Moderate alcohol consumption may be beneficial for some people, but for others, drinking can become problematic. Having a drink here or there may turn into drinking to the point of intoxication every weekend. In some cases, alcohol consumption can even lead to addiction. 

For those who drink too much, quitting drinking can create a wide variety of health benefits. However, it’s important to keep in mind that quitting can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms in people with severe alcohol addictions. In these cases, it’s best to attend a medical detox program and seek follow-up treatment at a professional rehab facility.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Alcohol consumption is pretty common, so it can be difficult to know how much alcohol is too much. Binge drinking is defined as alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol content (BAC) up to .08%. Typically, a man will reach this level if they have five or more drinks within two hours; for women, it is four or more drinks within two hours. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is defined as8:

  • For men: Consuming more than four drinks in one day, or more than 14 in a week
  • For women: Consuming more than three drinks in one day, or more than seven in one week

Another definition of heavy drinking describes it as five or more occurrences of binge drinking in a given month.

Regardless of the exact definition used, both binge drinking and heavy drinking are considered “too much.” These drinking patterns increase the risk of an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for an alcohol addiction. 

What Is Considered a Standard Drink?

To have a better understanding of how much alcohol is too much, it is also helpful to know what constitutes a standard drink. Experts define one drink as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Many people may be consuming more alcohol than they realize, as the amount of distilled spirits in some mixed beverages may really be equal to two drinks. 

What Is Moderate Alcohol Consumption?

Many wonder whether there is a level of alcohol use that is safe. The U.S. government8 defines moderate alcohol consumption as two or fewer drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. This level of consumption reduces the risk of addiction and other alcohol-related health problems. 

What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

If you’ve been drinking heavily or are a binge drinker, giving up alcohol can have significant health benefits. When you stop drinking, you are likely to experience one or more of the following positive outcomes.

Heart Health 

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead2 to heart disease and high blood pressure. High blood pressure3 can damage your arteries, which reduces the flow of blood to the heart. When you stop drinking, your blood pressure levels are likely to return to a healthier range. This takes stress off of the heart and reduces your risk of heart attack.  

G.I. Health 

Health researchers1 have known for quite some time that alcohol abuse is damaging to the gastrointestinal system. It interferes with muscle functioning near the esophagus, which contributes to heartburn. Alcohol also gets in the way of muscle movement in the intestines, which can lead to diarrhea. When you give up alcohol, you are likely to find that symptoms like upset stomach, diarrhea and heartburn start to subside. 

Cancer Risk 

According to a CDC report2, alcohol abuse increases the risk of several types of cancers, including cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon and rectum. When you quit drinking, you reduce your risk of these various types of cancer. 

Brain Health and Cognitive Function 

Long-term alcohol abuse can damage the brain and lead to problems with cognitive functions like learning, attention and memory. Fortunately, abstinence from alcohol can reverse these problems. One study5 found that alcohol-dependent patients with less than a year of abstinence performed poorly on tests of working memory and attentional control. However, improvements in these areas were seen among those who had at least a year of sobriety under their belts. Once you quit drinking, you will find that you are able to think more clearly and have less difficulty with concentration. Over time, you will notice that your mental functioning continues to improve. 

Liver Health 

Alcohol is linked to liver disease, but alcohol-related liver damage can be reversed if you quit drinking. A study6 with men who stopped drinking for six weeks found that abstinence improved symptoms of alcoholic liver disease. If you are not yet suffering from alcohol-related liver disease, giving up alcohol now can reduce your likelihood of developing liver problems related to alcohol abuse. 

Sleep

It is not uncommon for people to say that they drink before bed to help them nod off at night, but the truth is that alcohol actually has a negative effect on sleep. Research4 shows that while alcohol does help people to fall asleep more quickly, it leads to sleep disruption during the second half of the night. People who consume alcohol also spend less time in REM sleep during the night. Giving up drinking can lead to a better night of sleep and help you feel more rested throughout the day. 

Immune System 

A large body of research11 shows that alcohol has negative effects on the immune system, which can increase the risk of infections and serious diseases. Quitting drinking keeps the immune system healthy and protects you from catching a cold or developing chronic diseases. 

Relationships 

One of the signs of an alcohol use disorder9 is continued alcohol abuse despite the problems it creates in relationships with family or friends. If you’ve been drinking heavily, you’ve probably experienced some conflict in your relationships. Maybe your significant other complains about your drinking, or perhaps your friends have stopped spending time with you because they are sick of how you act when drunk. Whatever the situation is, giving up alcohol can help you to repair the important relationships in your life. 

Weight Loss

Studies13 suggest that heavy drinking can lead to weight gain. After all, alcohol contains seven calories per gram, but people don’t often think of alcohol as being a food or meal that should be considered when evaluating daily calorie intake. Cutting the alcohol out of your diet is a pretty simple way to reduce calories so you can shed extra weight. 

Skin Health 

Alcohol abuse can harm the skin in several ways. For example, research7 has found that it can lead to hyperpigmentation in the skin. In some cases, people may develop hives due to ongoing alcohol abuse. In addition, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to problems like skin flushing, psoriasis and even skin cancer. When you stop drinking, you can expect skin health and appearance to improve. 

Dangers of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey 

Giving up alcohol can improve mental and physical health in a multitude of ways. However, if you have been chronically abusing alcohol and are dependent upon it, you should not quit cold turkey without professional intervention. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms12 can be dangerous and even fatal in some cases. Minor withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Tremor
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Nausea

More severe symptoms can include hallucinations, seizures and a condition called delirium tremens, which can be fatal if untreated.

Since alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, it is important to seek treatment from a professional detox center when giving up alcohol. Medical professionals in an alcohol detox program can monitor your symptoms and provide medications to manage withdrawal and prevent life-threatening complications. 

Alcohol Rehab in NJ

The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers alcohol rehab to serve patients in the state of New Jersey and the nearby city of Philadelphia. We offer a full continuum of alcohol treatment services, including medical detoxinpatient careoutpatient services and long-term aftercare. We employ a board-certified medical director and a multidisciplinary team of licensed treatment professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers and mental health counselors. Contact us to learn more about treatment programs that can work well for your needs, and begin the path to a healthier, alcohol-free life today. 

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Sources

  1. Bode, C.; Bode, J.C. “Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders.” Alcohol Health & Research World, 1997. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” December 29, 2021. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes.” May 18, 2021. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  4. Ebrahim, Irshaad O.; et al. “Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep.” Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research, April 2013. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  5. Kopera, Maciej; et al. “Cognitive functions in abstinent alcohol-dependent patients.” Alcohol, November 2012. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  6. Lee, Jae-Wang; et al. “Effect of Stopping Drinking, Using Alcoh[…]aire, DSOM and SF-36.” The Journal of Internal Korean Medicine, 2010. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  7. Liu, Stephanie W. “The effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the skin.” Clinics in Dermatology, 2010. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Drinking Levels Defined.” Accessed January 7, 2022.
  9. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  10. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Is A Standard Drink?” Accessed January 7, 2022.
  11. Pasala, Sumana; et al. “Impact of Alcohol Abuse on the Adaptive Immune System.” Alcohol Research, 2015. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  12. Sachdeva, Ankur; et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond.” Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, September 2015. Accessed January 7, 2022.
  13. Traversy, Gregory; Chaput, Jean-Philippe. “Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update.” Current Obesity Reports, 2015. Accessed January 7, 2022.
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.