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Recovery can be a tough process, often with ups and downs. Alcohol is a chronic and relapsing disease, and it can feel difficult to remain sober – especially when you don’t have the right support.

But why does recovery feel so difficult, and does it get easier to stay sober? That’s what we are going to explore on this page. Read on to learn more about alcoholism, recovery, the obstacles people in recovery may face, and whether it gets easier to stay sober.

Why Does It Feel So Hard To Stay Sober?

There are many reasons why it may feel challenging to stay sober. If you have developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol, then your body has developed a physical tolerance to the substance – and you may be dependent on it.

This means that your body has adapted to the substance, and needs it to function. This leads us to our first reason why it can feel so hard to stay sober – withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal Symptoms

When you first stop drinking alcohol or taking the substance you’re addicted to (e.g drugs), your body isn’t used to functioning without it. When you stop or lower the amount your body is used to, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be unpleasant and uncomfortable.

The withdrawal symptoms you experience can vary from person to person, typically depending on the substance you’re addicted to, your addiction history, and the severity of your addiction. Typically, the more severe the addiction, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be.

You may experience a combination of both physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms and psychological withdrawal symptoms. There are several reasons why you may experience withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detox.

A key reason why you feel unwell after stopping drinking is that alcohol increases the effects of GABA – a neurotransmitter. Alcohol also decreases glutamate levels, which lowers your excitability.

When you abuse alcohol in the long term, your body gets used to these changes, producing more glutamate and less GABA to make up for the changes.

When you stop drinking or lower your amount, your body continues producing these amounts of GABA, which can leave you feeling hyperactive, restless, shaky, and anxious.

Withdrawal often involves flu-like symptoms but is considered much worse as you may feel tempted to return to substance use to ease the symptoms.

The length of time it takes for withdrawal symptoms to ease can vary, but typically, withdrawal symptoms peak within a few days. However, some people experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms – although, these don’t last forever.

It’s also important to mention the psychological aspects of addiction. When you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, your brain often associates the substance with reward – meaning that it can cause cravings, and you find it difficult to feel positive emotions without the substance.

Therapy can help to deal with the psychological aspects of addiction, as can having a strong support system in place.

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It Can Be Hard Addressing Trauma and Negative Emotions

Addiction recovery involves addressing the reasons why you may have turned to substance abuse. Many people tend to abuse alcohol or take drugs to deal with trauma or negative emotions such as shame or depression.

In rehab, you’ll be encouraged to address these issues, which may make the trauma feel raw again. However, it is an integral part of recovery.

It may feel scary dealing with these feelings without the aid of alcohol or drugs – it requires determination, motivation, and bravery to confront and address these issues.

Recovery Can Feel Lonely

Not all people find recovery lonely, but it is a completely normal and natural emotion to experience when recovering from addiction. Everybody’s recovery journey is different, and you may experience a range of emotions throughout your journey.

There are many reasons why you may feel lonely while in addiction recovery. One of these reasons is that alcohol or drugs may have been your previous support system, and you may have surrounded yourself with others with substance abuse issues.

When you’re recovering from addiction, it’s encouraged to reevaluate your relationships and connect with like-minded people (for example, others in recovery).

Likewise, you may have burned bridges with previous relationships (e.g friends and family members) whilst in active addiction, and you may not have got round to fixing these past mistakes yet.

Staying sober requires support, so it’s important that you build healthy relationships and surround yourself with people that are good for you when trying to stay sober. Making sober friends can make recovery feel less lonely.

Relapsing Can Set You Back

It’s important to remember that recovery is not always a linear path – and you’ll likely experience ups and downs. Whether you have a cocaine addiction, heroin addiction, or any other addiction, alcohol or drug addiction recovery can be especially tough as addiction is a relapsing disease.

Factors such as anxiety, stress, and of course, cravings can increase the chances of relapsing when you’re trying to stay sober.

However, rehab can be helpful in keeping you on track – as can additional support such as group therapy, counselling, and attending support groups. It can also be helpful to develop a peer support system to keep you sober.

Relapsing is a part of recovery, and slipping up doesn’t mean that your recovery journey has ended. Nobody is perfect, and complete sobriety takes time.

Your Life Changes

When you stop taking drugs or drinking alcohol, and you gain control over your addiction, your life as you know it changes. Although it’s for the better, it may feel scary at first.

Rehab encourages you to develop new and effective coping strategies to help manage cravings, boost your confidence, and improve your general well-being. However, it can be challenging to both learn and implement these strategies in your life.

You may also stop seeing certain friends or people you previously associated with whilst in active addiction, as previous drinking buddies may be considered a temptation.

