Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

Excessive use of alcohol and other drugs changes an individual’s brain structure and function over time. As a result, an individual can expect to experience problems in their thought-processing, emotional regulation and daily behaviors. Although various factors can impact the severity of the consequences of substance use, substance use undoubtedly takes a toll on one’s overall well-being.

Whether you are considering getting clean or are on the recovery path, you may wonder what changes you may experience once you get sober. There is no set timeline for sobriety; however, preparing for various stages can help you to set achievable goals throughout treatment and recovery.

The Stages of Recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMSHA) brochure titled “The Next Step Toward a Better Life” explains that recovery is a process that happens in stages. Unsurprisingly, the first stage involves a huge life adjustment as your body and mind learn to function without the interference of substances. This process can take four weeks or more, depending on the severity of your substance-using habits.

Factors That Influence Recovery

Some factors that can influence the duration and intensity of problems in this stage include:

  • What substance or substances you were using (ex. just one substance or multiple substances together in tandem)
  • How frequently you used these substances (ex. several times a day vs. only at night vs. a few times a week)
  • The intensity of your substance use (ex. binge drug use vs. moderate drug use)
  • Method of administration of substance use (ex. inhaling vs. intravenous)
  • The presence of co-occurring conditions (ex. using substances to self-medicate symptoms of untreated depression)

It is important to understand that the above factors can intersect. Still, each factor by itself can play a major role in your recovery timeline. For example, if you are recovering from methamphetamine or cocaine, your brain and body may require several months to adjust to sobriety.

Effectively Recovering from Substance Use Disorder

Contrary to what many may believe, substance use disorder (SUD) requires professional treatment to overcome. This does not mean that individuals with mild symptoms of addiction cannot recover on their own. However, SUD is characterized by distinct and complex changes in the brain. While many individuals may be able to achieve initial sobriety on their own, it’s difficult to learn healthy strategies for staying sober without professional help.

The First 30 Days of Sobriety

Alcohol and drug use compromise your thinking which has, in turn, affect your emotions and behavior. The first necessary step toward recovery is detoxing your body from the remnants of substances. Medically-assisted detox offers the professional assistance and environmental comfort you need to initially achieve sobriety.

You can expect to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, cravings and urges as you work through detox. While medications may be administered during detox to help ease your discomfort, these symptoms do not usually disappear after detox is completed. Detox only helps calm the initial, severe withdrawals that put you at high risk for relapse. Remember that with each urge and craving that you work through, you are proactively reversing the damaging changes to your brain that occurred from chronic substance use.

It’s always best to begin a treatment program after you complete detox. Since SUD is an all-encompassing condition, you must work through physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of recovery throughout treatment. You can expect to discover and overcome the underlying causes of your substance use during your treatment program.

Addressing Potential Physical and Psychological Changes

As your body and mind heal, you may experience a variety of physical and psychological changes. Again, the intensity and duration of these changes may depend on the substance use factors mentioned previously. Examples of such changes may include, but are not limited to:

Physical Changes

  • Weight changes: Substance use can influence both weight loss and weight gain. You can expect to experience changes to your body as you get healthy again.
  • Changes in energy: Depending on the day, you may feel more sluggish and fatigued or you may feel more active. Experiencing changes in energy is normal.
  • Changes in appetite: You may also experience changes in your appetite as you become sober. Remember to fuel your body with healthy nutrients to be proactive in your healing.

Psychological Changes

  • Impaired concentration: Your ability to concentrate will likely be lowered for quite some time during the initial stages of sobriety.
  • Insomnia and other sleep issues: Sleep can be affected by many factors, but especially substance use. You can expect to experience some issues with your sleep patterns as you establish sobriety.
  • Mood swings: Some days, you may feel more irritable and angry, while other days, you may feel on top of the world. Understand that these mood swings are normal. Use mindfulness to help better regulate your moods.

Expectations of Changes for Long-Term Addiction Recovery

It is important to understand that recovery is established by participating in long-term, continuing care. Although some of the most significant changes you will experience may happen during the first few weeks or months of sobriety, other changes can happen throughout long-term recovery.

For example, once you have established your sobriety, you may experience:

  • Positive changes in your interpersonal relationships
  • Improved motivation
  • The ability to set and achieve realistic goals
  • Improved decision-making abilities
  • Confidence in your ability to spot and stop a relapse
  • Financial stability
  • Improved thinking patterns
  • Reduced cravings and better ability to manage triggers
  • Improved emotional regulation

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a premier drug and alcohol treatment center that understands how daunting it can be to step onto the unknown path of recovery. We are here to walk with you every step of the way. We can help you better understand what to expect as you work on sustaining your sobriety. Call us today at (877) 557-5372 to learn more.