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Sobriety Fatigue: Why You Feel Exhausted After Quitting Drinking

After finally achieving recovery, you may find that you’re dealing with a sense of chronic fatigue. This tiredness can last for weeks or even months and could lead to feeling discouraged about your own recovery.

This isn’t an uncommon experience. It’s called sobriety fatigue, and it can be one of the most difficult parts of living a new life in recovery after you quit drinking alcohol

What is Sobriety Fatigue?

Sobriety fatigue refers to feeling unmotivated, worn down, or simply exhausted in your early recovery. Most people will feel sobriety fatigue on their path to recovery – it’s not only a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal according to the National Library of Medicine, but it can be one of the most pervasive symptoms associated with post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

While acute alcohol withdrawal typically only lasts a week or two, PAWS can last for months. Even if you don’t experience the depression-like symptoms that PAWS often brings, you can still struggle with sobriety fatigue. 

A woman struggling with sobriety fatigue leans against the wall looking frustrated and tired
sobriety fatigue

What Causes Sobriety Fatigue?

There’s no single cause of sobriety fatigue – rather, a constellation of factors can contribute to the feeling of being worn down and exhausted.

The Work of Recovery

First, it’s important to recognize that the path to sobriety is often incredibly taxing work. Any number of steps you take on the path to getting sober can leave you feeling drained, including:

  • Detox: Whether you’ve detoxed on your own or with the help of medical professionals, working through the physical and mental health symptoms of withdrawal takes a toll on both your body and mind. It’s only natural to feel worn down after this intense experience.
  • Therapy: If you’ve taken the further step of working with a counselor or therapist, your therapeutic work can often add to sobriety fatigue. It’s often confusing for people new to therapy when they feel worn out after a session – but deep emotional work takes a toll. 
  • Behavior changes: One of the most common recommendations for how to get sober is to find activities that can sustain your recovery. Whether that’s starting an exercise routine, taking up a new hobby, or attending recovery support groups – these activities take time and effort that can sap you of your energy reserves.

All of these changes can contribute to sobriety fatigue, but provide substantial long-term benefits. Much of the work of recovery means making these types of changes – exchanging the immediate reward of substance use for the delayed rewards of healthy lifestyle change.

The Changing Recovery Brain

Another critical factor to consider is how lasting brain changes can affect your motivation and energy levels. Substance use disorders of all kinds are associated with changes in the brain’s reward network, making it difficult for people to feel a sense of reward or motivation for activities outside of substance use.

These changes can last for months after achieving recovery. Your brain will recover with protracted abstinence, but it takes time for this healing to take place. 

These changes in the brain’s reward network can directly contribute to sobriety fatigue. Without the motivation to seek out fun and healthy activities, or even to stay productive at work, school, or home, you can simply feel exhausted.

So whenever you feel the pangs of sobriety fatigue, remember to be kind to yourself. It’s not a matter of willpower or personality, but biological changes that are outside of your control.

A man struggling with sobriety fatigue sits against the wall on the floor with his hands covering his face
how to manage sobriety fatigue

Does Everyone Experience Sobriety Fatigue?

Sobriety fatigue is exceptionally common, but it’s not universal.

While the vast majority of people experience some level of fatigue and exhaustion during the initial withdrawal period, sobriety fatigue typically refers to an ongoing sense of lost motivation and tiredness.

The exact rates of sobriety fatigue are unknown – but it’s safe to say that most people seeking recovery have felt it at one time or another.

I felt the pangs of sobriety fatigue for months after sobering up myself, and several friends shared they had similar experiences in the early periods of sobriety.

How Long Does Sobriety Fatigue Last?

The good news about sobriety fatigue is that it isn’t permanent.

Given time, you’ll be able to move past this uncomfortable side effect of prolonged substance use and return to the energy levels you had before you ever picked up a drink or a drug.

But how long it takes for you to overcome sobriety fatigue depends on a few key factors.

Certain people can bounce back from substance use disorders quickly, while it can take substantially more time for others. Younger people, for instance, tend to recover from withdrawal and post-acute withdrawal quicker than those who get sober later in life

The duration and severity of your substance use disorder plays a role as well – if you’ve spent years drinking or using drugs, it can take longer for your brain to recover. 

But perhaps most critically for people currently experiencing sobriety fatigue, the actions you take during your recovery can affect your experience of fatigue as well.

How to Manage Sobriety Fatigue

There are several things you can do to manage sobriety fatigue, as well as lifestyle changes you can make to bolster your overall energy levels. Some of the best strategies you can implement include:

1. Manage Your Time and Energy

Life in sobriety can be a web of competing activities and responsibilities all seeming to require your attention.

It’s often difficult for people to say “no” during early recovery, or to feel like they’re not doing enough to maintain their recovery despite a packed schedule.

Take stock of what you do each week. What really matters? What’s necessary, and what ends up being a fruitless drain on your reserves?

By acknowledging your personal limits, without judging yourself for them, you can focus on the things that matter the most – and keep sobriety fatigue at bay.

2. Take Time for Self-Care

Self-care practices can help restore you after a stressful day. There are any number of self-care practices for you choose from, such as:

  • Meditation
  • Massage
  • A warm bath
  • Spending time with friends and family

Whatever your self-care routine may be, these types of practice can help you to build up your energy stores for the next day.

3. Start an Exercise Routine

Exercise in substance use recovery has repeatedly been found to not only improve your energy levels, but to help you to resist relapse, reduce drug or alcohol cravings, and increase the likelihood of long-term abstinence.

While exercise itself can be tiring, it trains your body to manage fatigue and continue working despite feeling tired.

Increasing your physical activity in any way can be helpful. It doesn’t have to mean lifting weights in the gym or running a 5K – even taking a long walk around the neighborhood can be beneficial for your overall health and mental wellbeing.

4. Stick to Your Recovery Plan

Finally, remember that sobriety fatigue is temporary. Stick to your recovery plan and keep doing what it takes to stay sober. Sobriety fatigue is a temporary condition that gets better over time.

It might be hard right now, but the rewards of recovery are worth the effort – and the only way past is through.

If you’re struggling right now, feel stuck, or don’t know what to do next, talk therapy can help. Getting started with BetterHelp is easy!

  • Answer a few questions.
  • Get matched with a licensed therapist.
  • Schedule your sessions.

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Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp.

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