Alcohol recovery means dealing with your emotional pain instead of numbing it.

When you’re drowning in pain, alcohol can seem like a reasonable option. It’s common, after all, to drink after a funeral or hit the bar after a breakup.

Alcohol is for many—not just alcoholics—a way to escape from feelings that we don’t want.

People suffering in the aftermath of trauma and stress are especially at risk for the problems that come from self-medicating with alcohol.

But drinking to escape comes with a hefty price. Substance abuse can leave you with devastated relationships, guilt, and further pain.

Using alcohol to cope disconnects you from others and even from yourself. And it does nothing to help you heal.

Why Numbing Your Pain with Alcohol Doesn’t Work

Alcohol is a depressant. While it does numb both physical and emotional pain, the relief is temporary. The pain never really goes away. What you think is a solution only makes the problem worse.

While you’re numbed out, you can’t heal.

Using substance abuse to escape your pain doesn’t solve the root problem. Worse, drinking to numb the pain backfires. Drinking can fuel explosions into anger and despair. And, face it, you could end up hurt, dead, or killing someone.

The Road to Alcohol Recovery

Alcohol recovery can be a long and difficult journey. It’s not going to happen overnight. Depending on how long you’ve been abusing alcohol and how your addiction has affected your life, relationships, career, and well-being, your recovery could be both long and intense.

But no matter where you are—at rock bottom or somewhere on the continuum—if you’re ready to stop drinking and get support, you can recover. Commitment and willingness to follow through are keys.

But remember, if you’ve been drinking to numb your emotional pain, the treatment you decide on must address more than just alcohol abuse.

Getting Sober

If you’ve been drinking heavily and frequently, your body is dependent on alcohol. Count on going through withdrawal when you stop. Though you won’t necessarily suffer all the following symptoms, be prepared for some.

Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Anxiety
  • Stomach cramps, diarrhea
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure

Your symptoms will probably start within hours after you stop. They should peak in a day or two. After five days, you should improve.

If you’re a long-term, heavy drinker, you may need medical supervision going through the detox process. Consult your doctor or an addiction specialist.

Severe alcohol withdrawal, though rare, is dangerous. If you experience severe vomiting, disorientation, fever, extreme agitation, hallucinations, or seizures, call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Staying Sober

Support, self-care, and strategies to control your urges can help you stay the course.

Finding Support

You will need support for your alcohol recovery. You can’t do this alone. Family, friends, other recovering alcoholics, health providers, and people from your faith community can help, along with counselors.

If your social life revolved around alcohol, you need to build a new, sober network. Take classes, volunteer, join new interest groups to bring new people into your life. And don’t forgo attending recovery support group meetings. It helps to share experiences with others and learn how they stay sober.

Most importantly, try to be with people who make you feel good about yourself.

Caring for Yourself

Withdrawal may cause mood swings, and you may have to fight cravings. Eat right, get enough sleep, and gain the advantages of endorphins, stress release, and well-being that come with exercise.

Develop new interests. Start doing the things you’ve dreamed of doing—working with kids, art, writing, gardening, building things. When you have a sense of purpose and meaning, you’ll feel better about yourself and have less need to drink.

Find healthy ways to deal with stress. Try meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques.

Avoiding Situations That Trigger Drinking

You’ll need to identify the things that trigger drinking for you. Activities, places, or people associated with your drinking life can trigger the urge. You may need to find other things to do with your drinking buddies—or find new friends.

It’s safe to say you will be offered alcohol in social situations. Practice saying “No,” so you can respond politely but firmly.

Learning to Handle Setbacks

The process of alcohol recovery is neither easy nor smooth. You may slip. Don’t give up. A relapse doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Learn from the episode and re-commit to staying sober.

Also, don’t let guilt or shame prevent you from pursuing your goal. Call on your support group for help.

Dealing with Pain Without Alcohol

Your life does not magically change because you stop drinking. Yes, your health will improve, but unless you deal with the root of your problem, you won’t experience the real benefit you need.

Dealing directly with the feelings that trouble you is the only way to conquer them. Find a way to talk through your shame and grief. Learn strategies for dealing with your pain. Mindfulness classes, meditation, or yoga are some options.

And if you need more support through this process, substance abuse counseling will help. Seek treatment so that you can manage and heal your pain. With the right help, you can stop drowning in your pain and go from numbness to alcohol recovery.