Many aspects of your life change (although, for the better) while you’re in recovery, but it’s important to remember that staying sober is the best possible outcome.

Does Staying Sober Get Easier?

Recovery can be difficult, especially at the beginning. There is no universal experience when it comes to staying sober, and your experience may differ from somebody else with the same addiction. You may experience different challenges and meet different achievements.

At first, you may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings. It can take some time to adjust to your new, sober life – and implement the healthy coping strategies you learned in rehab or therapy.

Staying sober can be much easier if you replace a destructive social circle with a healthy and positive one. This can not only prevent loneliness but help to prevent relapse – and get you back on track if you do relapse.

Your life staying sober does get easier with time. Although recovery isn’t linear, you will become stronger and more resilient.

With the right support system in place, as well as perseverance and motivation, you may find it easier and easier to remain sober as you progress through your recovery journey.

Typically, once a person has been sober for a couple of years, and has adjusted to a sober lifestyle, it’s much easier to remain sober.

That being said, people who have been sober for years or even decades can have at least one relapse – but they have often developed the skills to get back on track quicker.

What Support Is Out There For Alcohol and Drug Recovery?

You don’t have to deal with your addiction alone – there is help out there for you, including rehab addiction treatment and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Staying sober can come with many challenges, but with the right treatment, therapy, and support, it is sure to be easier for you.

Rehab Addiction Treatment

Getting sober and staying sober can be tough at the best of times, especially without the help of medical professionals. Many people choose to receive rehab treatment to get sober. There are different types of rehab – for example, private rehab and NHS-operated rehab.

You can also attend rehab on a variety of basis’ – you can attend as an outpatient (outpatient rehab), an inpatient (residential rehab), or you can attend quasi-residential rehab. With so many rehab options out there, it can be difficult to know the best path for you.

This is where we can help. At Help4Addiction, we can guide you through the process, and answer any questions you may have.

We’ll listen to your needs, circumstances and preferences, and find the right treatment plan and place for you to receive addiction treatment. Call us today for a free addiction assessment, or to chat with our friendly team.

Although the stages of rehab treatment can vary, the three key stages typically remain the same: detoxification, addiction therapy, and secondary treatment,

Detoxification aims at dealing with the physical aspect of addiction. During the detox stage, you’ll have no access to drugs or alcohol, in order to free your body of the physical addiction.

You may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms during this stage. Depending on the severity of your addiction, you may benefit from a medical detox with detox medication, supervised by a medical professional.

Once your withdrawal symptoms have peaked, you may move on to the second stage of treatment – addiction therapy.

Therapy aims at dealing with the social, psychological, and behavioural aspects of addiction. Attending therapy can give you a strong foundation to begin your recovery journey.

Different rehab centres offer different types of therapy, but almost all centres offer CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy.

During therapy, you’ll learn lots about yourself and your addiction – you’ll learn your addiction triggers, root causes, as well as healthy coping techniques to manage cravings and prevent relapsing.

Many people say that your recovery journey truly begins once you leave rehab and return to your everyday life. Secondary treatment such as support groups, group therapy, and counselling can help to ease the transition from rehab to recovery and keep you on the right track.

Support Groups

Support groups can be extremely helpful for people in recovery from substance use disorders. There are different types of support groups for different types of people and types of addiction.

One of the most popular support groups for recovering alcoholics is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), with over two million members of AA around the world. Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group for people affected by alcohol – it offers a safe space to address and solve their alcohol problems.

AA is a 12-step program that was founded back in 1935, designed to help those with alcohol use disorder. It encourages life without alcohol, promoting a sober lifestyle.

In a typical AA meeting, you’ll be encouraged to share your story with others, and listen to what other people have to say. Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t the only support group, however. There are many support groups for alcohol addiction.

For example, Recovery International – promotes a cognitive behavioural system that can help you gain control over your addiction, including negative thoughts and impulses.

Another support group that follows the AA framework is Narcotics Anonymous, although, instead of for those with alcohol problems, NA is for people with a drug problem, whether it be drug abuse or drug addiction.

Some other groups you may wish to join if you are recovering from alcohol addiction include LifeRing, which is a social support network – or SMART Recovery, which can help you to maintain motivation and deal with urges. It encourages resilience and self-change.

A slightly different support group for recovering addicts is Moderation Management (MM). Instead of encouraging complete sobriety, this group teaches moderation techniques and responsible drinking.


Counselling and therapy can not only be an effective form of mental health treatment but hugely beneficial when it comes to addiction recovery. It can help to build your resilience and your general well-being – especially if you have a dual diagnosis.

Whether you attend therapy or counselling as part of a rehab program, or you receive it through your GP or the NHS, it can help you build a strong foundation and ease the recovery process.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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