Health Benefits of Sobriety: Timeline

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Detox and rehab are generally thought of as necessary evils—things which must be endured to escape the prison of addiction. Alcoholics tend to focus on what they are giving up instead of the real gains. But anyone who has been through the process will testify how amazingly great one feels as "sober time" builds up.

It’s easy to forget how life was before feeling normal included a drink or a drug. But let’s see the sobriety timeline and what promise it holds.

Early on

It starts with the loss of anxiety and fear that comes with wondering how long you can maintain a drinking lifestyle. That’s gone. And no more waking up with a killer hangover, foggy head and a quick look for some of the hair of the dog. Along with this, you remember what happened last night and don’t wake up next to a stranger.

The shame goes away. The guilt and the hiding is gone. These are replaced with a sense of purpose and responsibility. It feels good.

Suddenly, there’s time. Time for a leisurely dinner out or a movie in. Time for a walk. Food tastes better. Within a week or two, improved sleep habits and better nutrition help clear the mind and give you a sense of renewed energy.

Expect to see improved:

  • - Sleep patterns, without insomnia or next-day dozing (and the “morning shakes” go away)
  • - Appetite
  • - Mental clarity and the feeling of participating in your own life
  • - Coordination
  • - Skin color–no more bloodshot eyes or blotchy skin
  • - Stomach problems

The first months to a year

By maintaining sobriety, you will continue to improve, not as dramatically but certainly in a positive direction. Often, the changes are subtle until pointed out by loved ones. In their eyes, the changes in you can seem truly transformational.

Weight loss, either through exercise or just moving more (less time on the couch or bar stool) starts to pay benefits. The mid-term sober have more energy than they sometimes know what to do with. Now’s the time to take up an outdoor hobby, like cycling, jogging or just walking. The fresh air and sunshine really do feel great now that you can appreciate them.

Many find themselves making new plans and taking on new goals. The world is once again full of opportunities. Relationships start to improve. This comes as your loved ones begin to believe in your sobriety as much as you do.

On the health front, expect an overall improvement in hygiene and vitality. Your appearance will improve as you lose pallor, take on a healthier aspect and firm up. As a side benefit, there’s more money on hand to spend on a gym membership or more nutritional food.

Gradually, over the first year, you will start to gain back the trust you lost with family members and employers. Life gets interesting again and you’ll wonder just what you were running from when the bottle called.

Over the first year, you can expect:

  • - Lessened depression and anxiety
  • - Improved libido
  • - Better memory
  • - Lessened number and depth of mood swings
  • - Improved blood pressure
  • - Secondary diabetes risk lowered and may even be prevented

Long-term

Over the long haul, those who stay sober will have improvements in their heart and liver function with some of the previous damage undone. With exercise, heart disease risk can fall back to a normal level. Kidney damage is also halted.

Alcohol is no longer seen as a remedy for anything. Even a crisis doesn’t immediately trigger the urge to drink. By now, other people in your life interact with you as a non-drinker. New friends may not even know you once were an untrustworthy sot.

Your health has stabilized and is no longer driven by alcohol either way. Long-term improvements will depend on factors other than alcohol consumption. Those that remained “in the bottle” continued down the road to liver destruction, heart disease and an early death. With care and continued sobriety, all of that can be avoided.

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