What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol

Evidence Based
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Alcohol can take a significant toll on your body, especially if you drink often or drink heavily. When you quit alcohol use or cut back on your alcohol consumption, you may notice changes. Here’s what can happen when you stop drinking alcohol:

  • You may have more energy since alcohol is a depressant.
  • You may feel more productive with better sleep and an increased ability to focus.
  • You decrease your risk of alcohol-related illnesses like certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, and more.
  • You decrease your risk of alcohol-related mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
  • You’ll feel generally healthier with an improved immune system.
  • You may experience weight loss since alcohol is full of carbs.
  • You won’t feel the effects of a hangover.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the changes your body goes through when you stop drinking alcoholic beverages after a prolonged period of time or after heavy alcohol use. People with alcoholism and heavy drinkers may experience alcohol withdrawal when they quit drinking. 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms peak in about 48 hours, but should start to improve as the body adjusts to being without alcohol. This usually takes 3 to 7 days total.

Some health problems associated with alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Tremors — Tremors typically start within the first five to 10 hours after your last alcoholic drink and peak around 24 to 48 hours. They may or may not be accompanied by a fast heart rate, rapid breathing, an increase in blood pressure, sweating, nausea with or without vomiting, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and other symptoms.
  • Alcohol hallucinosis — Alcohol hallucinations tend to begin within 12 to 24 hours after your last drink and can last as long as two days. 
  • Alcohol withdrawal seizures — Seizures can occur about six to 48 hours after your last drink, and it’s not uncommon for several seizures to happen within several hours.
  • Delirium tremens — Delirium tremens typically begin two to three days after your last alcoholic drink and peak around four to five days after it. It causes severe shifts in your breathing, circulation, and temperature control that can be dangerous to your health. (Symptoms can include disorientation, loss of consciousness, irrational beliefs, insomnia, hallucinations, and more). Death can occur.

These are not the only effects of alcohol withdrawal. It’s important to consult a professional if you are experiencing symptoms.

How to Safely Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

You can safely treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms through various rehabilitation and detox options.

If you’re at home, follow these tips:

  • Eat a healthy, nutritious, well-balanced diet.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
  • Boost your electrolytes with drinks like sports beverages (an imbalance can lead to seizures).
  • Practice self-care to relax (hot showers, deep-breathing exercises, meditation, etc.).
  • Call a human services rehabilitation center for help if you’re struggling with alcohol use disorder. Your symptoms may be life-threatening if you do not get the proper care. 

There are also detox programs available for you. They offer medically assisted or supervised ways to detox, typically with medication that assists the process. Benzodiazepines, for example, are a class of sedative medications that doctors often prescribe to treat insomnia, anxiety, and seizures — all of which are symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. Some detox programs are held in hospitals or inpatient facilities, while others can be done at outpatient clinics.

You may also choose to explore both inpatient and outpatient rehab options. Rehab centers will put you with credible medical professionals who will be by your side throughout the process of weaning yourself off of alcohol.

What happens when you stop drinking for a month?

If you stop drinking for a month, you may notice the health benefits (especially if you drink more than just a glass of wine here and there). You may find that you feel more energized and can focus better with boosted brainpower. You may also lose some weight, be more hydrated, get better-quality sleep, and feel generally healthier as you have a decreased risk of developing alcohol-related diseases.

Do you lose weight when you stop drinking?

While not everyone will lose weight when they stop drinking, you may lose some weight. Alcohol contains surplus calories, can make you hungrier, increase your impulsivity to make poor diet decisions, and redistribute fat. Because one of the side effects of heavy drinking is weight gain, if you stop drinking, you may lose weight.

Plus, when you have better sleep quality and more energy from being alcohol free, you can also lose weight from increased exercise.

What happens to your liver when you stop drinking?

Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to serious liver damage. The liver processes alcohol (the ethanol) with the help of enzymes that facilitate digestion. Too much alcohol can damage those enzymes and lead to cell death.

The liver may heal with time. It won’t necessarily happen the next day. The healing process can take just a few days to a few weeks after you stop drinking, though if the damage is severe, it can take months to heal. If too much scar tissue develops as cells die (a condition known as liver cirrhosis), your liver may not be able to function as it should.


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Resources

“Can You Manage Alcohol Withdrawal At Home?” Turning Point Addiction Treatment In Southaven MS, 13 Nov. 2019, www.turningpointtreatment.org/blog/alcohol-withdrawal-at-home/

“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Sept. 2020, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Myrick, Hugh, and Raymond F. Anton. “Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/38-43.pdf.

Priory Group. “The Benefits of Giving up Alcohol for a Month.” Priory Group, www.priorygroup.com/blog/benefits-of-giving-up-alcohol-for-a-month

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

“Schedule Your Appointment Online.” How Quickly The Liver Can Repair Itself | Piedmont Healthcare, www.piedmont.org/living-better/how-quickly-the-liver-can-repair-itself

Traversy, Gregory, and Jean-Philippe Chaput. “Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update.” Current Obesity Reports, Springer US, Mar. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338356/.

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Updated on: October 8, 2020
Author
AnnaMarie Houlis
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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