Recovery from an alcohol use disorder takes effort, time, willpower, and support. When you choose a professional alcohol and drug treatment program, you begin a journey through four different stages of rehab recovery as you learn to develop a healthy and sober lifestyle.
The four treatment levels are:
- Start treatment
- Early abstinence
- Maintain abstinence
- Advanced recovery
These stages were developed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a resource for individual drug counseling for health care providers, but are also a useful model for recovery from alcohol addiction..In this model, recovery is a lifelong process.
Stage 1: start of treatment
When you turn to a professional alcohol and drug rehab program, you begin the first phase of your recovery, the beginning of treatment.
Whether you seek help voluntarily or are forced to go to rehab because of the circumstances, your recovery process begins with a professional treatment program.
In the early hours and days of your rehab, you are likely to have ambivalent feelings about permanently giving up your drug of choice, and you may think that your drug problem is not as bad as anyone else’s. Be careful with this setting. Ambivalence and denial can be your worst enemies in the first few days of your recovery...
At this point in treatment, the goal is to help the individual decide to actively participate in treatment and to accept that abstinence is the goal..To do this, a substance abuse counselor can help the individual to:
- Look at the harmful effects of addiction
- Explore the feeling of denial about the problem
- Help the person become motivated to recover
During this phase of treatment, a person’s history of alcohol and drug use will be recorded, the treatment program will be established, and the counselor will work with the person to develop a personalized treatment plan.
Stage 2: early abstinence
Once you have committed to continuing treatment for your substance abuse problem, you will enter the second phase of rehab, known as early abstinence. Early abstinence from alcohol is significantly associated with positive treatment outcomes..This can be the most difficult phase due to many factors including:
- Persistent withdrawal symptoms
- Physical desire
- Psychological addiction
- Triggers That Can Make You Relapse
Challenges at this stage of treatment include food cravings, social pressures to drink, and high risk situations that can trigger alcohol use. During this early phase of abstinence, your trained addiction counselor will begin teaching you the coping skills you need to lead a sober lifestyle. The tools you will learn now will help you through your recovery.
Early abstinence issues that are being worked on at this point of treatment, including learning about the physical and psychological aspects of withdrawal, learning to identify triggers for alcohol use, and how to deal with alcohol cravings without drinking alcohol.
Some strategies that can be helpful are:..
- Encourage participation in healthy activities
- Look for alternative behaviors to get involved instead of turning to alcohol
- Participation in self-help groups that offer support and information
- Identifying environmental triggers that lead to food cravings, including people, places, and things
Level 3: maintaining abstinence
After approximately 90 days of continuous abstinence, you will switch from the early abstinence phase of recovery to the third phase, whereby the abstinence is maintained. If you have started an inpatient treatment program, switch to the phase of continuation or aftercare of your rehab program on an outpatient basis.
Obviously, a focus of this rehab phase is maintaining abstinence by avoiding relapse. You will learn the warning signs and the steps that can lead to a relapse.
At this stage of your rehabilitation, too, you will learn to use the tools you learned in early abstinence in other areas of your life so that you can continue to lead a genuinely sober lifestyle. You will find that your future quality of life depends on more than just not using it.
You will learn new coping skills and tools that will help you:
- Avoid replacing addiction
- Build healthy relationships
- Develop a drug-free lifestyle
- Learn employment and money management skills
- Manage anger
- Make use of exercise and diet
The period of maintaining abstinence in rehab begins approximately three months after you start your rehabilitation program and lasts until you are clean and sober for approximately five years. At this point, aftercare counseling usually ends.
Stage 4: Advanced Recovery
After about five years of abstinence, you will reach the fourth and final stage of your rehab: advanced recovery. At this point, you are taking all of the tools and skills you learned during your rehab counseling and using them to help you live a satisfying and fulfilling life.
Some of the strategies that can help at this point include:
- Create long-term goals
- Establishing a uniform daily schedule
- Build social relationships with people who don’t drink..
- Participation in recreational activities without alcohol
- Find ways to go beyond yourself to seek happiness and fulfillment, whether it’s religion, spirituality, community work, or social activism
As you learn to implement these strategies, not only will you stay sober, but you will also have the skills to become a healthier person, a better spouse and parent, a productive member of society, and a good neighbor and citizen. Recovery is much more than just staying sober. It learns to live happier and healthier lives.
A word from Verywell
Treatment and recovery from alcohol is a lifelong process that requires commitment and change in many aspects of a person’s life. These four levels of treatment can help people with alcohol use disorders learn the benefits of recovery, find the motivation to change their behavior, and learn new skills that will help them achieve long-term success.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Agency (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-4357 Information about support and treatment facilities in your area.
Additional mental health resources can be found in our National Helpline Database.