What Happens When You Stop Drinking?

Ending alcohol use can be tremendously beneficial to your overall health, especially if you use alcohol heavily. There are many different ways it can improve your day-to-day life, not to mention your mental health and physical well-being. However, while quitting alcohol offers many benefits, it can also cause uncomfortable or severe withdrawal symptoms to occur. It’s important to be aware of these risks when deciding to quit using alcohol.

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Understanding the Health Risks of Alcohol

Alcohol misuse causes over 60 different medical conditions and can lead to:

  • Addiction
  • Cancer
  • Injuries
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Mental health problems
  • A variety of physical conditions 

Heavy drinking can affect the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines and many other parts of the body. For men, heavy alcohol intake is defined as having more than four drinks in a single day or more than 14 drinks a week. For women, it is defined as having more than three drinks in a single day or more than seven drinks a week. 

Reasons To Stop Drinking

There are many reasons to stop drinking. However, each person who decides to stop using alcohol usually has their own unique reason. Some of the common reasons why people stop drinking include:

  • Health: Alcohol affects your health in many different ways, and people often decide to stop when they start to personally see the health problems that alcohol can cause.
  • Professional improvement: Alcohol can lead to addiction, hangovers and problems concentrating. This can lead to poor performance in work or school, so many people stop using alcohol to perform better professionally.
  • Social effects: Alcohol use and addiction can put strain on relationships. People whose alcohol use is starting to cause division between themselves and their family or friends often choose to stop drinking.
  • Addiction: People who use alcohol heavily will often have a moment when they realize that they might have an addiction. This might be when they first try to cut back or when they find that they actually struggle to resist using alcohol. Addiction can be scary and is a good reason to quit drinking.

What Happens When an Alcoholic Stops Drinking?

When someone who is addicted to and dependent on alcohol stops drinking, they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings for more alcohol. These withdrawal symptoms will normally be quite unpleasant, and someone who is trying to quit alcohol for the first time may be surprised by how intense these withdrawal symptoms can be.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms will vary in intensity based on the individual, and some symptoms can be dangerous. In general, symptoms may include:

Mild

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased appetite

Moderate

  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting

Severe

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Aggressiveness
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens
  • Seizures

Delirium tremens is an especially dangerous effect of alcohol withdrawal that can be fatal if left untreated.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The exact timeline of alcohol withdrawal will be different for everyone, but there are some general time frames that typically apply:

  • Six to 12 hours: During the initial stages of withdrawal, the body first starts to recognize that alcohol use has ended. Withdrawal symptoms will normally start around this time frame.
  • 12 to 48 hours: During this stage, withdrawal symptoms progressively worsen. New symptoms will begin to occur while existing ones become more intense. At this point, medications will be given to help with symptoms if medical detox is being used.
  • 48 to 72 hours: Withdrawal symptoms typically peak within two to three days. It is during this time frame that the most dangerous symptoms are likely to occur, and medical monitoring may be essential to ensure safety.
  • Four to seven days: Following their peak, symptoms will slowly start to subside over the next few days. They will be mostly gone seven to 10 days after stopping alcohol use.
  • Eight to 10 days and beyond: While alcohol withdrawal will typically be over within 10 days, cravings and psychological desires for alcohol can continue for many weeks or months. Rehab is often used to continue the progress that was made during detox.

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

There are many potential changes that can occur when you stop drinking. Some of the benefits to stopping alcohol use include:

  • Better sleep and energy: Although you may not necessarily realize it, your brain will not go into REM sleep — the deepest stages of sleep — while you are using alcohol. Stopping alcohol will improve how restful your sleep is and give you extra energy.
  • Improved mental health: Alcohol affects your mental health, increasing your risk of depression and other mental illnesses. Stopping alcohol can improve your mood and your overall mental health.
  • Better skin: Alcohol dehydrates your skin, making it appear less healthy. Stopping alcohol can improve your skin health and lead to a more youthful appearance.
  • Weight loss: Alcohol encourages weight gain in many ways, as it provides empty calories, changes how you burn fat and makes you more likely to eat unhealthy food. Stopping alcohol can help you to lose weight.
  • No hangovers: When you stop alcohol use, the painful, groggy hangovers that used to greet you in the mornings will be a thing of the past.

Quitting Drinking Timeline

Not everyone’s experiences will be the same when quitting alcohol, but there are some general time frames of what to expect when you stop drinking. Someone who stops drinking may have an experience that follows this general timeline: 

  • One week: Withdrawal symptoms start to subside. The absence of daily hangover pain and grogginess becomes noticeable.
  • Two weeks: Weight loss starts to become apparent. This is in part due to weight loss that occurred during detox, but it will continue to progress. Liver problems due to fatty liver may start to subside.
  • One month: Skin starts to appear fuller and healthier. Blood pressure becomes more normal due to the absence of alcohol and the improvement of sleep quality.
  • Three months: Cravings still happen, but feelings of improved energy and health outweigh the desire to resume alcohol use.
  • One year: Some mild cravings or insomnia are still present. For the most part, however, the benefits of being fully alcohol-free are realized.

As someone reaches long-term sobriety, one potential danger is that memories of alcohol’s negative aspects can become dimmer, causing people to forget how important it is to avoid relapsing.

Can You Reverse the Negative Effects of Alcohol?

Some of the negative effects of alcohol are reversible, but others are not. For example, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer caused by alcohol use are not reversible, even if alcohol use is stopped. However, many of the negative effects of alcohol can be reversed when you stop using alcohol. Things like fatty liver, high blood pressure and depression can all reverse themselves when you begin abstaining from alcohol.

While quitting alcohol may not reverse everything, it can stop the progressive worsening of many irreversible problems. For example, while cirrhosis and associated liver damage is not reversible, stopping alcohol can still help prevent continued liver damage and promote improved health.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Alcohol addiction can be difficult and potentially dangerous to recover from on your own. Severe alcohol withdrawal can be deadly, so heavy alcohol users should seek help from a professional medical detox facility when quitting. Alcohol addiction treatment will begin with a detox period that focuses on managing any uncomfortable or severe withdrawal symptoms that arise. After detox ends, clients begin a rehab program that teaches them how to cope without alcohol and maintain sobriety.

Detox and rehab can take place in inpatient or outpatient settings. Outpatient treatment is best for mild alcohol addictions, and it allows clients to attend doctor and therapy visits while still living at home. Inpatient treatment is best for moderate to severe alcohol addictions or people who have relapsed. Inpatient treatment involves living on-site at the detox or rehab facility, an approach that keeps clients in a healing environment and allows for better monitoring and treatment.

The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper provides both inpatient and outpatient detox and rehab. We are here to help you and those you love recover from addiction and begin a healthier, alcohol-free future. Contact us to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment programs that can work well for your needs in recovery.

Get Help

If you or someone you love is facing a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help. We offer medical detox and comprehensive rehab programs that are tailored to suit your needs.

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.