their own behavior, for example, can help to lay the groundwork for the second stage of recovery.

(Video) The Addiction Process and Stages of Recovery | Addiction Counselor Certification Training

Stage 2: Contemplation

By the time people reach the contemplation stage, they’ve begun to recognize they have a drinking problem and may want to get help, but they’re often on the fence about it.

Individuals may waffle back and forth between wanting and not wanting to change. Procrastination, or stalling, is common in this stage. They may decide, for instance, that they’re going to seek treatment sometime in the next six months but won’t set a definite date.

It’s also common for people in this stage to attempt to curb drinking on their own or to make plans to cut down on their alcohol intake.

People can remain stuck at this stage for a long time — knowing that they need to make a change but not feeling ready to act on it.

Doing a cost-benefit analysis to weigh the benefits of alcohol use against the cons and costs can sometimes help a person find clarity at this stage.

Contemplation can be an uncomfortable process, and feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness and desperation are common as people reach this crossroads in their addiction journey.

Once people in the contemplation stage shift away from just thinking about their alcohol problem and begin focusing on a solution, they’ll move toward stage three of recovery.

Stage 3: Preparation

At the preparation stage, alcoholics have decided to make a change, and they are planning to take meaningful steps toward recovery in the near future.

At this point, people are committed to change and are preparing to take action within the next several days or weeks. Although they are still drinking, they’ve likely begun telling friends and family members about their plan to change their behavior — but they may still feel some ambivalence about their choice.

While it may be tempting to rush into recovery at this point, experts actually caution against this sort of sudden action. In their book “Changing for Good,” psychologists James Prochaska, John Norcross and Carlo DiClemente warn that those who “cut short the preparation stage” are more likely to fail.

(Video) Stages of Change in Recovery from Addiction by Dr. Bob Weathers

A better bet is to use this time to develop a detailed action plan and identify strategies that will help them conquer their alcohol addiction. This might include examining the sort of lifestyle changes they’ll need to make or researching types of treatment and treatment facilities. This is a good time for setting goals — an activity that helps to strengthen their commitment to change.

Are you looking for help with an alcohol addiction?We tailor our treatment model around you to make sure you get the best possible care.Get Help Now

Stage 4: Action

In the action stage, people have chosen an approach to sobriety and they’re executing it.

For many alcoholics, the first step of this stage involves going through a detoxification, or alcohol detox, process. Because alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening, detoxing in a medically managed environment is advisable.

Once detox is complete, people can begin work on the psychological, social and behavioral problems that accompany an alcohol addiction. Many types of addiction treatment programs are available, including long-term residential treatment, short-term residential treatment, outpatient treatment programs, individualized counseling, group therapy and 12-step programs.

For many, the action stage is both physically and mentally taxing — and individuals at this stage face a risk of alcohol relapse. The action stage typically lasts from three to six months and sometimes as long as 18 months, but it does not mark the end of the recovery process.

Stage 5: Maintenance

After completing a program at a treatment center, recovering alcoholics move into the maintenance stage, which generally lasts from six months to several years or longer. At this point, the individual is enjoying the benefits of quitting alcohol while focusing on sustaining the achievements made in the action stage.

During this stage, the behaviors people learned during the action stage become second nature, and they develop new skills to help avoid relapse, such as adopting healthy coping strategies, avoiding triggers and identifying alcohol-free ways of having fun.

Prolonged abstinence along with healthy eating and exercise during this stage can also allow people to begin recovery from liver damage.

Stage 6: Termination

The sixth and final stage of recovery is termination. It’s also a somewhat controversial one. Theoretically, at this stage the addiction is conquered completely. The alcoholic is sober and has no cravings for alcohol, and there is no threat of relapse.

(Video) Addiction and Recovery: A How to Guide | Shawn Kingsbury | TEDxUIdaho

Many in the addiction arena, however, argue that alcohol addiction is a chronic disease that never completely goes away. They believe that the risk of relapse always remains and that the disease requires lifelong treatment.

