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What Are the 6 Stages of Alcohol Recovery?

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

Recovery from alcohol addiction doesn’t happen overnight; there are six distinct stages of alcohol recovery

We’ll cover the stages of change that you’ll go through on your journey and highlight how you can maximize your chances of kicking substance abuse.

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If you’re struggling with alcoholism, our alcohol addiction treatment center can help. Our caring and supportive staff can support you through all six stages of recovery, from alcohol detox all the way to freedom from alcohol addiction. 

How Can I Tell If I Have An Alcohol Addiction?

The first step to recovery is admitting to an alcohol addiction problem and seeking help. You’re already doing that by reading this article.

Here are some signs that your drinking habits could qualify as alcohol abuse:

  • Drinking alone frequently
  • Hiding or lying about how much you drink
  • Needing to drink to relax or feel confident
  • Thinking about drinking often
  • Feeling irritated or uneasy when you can’t drink, major mood swings
  • Having trouble limiting how much you drink
  • Continuing to drink even though it causes problems
  • Giving up activities you once enjoyed in order to drink
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating, or anxiety when you stop drinking
  • Not remembering what happened when drinking heavily
  • Making excuses for your drinking or doing things you regret due to alcohol
  • Struggling to meet commitments due to alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences for your health, relationships with your loved ones, your job etc.

If you abuse alcohol or are addicted to alcohol, consider a qualified alcohol rehab to guide you through the stages of alcohol recovery. It’s much easier than doing it on your own.

Contact us to learn more about our caring rehab center in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains of Provo, Utah.

What are the Stages of Alcoholism Recovery?

There are six distinct stages that every alcoholic passes through on their way to recovery. 

  1. Pre-contemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance
  6. Termination

Relapse is a common experience, so if you fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. Climb back on and get the support you need.


Precontemplation is the first stage of alcohol recovery. At this stage, people don’t yet have the desire to change. They are rationalizing, denying, and hiding their abusive behavior, although they are currently experiencing the negative impact of their addiction. 

Those in the precontemplation stage do not seek treatment on their own, and if they are forced into treatment by a loved one, they are typically unsuccessful because they do not yet believe that they have an addiction. 

If you have a loved one in this stage, you can pave the way for them to enter the next stage by facilitating a non-confrontational conversation about the pros and cons of their current drinking habits. 


Those in the contemplation stage of recovery have begun to recognize that they may have a problem but are still non-committal about seeking treatment. People may try to curb their alcohol addiction on their own during this stage and put off acquiring professional treatment. 

It’s easy for people to get stuck in the contemplation stage, where they know they need to make a change but just aren’t ready to. Once a person has gone through the uncomfortable process of confronting their addiction and begins to seek out a solution, they will move toward the preparation stage.


In the preparation stage, an alcoholic has confronted their addiction and is now ready to make meaningful plans to seek treatment in the near future. The alcoholic may begin to tell friends and family about their plans to change, although they are still drinking. 

If you have an addict in your life, help them build a detailed and practical plan of lifestyle changes, treatment program options, and behavioral therapy options that will help set them up for long-term success. Although it may be tempting for addicts to quit cold turkey, research has shown that those who spend more time in the preparation stage of recovery are more likely to have sustainable success. 


During the action stage, the plan put together in the preparation stage is now being executed. People typically detox and go through withdrawal at this stage. 

Alcohol withdrawal can take some time and is potentially life-threatening, so it is advised to detox somewhere with medical supervision, like a treatment center. Depending on the severity of your addiction, the following withdrawal symptoms can manifest when you quit alcohol.

  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

This stage is uncomfortable, mentally and physically taxing, and even painful at times. The action stage can last anywhere from 3 to 18 months, and there is a high risk of relapse during this time. 

For the first part of the action stage, we recommend you seek the support of a qualified alcohol detox and rehab facility. 

You can initially benefit from our inpatient program, which helps you overcome your withdrawal symptoms and teaches you healthy coping strategies to deal with alcohol cravings. After completing the inpatient portion, you can continue on the road to recovery with our intensive outpatient program.


Recovering alcoholics enter the maintenance stage, which can last anywhere from six months to years. 

