Choosing sobriety is an incredible step towards living a healthier and happier life. And while sobriety is a life-long journey, the first year sober is often among the most pivotal. This is because experts say that it takes approximately one year for your brain and body to fully heal from the effects of alcohol and adjust to an alcohol-free lifestyle. This year of healing is usually both challenging and incredibly rewarding. While no two journey’s look the same, here are some common patterns that you might expect in your first year of sobriety.
What Happens in Your First Year of Sobriety
You’ll likely encounter many physical and mental changes during your first year of sobriety. Many of these changes will provide motivation and relief, while others can be unsettling and uncomfortable. In the more challenging moments, it’s important to remember that your body is recovering, and that discomfort is often a sign of growth. It’s also important to remember to take it one day at a time, and know that while there will be ups and downs along the way, you are doing something incredibly admirable.
30 Days Sober
The first 30 days of sobriety can be especially challenging. Getting through this initial stage can be a very rewarding experience both physically and emotionally. The following are a few of the changes you might experience within the first 30 days without alcohol.
Manage physical discomfort
The first 30 days of sobriety can be especially challenging. Many people experience mild acute withdrawal symptoms when they first cut back on alcohol, which can can result in uncomfortable physical side effects including:
- Sleep disruptions
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
While these uncomfortable symptoms are typically most intense during the first several days, it’s also normal for symptoms to continue after one week sober and into the first several weeks or months of sobriety. This is a common condition called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), and symptoms will improve over time. For more information on PAWS, you can read more about the alcohol recovery timeline.
While most people experience mild withdrawal symptoms, others may be at risk for more severe withdrawal effects, with symptoms such as hallucinations, seizures, and alcohol shakes and tremors. Given the dangerous, and even deadly, potential consequences of acute alcohol withdrawal, it’s vital you speak with a physician before quitting alcohol cold turkey or significantly cutting back to ensure you do so safely.
If you believe you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal syndrome, please contact your provider immediately and visit https://findtreatment.gov/ to find a location to get supervised alcohol detox near you. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.
Address mental and lifestyle changes
In addition to the physical symptoms, it’s common to experience psychological withdrawal symptoms in the first thirty days without alcohol. Some of these symptoms might include:
- Intense cravings
- Mood swings
- Obsessive thoughts
Many of these symptoms occur because the brain can develop a “chemical romance” with alcohol after extended use. These challenges are only temporary as your brain regains its natural balance and heals from alcohol. This includes regulating your hormones, and ‘happiness chemicals’ such as dopamine.
In addition to mental health challenges, it can also be tough navigating social situations while sober for the first time, and filling your newfound free time that used to be spent drinking. This is where reaching out for additional support can make a huge difference. Working with a therapist in online alcohol therapy can help you manage negative thoughts, build healthier coping mechanisms, and navigate social situations without drinking.
Explore your treatment and support options
One of the most important things you can do in the first 30 days of your sobriety journey is to build what’s called a “sobriety toolkit.” This may include evidence-based treatment options like medication to stop drinking and specialized alcohol therapy. It may also mean attending alcohol support groups, joining online communities, exploring books and sobriety podcasts, or getting involved with your local sobriety community. There are many people navigating these same challenges, and you don’t have to do it alone. There are lots of resources out there, and experts recommend engaging with as many tools as possible for the greatest chance of success.
90 Days Sober
By the three-month mark in your sobriety journey, you’ll have likely gotten through the worst of your physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms and will start to experience better sleep, reduced anxiety, and other benefits of sobriety. You might also find yourself grieving the relationship you had with alcohol. It’s not uncommon at this stage to struggle with anger, resentment, and other complex emotions such as shame or guilt. These feelings are normal, and working through them with acceptance and self-compassion is often part of the sobriety journey. Talking with a therapist can be especially helpful for processing these feelings.
By 90 days, you will also likely be in the process of developing new routines. You may pick up new hobbies, and find yourself building stronger connections with friends and family. On the other hand, new challenges may appear, such as being around alcohol at holidays and major life events. If a new trigger arises or setback occurs, you can always reach out to your support network for extra encouragement and accountability.
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6 Months Sober
The six-month mark of sobriety is often an especially empowering milestone. By the time you reach six months of sobriety, you’ll likely feel more confident in your sobriety, and it may not take up as much work and energy to say no to alcohol. Around this time, you might have a better understanding of the reasons why you drank. Did you drink to unwind after a long week at work because of job stress? Were you drinking to avoid tackling real problems within your family? Did you use alcohol as a way of self-medicating? By working to understand your triggers, you can be better prepared to manage alcohol cravings, and also meaningfully address any underlying issues or co-occurring mental health conditions.
Six months is an accomplishment to be incredibly proud of. At the same time, it’s also a period when people may become complacent in their sobriety, and less engaged in their sobriety toolkit. This can make it more likely for setbacks to occur in light of triggers. While it’s important to celebrate progress, it’s equally as important to continue on the path that’s been working for you. Engaging in therapy or support groups can be especially helpful at this time. These resources can provide techniques to help you stay engaged in your sobriety journey.
One Year Sober
One year of sobriety is a monumental milestone. It’s a reminder of the effort you’ve made to choose sobriety for the past 365 days. Statistically, most people are much more likely to remain sober after reaching this anniversary.
After one year, you may find yourself needing to engage with fewer tools on a daily basis. For example, you may reduce the frequency of your therapy appointments, or feel the need to check in with a support group less often. It’s important to move at your own speed, and remember that as long as a treatment method is working for you, it’s reasonable to stick with it. Continuing to attend support groups and stay engaged in sobriety communities can also help you stay in touch with your ‘why’, and even inspire others along their journey.