Some people who achieve long-term sobriety continue to display the same impulsive and dysfunctional behaviors that they did when they were drinking. This is sometimes referred to as dry drunk behavior. Because dry drunks have a high risk of relapse, they are not in the termination phase.

The Cycle of Recovery from Alcoholism

While some alcoholics progress through the first five stages of recovery in a linear fashion, many do not. It’s more common for people to move back and forth through the stages of change as they tackle addiction.

Relapse is a common feature of substance use disorders, and it is more the rule than the exception. In fact, 40 to 60 percent of people recovering from substance addiction relapse at some point according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse — but this doesn’t mean their treatment has failed.

Approximately 15 percent of those who relapse regress to the precontemplation stage, and approximately 85 percent return to the contemplation stage before progressing to the preparation and action stages. Most people recovering from addiction will cycle through the stages of change three or four times before completing the cycle without a slip.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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    (Video) What are the Stages of Recovery?


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    What are the 5 phases of recovery? ›

    The five stages of addiction recovery are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.

    What are the 4 stages of recovery? ›

    You will go through four stages of recovery: treatment initiation, early abstinence, maintaining abstinence, and advanced recovery. These stages were created by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and have helped countless individuals recover from addiction.

    How long does it take my body to heal from alcohol? ›

    These findings suggest that the detrimental effects of alcohol on protein trafficking pathways occur rather rapidly (1 to 5 weeks) and that complete recovery is obtained within 7 days after cessation of alcohol consumption.

    Which is a step in the recovery from alcoholism? ›

    Precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination are the stages of change that determine the path of recovery from alcoholism. These stages take time, determination, and patience but will ultimately lead to a meaningful life that is not ruled by alcohol.

    What are the 3 R's of recovery? ›

    Simply put, you need to help your clients follow the three “R's” of recovery—refuel, rebuild and rehydrate. These are the cornerstones of post-workout and recovery nutrition.

    What are the three P's in recovery? ›

    3 “P's” for Recovery: Passion, Power and Purpose.

    What is the first rule of recovery? ›

    Rule 1: Change Your Life

    The most important rule of recovery is that a person does not achieve recovery by just not using. Recovery involves creating a new life in which it is easier to not use.

    What are the 6 principles of recovery? ›

    maximising choice • supporting positive risk-taking • the dignity of risk • medico-legal requirements • duty of care • promoting safety.

    What is the most important part of recovery? ›

    An important factor in the recovery process is the presence and involvement of people who believe in the person's ability to recover; who offer hope, support, and encouragement; and who also suggest strategies and resources for change.

    What does 3 weeks without alcohol do to your body? ›

    Overall benefits of three weeks without alcohol

    Clear skin. More energy. Improved gym performance. Reduced anxiety and improved mood.

    How do you know when your liver is healing? ›

    You will experience physical signs your liver is healing, such as healthier-looking skin and eyes, increased energy levels, and reduced stomach pain and swelling. Other signs your liver is healing include: Improved amino-acid regulation – Your liver processes proteins and amino acids that your body cannot store.

    How long does it take for brain chemistry to return to normal after alcohol? ›

    It takes at least two weeks for the brain to return to normal after drinking. Therefore, this is when the alcohol recovery timeline begins. It is less able to suppress a desire to drink until the brain has recovered. The reason for this is that alcohol has harmed the brain's cognitive function.

    What are the 5 pillars of sobriety? ›

    We are guided by empathy, integrity, kindness, compassion, community, self-reflection, and of course, the five pillars of sobriety: movement, connection, balance, process, and growth.

    What happens to an alcoholic's brain? ›

    Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes. Long-term heavy drinking causes alterations in the neurons, such as reductions in their size.