Someone in the maintenance stage is maintaining the good habits they learned in the action stage while continually learning new sobriety techniques and coping skills. They are enjoying the benefits of their newfound sobriety while taking steps to maintain it in the long term. 

At this stage, they can also begin healing liver damage with diet and exercise. They attempt to reverse the effects of their previous drinking in as many ways as possible, from health to social relationships to earning potential.


Termination is the final and most controversial stage in alcohol recovery. At this stage, some believe that the alcoholic has recovered from their addiction and no longer has cravings for alcohol, whereas others believe that alcoholism is a lifelong disease that you can never fully recover from.


Addiction is like any other chronic illness: once you stop your treatment, you are likely to relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60 percent of people recovering from alcohol addiction will relapse at some point, but that doesn’t mean that their efforts were in vain. 

Most commonly, people who relapse while in recovery will bounce back to the contemplation stage rather than the precontemplation stage, meaning that they don’t completely start over. 

The key to avoiding relapse is to avoid triggers that give you the urge to drink, like certain people, places, things, and moods. Prescription medications like Naltrexone, Disulfiram, and Acamprosate have been developed to help stave off cravings and produce a calming effect.

The Cycle of Recovery

Some people with an alcohol addiction make their way through the stages of alcohol recovery in order, but more commonly, people bounce back and forth from one stage to another. Most people will go through the stages of recovery three to four times before completing the cycle successfully. 

Get Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Each individual is different, and we recognize that your recovery process will be different from that of others. The most surefire way to achieve success in recovery is to make and execute a well-thought-out plan, with the support of caring professionals. 

Going through the stages of alcohol recovery can be stressful, but it’s less difficult with the right support system in place. 

Instead of going at it alone, take your first steps toward a new life and contact the experts at Ardu Recovery Center today. We offer specialized detox and rehab programs to suit whatever your unique needs may be and to make recovery as comfortable and successful as possible. We are located in stunning Provo, Utah, and have a full range of recovery programs and addiction resources.

  • Understanding addiction: we help you get to the heart of your alcoholism and fully grasp the effects of alcohol; this gives you additional motivation to overcome the addiction.
  • Individual therapy: with psychotherapy and other modalities, you learn healthy coping skills so you aren’t tempted to rely on alcohol. A variety of therapeutic approaches, from cognitive behavioral therapy to motivational interviewing to dialectical behavioral therapy, allow you to find the modality that resonates with you.
  • Group therapy: in a caring group setting, you regain healthy social skills and build a network of support.
  • Family therapy: if your family wants to participate in your recovery, we offer family therapy sessions for healing your family unit and rebuilding trust and support.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment: if you have a co-occurring disorder or condition—such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder—our dual diagnosis program will help you heal both your alcohol addiction and your other mental health.
  • Holistic approach: not only are we a full medical detox and rehab facility, but our addiction treatment program also features holistic modalities such as yoga, nutritional therapy, and many other methods to help you regain balance and undo the effects of alcohol.
Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

Alcohol Recovery FAQ

How long after quitting alcohol does your body heal?

While the body begins healing immediately after quitting alcohol, it realistically takes 1 year or more for the organs to fully heal and undo much of the damage caused by heavy alcohol consumption.

Here’s a timeline to healing from the effects of alcohol:

  • After 1 hour: the blood alcohol level starts to decline, providing relief from intoxication.
  • After 24 hours: the risk of heart attack decreases. Blood pressure drops.
  • After 48 hours: withdrawal symptoms peak. The risk of seizures is highest.
  • After 3-5 days: brain function and concentration improve. Sleep patterns normalize.
  • After 1 week: digestion improves. Skin appearance improves. Anxiety decreases.
  • After 2 weeks: liver cell regeneration begins. Mental clarity increases.
  • After 1 month: blood pressure continues to improve. Liver fat decreases.
  • After 6 months: heart and circulatory functions improve. Skin clears up.
  • After 1 year: the risk of heart disease decreases significantly. The liver fully heals.
  • After 5 years: mental capacities improve. The risk of cancer is reduced to almost that of non-drinkers.

The longer the period of alcohol abuse, the longer complete healing will take. Ongoing support also aids in full recovery.

