What Really Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol? 21 Things to Expect

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Alcohol seems to be a popular choice—over 60% of Americans enjoy a drink now and then, and about 19% sometimes go a bit overboard, according to a 2023 Gallup survey. It’s no secret that alcohol is bad for you, but what exactly happens when you decide to quit completely?

Financial Relief from Unseen Costs


The financial benefits of stopping drinking go beyond saving on the cost of alcohol itself. You’ll also save money on takeout food and treating others to drinks. Not to mention, you can avoid the expenses of new outfits for social outings (which often end up with unexplained stains) or impulse buys during late-night online shopping sprees. 

Additionally, cutting out alcohol reduces the need for spending on hangover remedies and the extra calories of comfort foods the day after.

Your Body Begins Its Healing Process


Once the decision to quit drinking is made, your body embarks on a natural detox journey. This phase might trigger a series of withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, tremors, sweating, and even nausea. While these symptoms can vary from mild to severe, they signify your body’s effort to restore balance after prolonged alcohol use.

The severity of these symptoms often correlates with the duration and intensity of your alcohol consumption. In more severe cases, individuals may experience delirium tremens (DT), characterized by high blood pressure, severe tremors, and the possibility of seizures. Due to the potentially life-threatening nature of DT, immediate medical intervention is critical for those experiencing such extreme symptoms.

Your Energy Levels Will Skyrocket


Alcohol is a depressant that can sap your energy, making you feel sluggish all the time. Eliminating it from your diet can thus result in a significant boost in your vitality. 

With the sedative effects of alcohol gone, you’ll likely find yourself more alert and energetic, which can enhance your productivity at work, make workouts more effective, and allow you to enjoy social activities more fully.

Boosted Immune System


Heavy drinking disrupts the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, which plays a key role in immune function. This imbalance can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to catching colds, the flu, or other infections.

Cutting alcohol helps restore your gut’s balance, which supports a stronger immune response. This newfound robustness can keep you healthier and more resistant to various ailments.

Heart Health Improves Noticeably


It’s a common belief that a daily glass of red wine can benefit the heart, but this might not hold true for everyone, especially those who drink more than moderately. 

Excessive alcohol intake can actually raise your blood pressure and triglyceride levels, increasing the risk of heart failure. If you’re consuming more than the recommended light sipping—one drink a day—reducing or stopping your alcohol intake can significantly benefit your cardiovascular health by lowering these risk factors.

Liver Recovery Begins


Alcohol poses a significant threat to liver health, being a direct toxin to its cells. Regular heavy drinking can lead to a host of liver issues, including fatty liver, cirrhosis, and other serious conditions. 

However, one of the liver’s most remarkable traits is its ability to repair and even regenerate itself. Reducing your alcohol intake or quitting altogether provides your liver a chance to recover, enhancing its function and resilience.

A Boost in Overall Happiness


Quitting alcohol often leads to an uptick in overall happiness. Alcohol is linked to a variety of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions might use alcohol as a coping mechanism, which can exacerbate their symptoms. 

Conversely, chronic alcohol use might increase the risk of developing new psychiatric conditions. While stopping alcohol won’t cure mental health issues instantly, it often improves symptoms and enhances the effectiveness of treatments, paving the way for greater emotional well-being.

Enhanced Mood Stability


While alcohol might initially seem like a solution for stress or sadness, it ultimately undermines mental health by disturbing the brain’s chemical balance. This disruption can lead to increased anxiety, mood swings, and even depression over time. 

Quitting alcohol helps rebalance your neurotransmitters, which enhances your ability to manage stress, regulate emotions, and maintain a generally more positive outlook on life.

Enhanced Digestive Health


Alcohol can be harsh on your digestive system, causing issues like acid reflux, ulcers, and inflammation of the stomach lining. These problems can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and water, leading to malnutrition and dehydration.

Reducing or eliminating alcohol intake allows your digestive system to recover. You might notice less heartburn, reduced bloating, and a decrease in stomach pain. Overall, your body will be able to process nutrients more efficiently, improving your general health.

Improved Skin Condition


Alcohol’s dehydrating effects are notorious, especially for your skin—it causes dryness, dullness, and can accelerate aging by depleting your skin’s natural moisture. When you quit drinking, your skin gets a chance to retain hydration and restore its elasticity, often leading to a noticeable improvement in your complexion.

Furthermore, alcohol dilation of the blood vessels can cause your skin to appear red and blotchy. With sustained abstinence, you’re likely to see a reduction in these issues, leading to clearer, more radiant skin.

You Might Notice Weight Loss


When you stop drinking, one of the first benefits you might notice is weight loss. Alcohol is notoriously high in calories—with a standard glass of wine packing around 133 calories and a pint of beer about 240 calories. These are what we call “empty calories” because they provide energy but minimal nutrients.