    What are four treatment methods for alcoholism? ›

    There are many effective, evidence-based treatment therapy options for alcoholism.
    MI incorporates four basic principles in therapy:
    • Expressing empathy.
    • Rolling with resistance.
    • Developing self-efficacy.
    • Developing discrepancy.
    Jan 3, 2023

    What to do for recovery days? ›

    Beyond the Sidelines
    1. Listen to Your Body. First things first, no one knows your body as well as you do. ...
    2. Get Adequate Sleep. Mental and physical rest is equally important when letting your body recover. ...
    3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. ...
    4. Eat Right. ...
    5. Stay Active. ...
    6. Stretch or Foam Roll.
    Jun 20, 2017

    What are the elements of recovery? ›

    Recovery embraces all aspects of life, including housing, employment, education, mental health and healthcare treatment and services, complementary and naturalistic services, addictions treatment, spirituality, creativity, social networks, community participation, and family supports as determined by the person.

    What are the three waste RS? ›

    In order to keep as much material out of the landfill as possible, it's important for each of us to do our part. One of the ways to put that plan into action is through the 3 Rs of waste management — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

    What is the Gorski method? ›

    This model allows individuals to identify and address early warning signs of relapse through the following nine steps: stabilization, assessment, relapse education, identifying warning signs, managing warning signs, recovery planning, inventory training, family involvement, and follow up.

    What are the 3 rules of addiction? ›

    The rules include:
    • Don't Trust.
    • Don't Feel.
    • Don't Talk.
    Dec 29, 2022

    What to do when trying to stay sober? ›

    Here are a few tips for staying sober if you're struggling to make it stick.
    1. Care for Your Mental Health.
    2. Work on Your Relationships with Friends and Family.
    3. Focus on Healthy Relationships.
    4. Learn How to Do Fun Things Alone.
    5. Find Ways to Cope if You Get Thrown off Your Schedule.
    6. Know What to Do If Your Old Triggers Reappear.
    May 7, 2022

    When is relapse most likely? ›

    A relapse is not being able to stay drug-free or sober over time. It can occur if you have a series of lapses close together or a lapse that leads to heavier drug or alcohol use over a longer period. It's most likely to happen a few months after you've quit using drugs or alcohol.

    What is the number one cause of relapse? ›

    High Levels of Stress. One of the most common relapse triggers which lead to addiction, stress is something that most everyone who has committed to recovery has to deal with. Everyone deals with stress. And, before treatment, you may have dealt with yours through the use of drugs or alcohol.

    What are the symptoms of relapse? ›

    Common warning signs of relapse include:
    • Glamorizing past drug or alcohol use.
    • A false sense of control over use.
    • Hanging around old people and places associated with past use.
    • Sudden changes in behavior.
    • Isolation.
    • Not going to meetings.
    • Not engaging in sober fun.
    • Doubting the recovery process.
    Feb 7, 2022

    What are the 4 things a recovery plan should include? ›

    What should a disaster recovery plan include?
    • Goals. ...
    • Personnel. ...
    • IT inventory. ...
    • Backup procedures. ...
    • Disaster recovery procedures. ...
    • Disaster recovery sites. ...
    • Restoration procedures.

    What does the 12 steps of recovery mean? ›

    The 12 Steps outline a path to spiritual progress through a series of actions designed to elicit what The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to as a “psychic change” – a complete mental, emotional, and spiritual shift in perception. We believe the 12 Steps can be a critical element of a long-term recovery program.

    What are the 10 guiding principles of recovery? ›

    What Are the 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery?
    • Self Directed.
    • Self-Centered.
    • Empowering.
    • Full-Picture.
    • Realistic.
    • Strengths-Based.
    • Peer Support.
    • Respect.
    Apr 2, 2021

    Why is recovery so hard? ›

    Recovery is difficult because you have to change your life, and all change is difficult, even good change. Recovery is rewarding because you get the chance to change your life. Most people sleepwalk through life.

