What happens to your body when you stop drinking is a question many people ask, from heavy drinkers to binge drinkers.
With the most recent NSDUH data showing over 28 million people in the United States meet the criteria of alcohol use disorder – up from 14.5 million pre-COVID – the coming year is likely to see many trying to reverse abusive patterns of drinking. For those looking for substance abuse help, it is vital to find a treatment center that offers evidence-based care and other treatment programs, including things like aftercare and sober living homes, to help all those who need it.
What happens to the body when you quit alcohol, then?
When You Stop Drinking, What Happens to Your Body?
As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol slows the brain.
If you drink frequently, heavily, or for extended periods, your brain will undergo structural and functional changes. This is the result of your brain compensating for alcohol’s depressant effects by releasing more neurotransmitters. This overproduction of neurotransmitters like dopamine becomes normal for the brain.
If you quit drinking, your brain temporarily continues to produce this excess of neurotransmitters, often leading to characteristic alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Your brain will recalibrate, but it takes time.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms start manifesting as quickly as six hours after the last alcoholic drink. Expect the following physical effects:
- Raised body temperature
- Excessive sweating
- Increased breathing rate and blood pressure
- Elevated pulse
- Insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns
With delirium tremens, the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal, seizures, and loss of consciousness can occur. For this reason, most people diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder would benefit from withdrawing in a medical detox center with medication available and medical supervision around the clock.
The first 72 hours of alcohol withdrawal are the most intense with your body flushing out all the alcohol at the same time as experiencing powerful cravings to drink.
Although it might prove challenging at the time, you should try to view the acute withdrawal stage of alcohol detox as a clear sign the recovery process is underway. These withdrawal symptoms show that your body is shifting into healing mode.
Most people find the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal dissipate after five days or so. The full detox process can take up to two weeks for some.
The things that happen to your body when you stop drinking really begin after detox as you ease into the first phase of treatment and recovery.
These are just some changes in your body when you stop drinking:
- Weight loss may become apparent
- Digestion will improve
- Sleep patterns should normalize
- Hydration improves along with your skin quality
Weight loss may become apparent
Anyone who has moderated their alcohol consumption for a week or two will likely have noticed a drop in weight with no more empty calories from alcohol. Empty calories have no nutritional value. With no more empty calories flooding your system, your body will focus on burning more beneficial calories instead.
Even if alcoholic drinks only contain 100 to 200 calories, that still mounts up if you are drinking alcohol abusively.
When you stop drinking alcohol completely, you should notice the pounds slip away.
Digestion will improve
Not only will sobriety help you consume fewer useless calories, potentially useful for weight loss, but you’ll also notice a pronounced improvement in your digestion.
Your liver is forced to work hard to cleanse your body of the toxins in alcohol. Remove alcohol from the equation and the liver can focus more fully on filtering other common toxins.
Sustained alcohol abuse can lead to inflammation of the liver and fatty liver disease (FLD), as well as cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure in long-term alcoholics.
Beyond this, some alcohol drinks like wine and beer trigger the stomach to produce excessive amounts of gastric acid, potentially irritating to the stomach. Over time, you can even damage the lining of your GI tract.
Say goodbye to all of this and more when you quit drinking.
Sleep patterns should normalize
While alcohol can cause drowsiness, it is not an effective sleep aid. Consuming even moderate amounts of alcohol can diminish the quality of your sleep by causing the body to produce less melatonin, a hormone that governs waking and sleeping. Indeed, melatonin is often referred to as the sleep hormone.
Also, alcohol in your system presses your brain to use alpha brain waves, resulting in a state you typically associate with resting or meditating rather than sleeping.
So, with hormones and brain waves out of kilter, it’s not surprising that alcohol abuse disrupts sleep patterns. When you quit drinking, you should notice the quality and quantity of your sleep improves, and you should feel more rested.
Hydration improves along with your skin quality
Alcohol is a diuretic, so when you stop drinking you will feel more hydrated.
One of the key benefits of hydration is visible in the skin. Alcohol abuse leads to more wrinkled and dry skin, reddened cheeks, and bloodshot eyes. When you stop drinking, your skin will appear plumper and more supple.
What Happens When you Stop Binge Drinking?
NIAAA data shows that 26% of over-18s reported binge drinking over the previous month.
Any pattern of consumption that brings your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels to 0.08% is classified as binge drinking. In plain English, that’s five or more drinks for a male, or four or more drinks for a female, in the space of two hours.
One of the primary long-term risks of binge drinking is the development of alcohol use disorder. Data shows that around 25% of those who breach the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption, compared to just 2% of those who drink within the low-risk area.
Alcohol can damage almost all organs in the body, triggering a range of potential health effects.
Research into the effects of repeated binge drinking show that binge drinkers, particularly young adults, face an increased risk of the following:
- Type-2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Heavy drinking can also contribute to these health conditions:
- Sleep disorders
- Brain damage
- Liver disease
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Irregular heartbeat
How to Stop Using Alcohol
For some cases of a mild and moderate alcohol use disorder, home detox is the first phase preceding treatment.
Those with severe alcohol use disorder, by contrast, typically benefit from one of the following:
- Withdrawal in a medical detox center followed by intensive outpatient treatment
- Inpatient treatment commencing with medical detox
With supervised detox, FDA-approved medications (naltrexone, acamprosate, disulfiram) can lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Medical detox also minimizes the risk of dangers and complications associated with alcohol withdrawal.
Detoxification should be considered the vital first step in an ongoing process rather than an event.
Not everyone needs to pack their bags and head to residential rehab to stop drinking. Research shows that intensive outpatient treatment works just as well as inpatient treatment for most alcohol use disorders.
With outpatient rehab, you’ll benefit from the services of inpatient rehab minus the restrictions and the cost.
The District’s Alcohol Rehab
Here at the District Recovery Community, we offer all of the above evidence-based treatments for alcohol use disorder, offering a whole-body approach to recovery.
If you are suffering from a co-occurring mental health condition like depression or anxiety, you can address this and your alcohol use disorder simultaneously with our dual diagnosis treatment program.
To get started, just reach out to the TDRC team at 844.287.8506.