Changes in the First Year of Sobriety
One of the greatest rewards of sobriety is feeling physically better and healthier. Without alcohol in your life, you’ll get better sleep, and wake up without a hangover. This can lead to more energy and productivity. You’ll also experience long-term improvements in your health and reduced risk of alcohol-related conditions, like heart and liver complications. Alcohol can also increase your risk of various cancers, particularly gastrointestinal ones, and cutting back can reduce that risk. By giving up alcohol, you will give your body a chance to heal.
Mental and Emotional Changes
Another important change is in your mental and emotional health. Before becoming sober, many people spend a lot of their time drinking or thinking about drinking. When they remove alcohol from the equation, they’re found with more time to invest in hobbies, work, self-care, and relationships. However, it’s also common to experience the ‘early recovery identity crisis,’ which describes figuring out who you are without alcohol. Given how alcohol and mental health conditions interact, it’s also common to experience decreased levels of depression and anxiety in sobriety. Learning how to process uncomfortable feelings without drinking will better equip you for life’s challenges, and improve your overall health and wellness.
A third important change to think about is how your sobriety journey will impact your relationship with partners, friends, and family. With frequent alcohol consumption, it’s possible to develop a “chemical romance” with alcohol, which can make it challenging to have healthy relationships with others. By choosing sobriety, you may see an improvement in the strength of your relationships with your partner, child(ren), friends, and beyond.
While most people will be excited to support you on your journey, you may also encounter some negative reactions. For example, if you had friendships that were based around drinking, you might find yourself isolated from those individuals. It’s important to remember that the reactions of others say more about their own relationship with alcohol than they do about you and your choices. Trying out new sober activities and joining sober communities can help you create meaningful relationships with those who share similar interests and values.
Finally, you may see a change in your work life. When drinking, it can be a struggle to maintain a routine, especially when dealing with regular hangovers. The good news is that sobriety will likely make you more efficient and effective at work. Depending on your workplace and your relationships with your boss and co-workers, you may choose to share your sobriety journey with them, or decide to keep this journey personal and private.
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Benefits of Quitting Drinking
While many of the benefits of quitting drinking were highlighted above, there are others to consider as well. One benefit that many people notice is that their skin looks healthier and renewed. This is primarily due to the fact that alcohol can be dehydrating. Another perk is that many people notice their physical fitness improve once they give up alcohol. This is because alcohol, especially beer, is filled with a lot of empty calories that have no nutritional benefits. Sobriety also leads to better sleep. Many people who were previously struggling with insomnia see that they can sleep through the night when they cut out alcohol.
Many people are also surprised by how much money they save by adopting an alcohol-free lifestyle. These extra funds can be put towards retirement, travel, or other investments. Sobriety also has other psychological and social benefits. Many sober people report a boost in self-esteem and self-confidence, and improved mental clarity. Sobriety also improves your problem-solving and critical thinking skills as your brain heals from the damage brought on by drinking.
Challenges of Maintaining Long-term Sobriety
After one year sober, it typically becomes easier to maintain long-term sobriety. That said, it’s still common to experience challenges and setbacks over time. It’s important to remember that a setback doesn’t erase your progress. You can still achieve long-term sobriety without a 100% success rate. Below, we highlight three of the most common long-term sobriety challenges:
- Becoming disconnected from your goal. Some people decide to explore moderation after a year of sobriety. While there’s nothing wrong with changing your goals, some people find that moderation is not achievable for them, and this can lead back to unhealthy drinking habits. If you’re looking to revisit your goal, we recommend doing so with the guidance of a Care Team.
- Losing touch with your sobriety toolkit. It can be challenging to maintain your sobriety without a support network. Some people stop attending support groups or therapy because of financial constraints, or other barriers. Finding accessible ways to stay engaged can help prevent setbacks, such as free therapist-moderated alcohol support groups.
- Encountering other life challenges. Life is unpredictable, and navigating major life events and difficulties, such as grief, can challenge even long-term sobriety. That’s why it’s important to continue practicing self-care and have tools ready to help cope with unexpected triggers in a healthy way.
How to Celebrate One Year of Sobriety
Celebrating your sobriety is a crucial (and fun!) part of nurturing it, and milestones can be especially motivating. There are many different ways to celebrate one year of sobriety. Often, people choose to celebrate with a quiet day of reflection where they can think about their lessons and experiences over the past year. If you keep a journal, you might want to devote some time to reading it and seeing how far you’ve come. Some other people choose to make their anniversary a day of service to the community. For example, you might decide to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food pantry.
Another great way to celebrate your anniversary is by planning a special day with friends, family members, and others in your support network. These people play an integral role in getting you to where you are, and celebrating with them can be very special. You can host an alcohol-free cocktail tasting, take a special trip, or go out to dinner together. Sobriety gives you the freedom to create your own unique celebratory rituals and traditions.
No matter what you decide, one year of sobriety is something to be incredibly proud of. Plus, you don’t have to wait for one year to commemorate. You can choose to celebrate your sobriety everyday.
Whether you are just beginning your sobriety journey, or are on your way to achieving one year of sobriety, working to create a healthier relationship with alcohol is an amazing act of self-care. One of the best steps you can take is to create a support team to help get through the lows and celebrate the highs with. At Monument, we connect you with a Care Team who can create a personalized treatment plan for you and your goals and needs. We’re here for you.
- Psychology Today. “How Often Do Long-Term Sober Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/craving/201402/how-often-do-long-term-sober-alcoholics-and-addicts-relapse.” Accessed Jun, 20. 2022.
- Alcohol Research. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513687/.” Accessed Jun, 20. 2022.
- Alcohol Health Res World. “Recovery of Cognitive Functioning in Alcoholics, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6875729/.” Accessed Jun, 20. 2022.