Can your liver heal in a month?

It typically takes longer than a month for the liver to fully heal from alcohol damage. Here are some key points on the timeline for liver recovery:

  • After 1 week of sobriety, the liver begins to show signs of healing and regenerating new liver cells. But significant damage still remains.
  • 1-3 months of no alcohol gives the liver time to recover from inflammation and start reversing some fat buildup. But much fatty liver damage can still persist.
  • After 6-9 months of sobriety, the liver can fully heal from mild fatty liver disease. But more advanced disease takes longer.
  • Severe alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis can take 18 months or more for the liver to recover through regeneration of new cells and tissues. The liver is highly resilient, but not a quick healer.
  • Even after regeneration, the liver may be prone to future damage as scar tissue remains. Complete restoration of normal liver architecture may not be possible.

So while the liver starts recovering quickly, truly healing from substantial alcohol-related injury and disease realistically takes a year or more. Maintaining complete abstinence from alcohol is vital throughout.

How does alcohol abuse affect the kidneys?

Here are some of the major ways alcohol affects kidney health:

  • Dehydration. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing the kidneys to excrete more fluid than normal. This leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
  • High blood pressure. Heavy drinking increases risk of hypertension, putting strain on the kidneys’ blood vessels. 
  • Liver disease. Alcoholic cirrhosis can lead to decreased liver function, reducing the liver’s ability to filter toxins, which then build up in the kidneys.
  • Kidney infections. Alcohol impacts immune function and makes one prone to urinary tract infections, which can spread to the kidneys.
  • Kidney stones. Alcohol increases uric acid production and decreases citrate (a stone inhibitor), making kidney stones more likely.
  • Direct kidney damage. Alcohol and its byproducts directly damage kidney tubule cells and impact normal kidney function.
  • Kidney failure. The combined impact of high blood pressure, infections, toxins, and direct damage can lead to acute and chronic kidney failure in extreme cases.

The effects are usually reversible if alcohol abuse stops. But long-term abuse increases the likelihood of permanent kidney damage and failure. Getting help for alcoholism is important to protect long-term kidney health.

Will ascites go away if I stop drinking?

Ascites is fluid buildup in the abdomen caused by alcohol abuse. If you stop drinking, ascites can often go away on its own. Here’s the low-down:

  • Ascites happens as a complication of alcohol-associated cirrhosis. When the liver is badly scarred, it cannot properly regulate fluid balance, leading to ascites.
  • Within 1-2 weeks of abstaining from alcohol, the liver begins to heal and regenerate new cells. This can help improve liver function.
  • As liver function increases, it is better able to produce albumin and regulate fluid balance. The excess fluid then gets drained on its own.
  • Mild ascites may resolve within 4-6 weeks of sobriety as the liver recovers. More severe ascites can take up to 6 months to disappear as liver regeneration continues.
  • A low-sodium diet and diuretic medications can help manage ascites while the underlying liver damage heals.
  • If severe liver scarring and ascites remain after 6-12 months of no drinking, a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) may be recommended.

So for ascites caused by alcohol, abstaining and allowing the liver time to heal itself is typically the first line of treatment. But it does require patience for the fluid to fully resolve.

Is residential treatment good for overcoming alcohol abuse?

Residential treatment programs can be very beneficial for overcoming alcohol abuse and addiction. Here are some of the main advantages of residential treatment:

  • Provides a safe, structured environment removed from alcohol triggers and stressors of daily life. This makes early sobriety easier.
  • Gives 24/7 access to medical care and supervision during withdrawal and detox stages.
  • Includes intensive therapy, counseling, education, and group support for understanding and changing alcohol dependence.
  • Teaches essential recovery skills and relapse prevention techniques to maintain sobriety long-term.
  • Allows time for healing, self-reflection and lifestyle changes with tailored treatment plans.
  • Builds accountability through monitoring and drug testing during the program.
  • Transitions individuals into outpatient treatment, support groups, and sober living homes after residential stay.
  • Produces better sober outcomes, especially for those with severe alcoholism who have relapsed before.

The main drawback is the cost associated with 1-3 months of residential treatment. Visit our insurance verification page to see if your policy covers alcohol detox and rehab.

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