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What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Drinking Alcohol?

When most people think about the negative effects of drinking alcohol, they usually think about things like liver damage, addiction, and weight gain. But what happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol? Surprisingly, there are a number of health benefits to quitting alcohol, including weight loss, better sleep quality, and improved mental health.

So if you’re looking for ways to improve your overall health, quitting alcohol may be a good place to start.

But first, let’s start with the less glamorous side of quitting – alcohol withdrawal.

Why do we experience alcohol withdrawal?

When alcohol is in your body, the alcohol blocks certain signals in the brain that are supposed to make you feel stressed or anxious.

However, when alcohol leaves your system it causes all of those feelings of stress and anxiety to come back. This alcohol withdrawal happens when the alcohol leaves your body so quickly that your brain hasn’t had time to adjust to all of those signals being blocked again.

This alcohol withdrawal causes alcohol cravings, sweating, shaking, nausea, headache, irritability, and insomnia. Luckily, these alcohol withdrawal symptoms are not usually serious (although they can be!).

It’s important to know the difference between mild alcohol withdrawal and severe alcohol withdrawal. The latter can lead to alcohol overdose or death.

Mild alcohol withdrawals usually go away after a few days. Here is an alcohol withdrawal timeline to give you an idea of how alcohol affects the body, and what happens when alcohol leaves your system after drinking too much.

I quit name badge for person who quit drinking alcohol
what happens to your body when you quit drinking alcohol

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline:

  • 0-1 hours: Your body stops metabolizing alcohol.
  • 2-3 hours: Alcohol withdrawal starts with cravings, irritability, and restlessness.
  • 6-8 hours: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms peak. Hallucinations and alcohol withdrawal seizures may occur. If you think someone is having an alcohol seizure, call 911 immediately!
  • 12-24 hours: Alcohol withdrawal headache and nausea set in (i.e. the hangover). Some people may start to experience “the shakes” and extreme anxiety.
  • 48 hours: Most people will start to feel better. However, heavy drinkers may start experiencing Delirium Trenems (DTs). This is a medical emergency as DTs can lead to stroke or death.
  • 96 hours: Life-threatening symptoms have passed at this point.

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms are serious and life-threatening. Heavy drinkers should consult with their doctor who may recommend undergoing an alcohol detox under medical supervision.

Examples of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Severe nausea and sweating
  • Hallucinations and Delirium Tremens (DT’s)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Illusions
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures

These are considered medical emergencies. If you or a loved one is experiencing several alcohol withdrawal symptoms, dial 911.

woman sitting on couch struggling with alcohol withdrawal after quitting alcohol
alcohol withdrawal timeline

What happens when you quit drinking alcohol for seven days?

After seven days, alcohol withdrawal symptoms should be gone. For people who do not drink heavily, this is the time you’ll see noticeable improvements.

You’ll find that your skin is clearer and brighter, you have more energy throughout the day, less drowsiness after lunch, and you’re better able to focus on tasks at work. Your relationships with family and friends may start to improve because of less stress and irritability.

When someone stops drinking so much alcohol, the body experiences a sugar crash. Sugar is your body’s way of getting energy quickly and effectively, which means that even if you eat healthy foods like whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day, you still might find yourself craving candy and other sugary treats.

This is temporary and should dissipate within a few weeks.

What happens when you quit drinking alcohol for one month?

After thirty days of sobriety, your energy levels will continue to go up. You’ll also notice that you’re sleeping better at night (and waking up easier in the morning ), and you’ll find yourself to be more alert and ready for the day.

You will experience reduced anxiety and stress, improved digestion, less bloating, potential weight loss, and an improved ability to handle life’s issues. For many people, this is the beginning of overall improved quality of life.

People who don’t have addiction issues with alcohol often find that quitting alcohol for thirty days improves their overall relationship with alcohol. They tend to drink less after extended periods of abstinence.

What happens when you quit drinking alcohol for one year?

By one year of sobriety, many alcoholics and problem drinkers will have stopped drinking entirely and won’t even think about having a drink. By this point, you’ll also start to notice several health improvements.

Some additional benefits include:

  • Improved finances
  • Healthier, more supportive relationships
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved phsycial health
  • An overall sense of wellbeing and purpose

Additionally, some of the scarier risks of drinking heavily disappear. Let’s dive into specific health risks and areas of concern that improve after a year without alcohol.

woman smiling on road with bicycle after quitting alcohol for one year
what happens to your body one year after quitting alcohol

How long does it take for alcohol to stop affecting your brain?

The length of time it takes for the brain to heal back to normal after quitting alcohol is a process that varies from person to person. However, this healing is an ongoing process even in sobriety. For most people who do not abuse alcohol regularly, once they quit drinking, they will immediately begin noticing some positive cognitive changes. 

For heavy drinkers, the benefits may take a bit longer.

Drinking heavily for a period of time can lead to brain damage, even in the absence of developing an alcohol use disorder. The body is immediately affected when someone begins drinking heavily because it prompts changes in neurochemistry that impact cognition. Heavy drinkers may experience confusion and memory problems when they quit. These can take up to two weeks to dissipate.

Different parts of the brain heal at different rates, so depending on your previous drinking habits and the amount of damage done, the recovery process could take some time.

What happens to the liver after quitting drinking?

The liver will start to repair itself from the damage done by alcohol. In most cases, after a year of sobriety, a non-heavy drinker can expect their liver enzymes to return back to normal levels.

Additionally, giving your liver a break from processing alcohol frees it up to take on important tasks like breaking down toxins, metabolizing fats, and excess hormones.

What happens to the stomach after quitting drinking?

Alcohol is very harsh on the stomach, so when alcohol stops being consumed, you’ll see improvements in your acid reflux and stomachaches.

You may have problems with digestion for up to a year after quitting drinking though, but this will improve over time. Expect to give your digestive system several weeks to start feeling better.

Health risks that improve after one year of no drinking alcohol include:

Heart disease risk: According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, heart disease is reduced by 50% in those who stop consuming alcohol. For women, this number is even more impressive as their risk for heart disease is cut in half.

Cancer risk: The NIAAA also states that even one year of sober living reduces cancer risk by 30%. Many forms of cancer are linked to alcohol consumption, including cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and rectum.

Type 2 Diabetes risk: According to a study published in the Lancet, those who drink heavily on a regular basis double their risk for Diabetes.

Alzheimers: Studies show that those who had early onset of drinking (before the age of 25) or binge-drinking frequently are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

At the one-year mark, most of the mental and physical dependency on alcohol has disappeared. You will experience improved sleep, better digestion, noticeable weight loss without dieting or exercise, and a healthier-looking complexion.

Looking Ahead: Living Life Without Alcohol

It can be difficult to quit alcohol, but the benefits make it worth the struggle. Although you may not feel like your body is recovering from heavy drinking, or that it ever will completely recover, know that this process takes time and effort on your part.

Your desire for a drink might never fully disappear; however, with some determination and help, whether through self-help programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other sobriety support systems, you can beat alcoholism and live a life you love.

Access should not be a barrier to help.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a therapist who has the knowledge and background to help you navigate your specific issues, try BetterHelp. Learn more about my counseling journey with BetterHelp or visit their website below.

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