    What are some behaviors that may lead to relapse? ›

    Top 10 Things That Trigger Relapse
    • Social pressure. Hanging around with your old party buddies or drinking crew makes it easy for you to fall back into those destructive habits. ...
    • Isolation. ...
    • Being around addictive substances. ...
    • Untreated mental illness. ...
    • Giving up on treatment. ...
    • Sleep deprivation. ...
    • Nostalgia. ...
    • Boredom.
    Feb 20, 2017

    In which phase of rehab is rest and pain control most important? ›

    The Recovery Stage

    It's important to rest and prevent aggravating the injury as best as possible. This may include keeping weight or pressure off of the injured area or protecting the injury with a cast or sling.

    What happens on day 4 of no alcohol? ›

    However, by day 4 without alcohol, most people will have got beyond any initial withdrawal symptoms. All the alcohol will have left your system by now, and your body will begin to bounce back. If you're not as focused on alcohol, you may be eating better, drinking water, moving more, and perhaps sleeping more deeply.

    What does a month off alcohol do? ›

    Booze suppresses your body's immune system, so when you're free and clear of it for a few weeks you'll notice that you are less likely to succumb to every little cold virus that hits the office, and even if you do come down with something, your recovery time will be reduced. There. Hope you're feeling better already.

    What does 30 days no alcohol do? ›

    Cutting out alcohol for 30 days or more can lead to a "reduction in things like joint pain, headaches, and body aches," Scheller says. In fact, alcohol use can actually cause arthritis by increasing inflammation in your joints. Plus, alcohol can dehydrate you, contributing to the headaches.

    How do I know if my liver is detoxing? ›

    10 Signs Your Liver is Detoxing
    1. Nausea.
    2. Vomiting.
    3. Anxiety.
    4. Tremors.
    5. Headache.
    6. Confusion.
    7. Insomnia.
    8. Restlessness.
    Jun 22, 2021

    What can I drink to flush my liver? ›

    8 Great Bedtime Beverages for Detoxification
    1. Chamomile Tea. This tea is mildly bitter due to its sesquiterpene lactone content which helps the liver prime its detoxification pathways. ...
    2. Lemon Water. ...
    3. Jujube Fruit. ...
    4. Lotus Seed. ...
    5. Rose Tea. ...
    6. Peppermint Tea. ...
    7. Oat Tea. ...
    8. Schizandra Berry Tea.

    How long does it take to detox liver? ›

    According to the American Addiction Center, it may take your liver over 1 week to completely detox from alcohol, and detox symptoms may last beyond that. Studies have found that after you stop drinking, alcohol can stay in your: Blood for up to 6 hours. Breath for 12-24 hours.

    Can your brain recover after years of drinking? ›

    Recovery of brain function is certainly possible after abstinence, and will naturally occur in some domains, but complete recovery may be harder in other areas.

    How do you know if you have permanent brain damage from alcohol? ›

    Repeated blackouts, a clear sign of excessive drinking, can result in permanent damage that inhibits the brain from retaining new memories. For example, an individual may be able to recall past events with perfect clarity but not remember having the conversation a few hours later.

    Can you rewire your brain from alcohol? ›

    Once brain cells die, the effect of the brain damage is permanent. Thankfully, some of the changes in the alcoholic brain are due to cells simply changing size in the brain. Once an alcoholic has stopped drinking, these cells return to their normal volume, showing that some alcohol-related brain damage is reversible.

    What are the big milestones in sobriety? ›

    What Are Some of the Key Sobriety Milestones?
    • 24 hours sober – a white or silver chip.
    • 30 days sober – a red chip.
    • 60 days sober – a gold chip.
    • 90 days sober – a green chip.
    • 4 months sober – a purple chip.
    • 5 months sober – a pink chip.
    • 6 months sober – a dark blue chip.
    • 7 months sober – a copper chip.
    Apr 27, 2022

    What is the most important step to prevent relapse? ›

    By implementing physical exercise and a balanced diet, one can improve their quality of sleep. This can be done by setting up and following a structured sleep, exercise, and eating schedule. By doing this, one can retrain the body to sleep better and will also help reduce the risk of relapse.

    What are the 3 P's in AA? ›

    Prepare, prepare, prepare. These are the three P's of introducing.