By cutting out alcohol, you’re also cutting out these excess calories, which can lead to shedding unwanted pounds over time. This change often makes it easier to avoid late-night binges and make healthier dietary choices. 

Sleep Patterns May Become Unpredictable


Ditching alcohol often leads to sleep disturbances, including insomnia. Alcohol typically acts as a sedative, so its absence can disrupt your sleep cycle, making it tough to drift off or stay asleep. Although alcohol might seem like a shortcut to dreamland, it actually degrades sleep quality, leading to frequent awakenings and diminished REM sleep.

Experts suggest that the initial use of alcohol for sleep might seem helpful, but it progressively demands higher quantities to achieve the same sedative effect, thereby worsening sleep quality over time. However, the good news is that reducing alcohol intake can gradually improve your sleep quality (even if it means experiencing some restless nights initially).

Unleashing Your Creative Potential


Contrary to the popular myth that alcohol boosts creativity, it generally dulls the senses and hampers creative expression. 

When you stop drinking, you might find that your creativity begins to soar. With a clearer mind and renewed energy, engaging in creative pursuits, exploring new ideas, and thinking innovatively become much easier and more fruitful.

Increased Productivity

man thinking
Illustration. Image credit: Shutterstock

Another perhaps surprising advantage of quitting alcohol is an increase in productivity. Alcohol can sap your energy and diminish motivation, making daily tasks feel more challenging. 

Once you eliminate alcohol from your routine, you’re likely to find it easier to focus and accomplish more, boosting both your professional and personal productivity.

Emotional Fluctuations Are Common


Abstaining from alcohol can also stir up feelings of anxiety, irritability, or moodiness, especially during the initial phase. Since alcohol functions as a depressant, your body needs time to adjust to its absence. This adjustment period can also lead to noticeable mood swings, particularly for those who used alcohol to manage their emotions.

The intensity and duration of these mood shifts generally depend on how long and how much you’ve been drinking. For those who engaged in light or moderate drinking, mood disturbances might be fleeting and mild. However, for long-term, heavy drinkers, the emotional impact can be more significant and prolonged as the body takes time to recalibrate its neurotransmitter systems.

Potentially Lower Risks of Cancer 


While heavy alcohol consumption is linked to a higher risk of several cancers—including those of the esophagus, mouth, throat, and breast—the exact benefits of quitting in terms of cancer risk reduction remain less certain. 

Some research suggests that abstaining from alcohol might lower these risks, but the scientific community is still exploring how significant these benefits are and how quickly they might manifest after quitting.

You’ll Look Better Overall


Alcohol consumption can adversely affect your physical appearance, leading to weight gain, bloating, and various skin issues. By eliminating these empty calories, maintaining a healthier weight becomes easier. 

You’ll likely notice your skin looking clearer, more hydrated, and youthful. Improvements in hair and nail health are also common as your body better absorbs essential nutrients without alcohol’s interference.

Cognitive Clarity Improves


One of the lesser-discussed yet significant benefits of quitting alcohol is enhanced mental clarity. Alcohol consumption can alter brain chemistry, leading to cognitive issues such as memory lapses, slowed reaction times, and poor concentration. Over time, it can also cause brain volume loss and damage nerve cells.

Research indicates that cognitive functions start to improve within two to four weeks after stopping alcohol consumption. Individuals often report better concentration, improved memory, less impulsivity, and enhanced ability to plan and organize tasks as their brain begins to recover from the effects of alcohol.

Your Relationships Get Stronger


Alcohol can strain relationships, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts due to impaired judgment and heightened emotions. Committing to sobriety can significantly improve your interpersonal connections. 

Without the influence of alcohol, you’ll be more emotionally present and better equipped to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and strengthen bonds with everyone around you.

Better Love Life


Alcohol notably dampens sexual performance and desire, particularly for habitual drinkers. By removing alcohol from your system, not only might you notice an increase in sexual desire, but your overall sexual performance may improve as well. 

This is due to alcohol’s negative impact on hormone levels and blood circulation—essential components of sexual health. Without these alcoholic impairments, your body’s natural functions enhance, fostering better intimacy and stronger connections with your partner.

Potential for a Longer Life


Abstaining from alcohol could significantly extend your lifespan. Alcohol misuse is associated with serious health risks, including liver disease and various cancers. Reducing alcohol consumption can lower these risks. 

Despite some studies suggesting small quantities of alcohol might have health benefits, comprehensive reviews (including those by the World Health Organization and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction) affirm that no level of alcohol consumption is entirely risk-free, especially concerning overall mortality.

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Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.