What to Expect in Your First Year of Recovery

The decision to enter treatment for drug or alcohol addiction is a momentous one. It takes courage and commitment, and a lot of people aren't exactly sure what the journey entails. Although the first year of recovery is a little different for everyone, there are a variety of experiences nearly everybody shares. An overview of these experiences will help you successfully prepare for your first year of sobriety.

Undergoing Initial Detoxification

The most significant hurdle for people trying to overcome addiction is the initial detoxification. When people attempt to quit drugs or alcohol cold turkey, they almost always run up against the wall of withdrawal symptoms and relapse before they ever get a chance to get clean.

Attempting to detox without medical supervision can be dangerous. Detoxing from alcohol can even be fatal if the addiction is severe enough. For the highest chance at success, you will need to participate in a detox program where medical professionals can monitor your progress and administer medication to make the process as comfortable as possible.

Managing Withdrawal From Drugs and Alcohol

Withdrawal can be a frightening experience if you don't know what to expect. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the removal of drugs or alcohol from a dependent individual destabilizes the neurochemical balance in the brain. The exact withdrawal symptoms you will experience depend on the substance you have abused, but these are common to nearly every type of withdrawal:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting

These acute withdrawal symptoms can be extremely intense, although detox professionals can prescribe medications to help manage them.

The timeline of withdrawal also depends on the substance abused. Opioid withdrawal, for example, can begin six to 12 hours after the last use for a short-acting opioid like heroin or up to 30 hours after the final use of a long-acting opioid like methadone.

Generally, acute withdrawal symptoms are worst around 72 hours after the last use of the substance, and persist for one or two weeks.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

PAWS is a set of symptoms that can persist for months after detoxification and acute withdrawal. It is one of the toughest challenges to deal with in the first year of recovery. PAWS symptoms include:

  • Having trouble learning, solving problems or remembering things
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Increased sensitivity to stressful situations

PAWS can make the recovery process feel more difficult, but ongoing addiction therapy can provide you with healthy coping techniques that help keep your recovery on track.

Coping With Emotions

Emotions are some of the hardest obstacles to deal with in early recovery. Long-term abuse of drugs or alcohol often starts as a way to repress unwanted emotions, and has the effect of dulling those feelings in many cases. However,  after you remove substances from the equation, you will likely have a flood of unresolved emotions to begin working through.

With the clarity of mind that accompanies sobriety, you may find yourself making some painful observations about your past behavior and feel deeply vulnerable as you rebuild your self-esteem. It is common for stress to bring up emotions like fear or anger, and your initial impulse may be to reach for the bottle or other substance of abuse.

Cravings brought on by emotions can be some of the most powerful, and it's essential to practice emotional management tools you can learn through therapy.

Rebuilding Relationships

As difficult as it is to acknowledge, addiction almost always takes a heavy toll on relationships. Whether with parents, siblings, significant others, friends or even co-workers, relationships suffer when substance abuse escalates. You have likely done or said things to hurt people you care about, and evaluating your relationships is a critical part of early recovery.

You may not be able to save all your relationships, and you have to prepare yourself for challenges in attempting to rebuild damaged ties. However, the relationships you manage to heal will be crucial to the support system you cultivate.

New relationships are critical, too. You will need to make new, sober friends who support your recovery. One way to do this is to take advantage of addiction resources like SMART Recovery or similar groups. Having a sponsor or group you regularly attend is an excellent way to strengthen your support system and stay strong in the early days of recovery and beyond.

Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle

Recovery allows you to achieve the proper physical and mental health substance abuse takes away. Drugs and alcohol are hard on both body and mind, so taking care of yourself is imperative in early recovery.

Incorporating exercise of any type and intensity is an excellent place to start. Even an activity as simple as taking a walk after work twice a week can lead to better health if you've been sedentary for quite a while.

Your diet will be an essential part of recovery as well. People who don't receive adequate nutrition are more susceptible to drug and alcohol cravings, so eating regular and balanced meals is crucial to your continued success in sobriety.

Making use of a schedule and developing a routine can help improve your mental health by providing you better stability. Regularly scheduled exercise, mealtimes and bedtimes are the core elements of a healthy routine, but don't forget to make time for things like recovery meetings and sober fun.

Making Your Milestones

The concept of milestones is central to addiction recovery. Typically, people in recovery recognize their continued sobriety at 30 days, 90 days, six months and a year. Looking forward to reaching these milestones helps give structure to the first year of sobriety, and allows you to celebrate everything you have accomplished.

On the other hand, milestones can also be emotional and bring up cravings that are hard to ignore if you're not careful. It's essential to be aware of how you're feeling around your major milestones and reflect on how those emotions may affect your recovery progress.

Start Your Journey at Diamond House Detox

The first year of recovery is one of the most meaningful times in a person's life. There are many challenges to overcome and milestones to celebrate. With the right treatment as a foundation, you increase your chances of continued sobriety.

Diamond House Detox is a premier detox and rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addiction in the Sacramento area. With our home-like environment and caring staff, you or your loved one will receive the care necessary to facilitate a successful recovery. To learn more about our programs and individualized treatment plans, call us at 800-205-6107 or contact Diamond House Detox online.

This content was medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet PMHNP-BC, on January 3rd, 2020.


  1. https://diamondhousedetox.com/addiction-treatment/alcohol-detox-and-rehab-program-in-sacramento-ca/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459239/
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326223.php#timeline-of-withdrawal-effects
  4. https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS
  5. https://diamondhousedetox.com/addiction-therapy/
  6. https://diamondhousedetox.com/resources/
  7. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/walking-your-steps-to-health
  8. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/120914p44.shtml
  9. https://diamondhousedetox.com/addiction-treatment/
  10. https://diamondhousedetox.com/contact-us/

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
Latest posts by Vicky Magobet (see all)