    What are some behavioral characteristics of an alcoholic? ›

    Recognizing the Most Common Characteristics of an Alcoholic
    • Prioritizing Alcohol.
    • Placing Blame on Others.
    • Making Frequent Excuses.
    • Drinking Uncontrollably.
    • Struggling Financially.
    • Shifting Priorities.
    • Behaving Recklessly.
    Dec 21, 2021

    What happens to an alcoholic's body over time? ›

    Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

    What part of the brain can be permanently damaged by alcohol? ›

    The cerebellum, an area of the brain responsible for coordinating movement and perhaps even some forms of learning, appears to be particularly sensitive to the effects of thiamine deficiency and is the region most frequently damaged in association with chronic alcohol consumption.

    What drug is commonly used to treat alcoholics? ›

    Three medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat alcohol use disorder: acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone. Acamprosate and naltrexone reduce alcohol consumption and increase abstinence rates, although the effects appear to be modest.

    Can a doctor tell if you drink alcohol? ›

    The short answer is yes: blood testing can show heavy alcohol use. However, timing plays a significant role in the accuracy of blood alcohol testing. In a typical situation, blood alcohol tests are only accurate six to 12 hours after someone consumes their last beverage.

    Which is considered the most effective treatment for alcoholism? ›

    AA shines. Most of the studies that measured abstinence found AA was significantly better than other interventions or no intervention. In one study, it was found to be 60% more effective.

    What are the 5 principles of mental health recovery? ›

    However, central to all recovery paradigms are hope, self-determination, self-management, empowerment and advocacy.

    What are the five key elements in recovery strategy? ›

    Typical elements in a disaster recovery plan include the following:
    • Create a disaster recovery team. ...
    • Identify and assess disaster risks. ...
    • Determine critical applications, documents, and resources. ...
    • Determine critical applications, documents, and resources. ...
    • Specify backup and off-site storage procedures.

    What are the 6 steps to recovery? ›

    According to The Developmental Model of Recovery (DMR) developed by Terence Gorski, there are six stages people go through during recovery: transition, stabilization, early recovery, middle recovery, late recovery, and maintenance.

    What are the 5 phases of life? ›

    There are 5 main stages of life—here's what to do at every age to 'minimize your regrets,' says life coach
    • The Dreamer Stage. From birth to age 18. ...
    • The Explorer Stage. From ages 18 to 36. ...
    • The Builder Stage. From ages 36 to 54. ...
    • The Mentor Stage. From ages 54 to 72. ...
    • The Giver Stage. From ages 72 to 90.
    Jan 20, 2022

    What is the first step of healing? ›

    The first stage of wound healing is for the body to stop the bleeding. This is called hemostasis or clotting and it occurs within seconds to minutes after you suffer a wound. During this phase the body activates its emergency repair system to form a dam to block the drainage and prevent too much blood loss.

    What is a recovery process? ›

    Recovery is a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. Even people with severe and chronic substance use disorders can, with help, overcome their illness and regain health and social function.

    What are the 4 P's in mental health? ›

    The four “Ps” of case formulation (predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating, and protective factors) also provide a useful framework for organizing the factors that may contribute to the development of anticipatory distress (Barker, 1988; Carr, 1999; Winters, Hanson, & Stoyanova, 2007).


    1. Alcohol Dependence & Withdrawal
    (Dr Matt & Dr Mike)
    2. Laura’s Story of Recovery from Alcoholism
    (Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation)
    3. Alcohol Addiction: How To Detox & Begin Recovery | Stanford
    (Stanford Center for Health Education)
    4. Rewriting The Story Of My Addiction | Jo Harvey Weatherford | TEDxUniversityofNevada
    (TEDx Talks)
    5. Ben Affleck on depression, addiction and how sobriety has made him happier | Nightline
    (ABC News)
    6. Russell Brand REVEALS The 3 Steps To RECOVERY & OVERCOMING ADDICTION | Commune
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