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What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Heavy drinking and alcoholism can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. So cutting back or quitting altogether have major health benefits.

Alcohol affects the way your brain operates. It can change your mood and behavior, making it more difficult for you to think and move properly. You lose your inhibitions and coordination when you drink alcohol.

But that’s not all. Alcohol is linked to serious health conditions that can be life-threatening. It can affect your heart, your liver, your pancreas, and more. Drinking alcohol is even linked to some types of cancers.

While drinking alcohol can be dangerous, it can also be dangerous to quit drinking alcohol. It’s important to be careful about quitting too quickly. Cutting alcohol out cold turkey can be risky. This is because, when you stop drinking alcohol, your body can go into withdrawal — particularly if you’ve become addicted.

After one week of quitting alcohol, you may start to feel healthier already. As with anything, it will take time for your body to adjust to the lack of alcohol. So it’s not unlikely that you’ll still experience cravings for alcohol. With time, these cravings should start to subside.

After a month of no more alcohol, you may feel a lot better. But the road to recovery is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight — or even in a month’s time. If you were experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, the chances are that many symptoms are still lingering at this time. Some symptoms like mood swings and changes in sleep patterns can last for weeks or even months.

After months of not drinking alcohol, you will hopefully feel a lot healthier. Your body will have adjusted to the lack of alcohol, though you may still be going through the symptoms of withdrawal. For some people, this process can take many months or even years. It’s important to be kind to yourself, celebrate your small wins, and practice patience along your journey.

Benefits of Quitting Drinking

There are tons of benefits to quitting drinking. The pros to not drinking certainly outweigh the cons. But it’s not always easy to quit. These benefits may provide some incentive:

Improved Heart Health

Alcohol is linked to a whole host of heart problems. This includes cardiomyopathy (the drooping of the heart muscle), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), stroke, and high blood pressure. Alcohol is also linked to heart disease

When you quit drinking, you improve your heart health and lessen your risk of cardiovascular concerns.

Improved Liver Health

Alcohol is also correlated with liver problems such as hepatic steatosis (fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Therefore, cutting back on alcohol consumption can improve your liver health.

Better Brain Function

Alcohol affects the way your brain both looks and functions. This is because it interferes with your brain’s communication pathways. So quitting alcohol is certainly better for your brain.

While some brain damage from alcoholism is irreversible, you may be able to heal other parts of your brain by quitting. A number of factors, including how much alcohol you consumed over what period of time, affect your level of brain impairment.

Potential Weight Loss

Alcohol is a possible cause of weight gain. Therefore, cutting back on alcohol or quitting altogether can help you shed some pounds if you are trying to lose weight.

Decreased Inflammation and “Puffiness”

Alcohol can lead to inflammation and puffiness, especially in the face. Quitting can lead to decreased inflammation and puffiness.

More Energy

Alcohol is a depressant. It can also make you hungover. Without alcohol, you’ll have more energy to dedicate to your work, your family, exercise, etc.

Improved Relationships

Alcohol doesn’t just have physical and mental health consequences. It can also affect your personal relationships, including those with family, friends, and partners. You may notice improved relationships without alcohol, which may be a result of different reasons. Perhaps you feel more rational, present, and engaged.

Lower Risk of Alcohol-Related Cancers

Alcohol is tied to some types of cancers, including esophageal cancer, breast cancer, head and neck cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer. If you don’t drink alcohol, you’re at a lower risk of developing these types of cancers.

Improved Sex Drive

Alcohol can take a toll on your libido and cause sexual dysfunction, especially for men. So ditching the alcohol can actually improve your sex drive.

Better Sleep

Alcohol can affect your sleep patterns. Because it is a depressant, it slows brain activity and can make you feel tired. But it’s also linked to poorer-quality sleep. People with alcohol use disorder commonly deal with insomnia. That’s why quitting alcohol can improve your quality of sleep.

Improved Immune Function

It’s no secret that alcohol can hurt your immune functioning. Chronic drinkers have weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to certain illnesses. But cutting back or quitting can improve your immune system.

Lower Blood Pressure 

Alcohol and high blood pressure go hand in hand. And high blood pressure can lead to several cardiovascular issues. But you can lower your blood pressure by no longer drinking.

Improved Mental Health

While many people abuse alcohol as an escape mechanism, alcohol can actually have adverse effects. Alcohol has well-researched effects on mental health. For example, it’s been linked to depression. You can improve your mental health by not drinking. If you have an alcohol use disorder and a mental health problem, it is essential to seek help for both conditions. 

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How Long Does it Take to Feel Better After You Stop Drinking?

How long it takes to feel better after you stop drinking will vary from person to person. Generally, you will start to feel healthier within a week or so of quitting alcohol. But, for some people, the process can take months. 

How serious your alcohol addiction is and how bad withdrawal symptoms are can affect the length of time it takes to feel better after quitting.

Potential Side Effects of Quitting Drinking

While quitting an alcohol addiction is critical to your health in the long run, it can be a difficult journey. There are potential side effects of quitting if you start to experience alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens (dangerous shifts in breathing)
  • Confusion
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Intense cravings

When Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Start?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start as soon as a few hours after your last drink. For example, you may experience seizures as early as about six hours after drinking your last alcoholic beverage. Hallucinations may occur within a day.

What to Do if You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms

Don’t try to detox at home or alone. If you feel the need to detox, you may be struggling with alcohol addiction. In this case, you need professional treatment.

If you start to feel withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to reach out to a professional for help. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable to deadly. Don’t take the risk.

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Do You Need Help to Stop Drinking? 

If you or someone you know needs help to stop drinking, there are tons of treatment options available. 

If you are experiencing any of the following signs and symptoms, it’s time to reach out for help:

  • You find yourself thinking about alcohol more often than not
  • You drink often, even alone
  • You find yourself lying about your drinking habits
  • Alcohol is getting in the way of your responsibilities at home and at work or school
  • Alcohol is hurting you financially or socially, but you continue to drink anyway
  • Alcohol is taking a toll on your physical or mental health, but you continue to drink anyway
  • You find that it’s difficult to quit drinking on your own

Self-Assessment is a great first step to determining if you have a problem. Ask yourself, "Am I an Alcoholic?" There are many options available to help answer that question as well.

Alcohol rehabilitation centers, support groups, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and other options exist to help you get better. It’s worth looking into the inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities in your area. It’s also worth reaching out to local groups to meet with like-minded people on similar roads to recovery.

Resources

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“Alcohol and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet.” National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet

“Alcohol and Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, 4 Sept. 2020, www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep

“ALCOHOL'S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm.

“Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body

Arackal, Bijil Simon, and Vivek Benegal. “Prevalence of Sexual Dysfunction in Male Subjects with Alcohol Dependence.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Medknow Publications, Apr. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917074/

Kuria, Mary W, et al. “The Association between Alcohol Dependence and Depression before and after Treatment for Alcohol Dependence.” ISRN Psychiatry, International Scholarly Research Network, 26 Jan. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658562/

PM;, Suter. “Is Alcohol Consumption a Risk Factor for Weight Gain and Obesity?” Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16047538/.

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/alcohol-withdrawal-a-to-z

“What to Expect When You Give up Alcohol.” Vala Health, valahealth.com/posts/2020/10/01/what-to-expect-when-you-give-up-alcohol/.

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