Physical Changes You Can Expect After You Stop Drinking

Long-term alcohol abuse has been shown to negatively impact a wide variety of bodily functions. Luckily, the majority of negative effects contributed to alcohol consumption are reversible…with self-control measures like moderation or complete abstinence, that is. Physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking will be many. And at first, you might even feel worse before you start to feel better. But don’t get discouraged just yet. Little Creek Recovery is there to guide you through the recovery process and ensure you come out of it a winner. Having said that, let’s take a look at the physical effects of alcoholism and what it is actually like to recover from it. Thanks to this article, you will know the ins and outs of what will happen once you have put down the bottle – hopefully for good!

What Repercussions Does Alcoholism Have?

Before moving on to the consequences of alcoholism, let’s define what the term, as such, actually means. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), moderate alcohol consumption is considered the intake of one or less than one unit of alcohol a day for women. For men, the rules are a bit more lenient. Moderate usage is considered the intake of two or less than two units on a daily basis. That begs the question: how to measure a unit of alcohol? Well, according to already set standards, a unit of alcohol is thought to be 12 oz of 5% beer, 5 oz of 12% wine, and 1.5 oz of 80-proof liquor.

A bottle of whiskey lying on the table.
Drinking more than two units of alcohol a day makes you an alcoholic.

Consuming any more than this indicates that one is struggling with alcoholism. And as is the case with any form of abuse, alcohol abuse impacts a multitude of organs. The repercussions it can have on the cardiovascular, digestive, and nervous systems can be disastrous. At the end of the day, excessive drinking can even increase the risk of developing serious, life-threatening medical conditions, not limited to cancer.

Liver

Out of all organs in the human body, the one that alcohol hits the hardest seems to be the liver. Drinking to excess over an extensive period of time often leads to the development of hepatitis, also known as liver inflammation, along with the condition called fatty liver. However, the good news is that, if one acts early, it’s not only possible to prevent further damage to this organ. In fact, the reversal of damage is a reality, as well, since the liver is capable of self-healing to a certain extent. Physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking will be particularly apparent in your liver. For instance, a couple of weeks into your sobriety your liver will no longer be too busy processing alcohol and will, therefore, be capable of doing what it was always supposed to do; Metabolizing fats and breaking down toxins.

Cardiovascular System

There is substantial evidence that alcohol impairs cardiovascular function, including that of the heart and blood vessels. Consumption of alcoholic beverages triggers the release of an enzyme called dehydrogenase, which is responsible for the alcohol’s breakdown and subsequent metabolism in the liver. When people drink to excess, they overwhelm this enzyme, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately raises their LDL cholesterol levels (low-density lipoprotein). The higher the LDL cholesterol, the higher the chance of it sticking to the arterial walls and causing a blockage, thus making a person more prone to a heart attack or stroke. However, it’s not only the latter two that alcohol use may contribute to. Another possible side effect of heavy drinking is also abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

Alcohol consumption can also lead to an increase in blood pressure. The hormone angiotensin II, which causes blood vessel constriction, has proven to be elevated in alcoholics. Because of this, the heart has to exert more “push” to pump blood, causing its walls to weaken and thin down. As a result of the strain placed on the heart, heart failure may even occur.

Physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking include the heart, a model of which is shown in the picture.
Alcohol may cause irreparable damage to the heart.

Brain

Several neurochemical processes in the brain can be adversely impacted by alcohol. For instance, alcohol’s effect on the brain’s ability to regulate sleep is a prime example. Since alcohol reduces the number of REM cycles in the brain, it also hinders the restorative power of deep sleep. In addition to lowering dopamine and serotonin levels, alcohol is also a depressant. As a result of this, depression and anxiety may even develop or become more severe over time. Furthermore, a person’s ability to focus and coordinate, their memory (both short- and long-term), their reflexes, and their inhibitions can all be negatively impacted by prolonged overconsumption of alcoholic beverages.

Possibility of Developing Various Medical Conditions and Health Problems

Excessive use of alcohol does not only directly impair organs and systems in the body. As a matter of fact, it can also lead to serious health issues and ultimately, death.

According to the Report on Carcinogens published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, alcohol is a known carcinogen. In fact, approximately 740,000 instances of cancer have been directly attributed to alcoholism in 2021, which accounts for 4% of all cancer cases that have been diagnosed worldwide. In addition, the higher the amount of alcohol one consumes, the higher the risk of cancer. Several types of cancer, including those of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon, have been associated with frequent and excessive drinking. Furthermore, some studies have linked alcoholism with an increased risk of melanoma and cancer of the pancreas, as well.

Other than cancer, uncontrolled drinking can lead to the following medical conditions:

  • Acute inflammation that may turn chronic with prolonged use
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Digestive disorders
  • Pancreatitis
  • Low libido

There is no wrong time to get help if you’re worried about the effects of alcohol on your health, or life in general. The team behind Little Creek Recovery is there to support you in any way, shape, and form, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

What Are the Benefits of Quitting Alcohol and Are There Any Physical Changes You Can Expect After You Stop Drinking?

Putting an end to your drinking gives your body a chance to recover from alcohol’s effects on your liver, heart, and brain. You’ll feel better physically and mentally, and your chance of acquiring alcohol-related diseases will go down. Some of the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol include:

  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Lower risk of developing cardiovascular conditions
  • Improved immunity
  • Lower risk of cancer
  • Liver regeneration
  • Weight-loss
  • Lower blood pressure

What follows is a detailed examination of each of these advantages.

Improved Quality of Sleep

Even though sleep disturbances are common in early recovery, you will begin to enjoy better quality slumber as your body adjusts to its new routine. By the fourth week of abstaining from alcohol, the average sober individual has 5-6 more REM sleep cycles per night than they would have if they were still drinking regularly.

A sound asleep woman representing physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking.
Among physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking is improved sleep.

Lower Risk of Developing Cardiovascular Conditions

By giving up alcohol, you give your body a chance to normalize blood pressure, improve heart function, and even lose weight. With the latter finally being within the normal range, the risk of developing cardiovascular conditions diminishes, as well.

Improved Immunity

The immune system and the body’s ability to recuperate from diseases are both compromised by heavy alcohol use. With that said, among the physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking is definitely a reduction in your susceptibility to illness. But even if you were to fall ill, without alcohol poisoning your body, you would undoubtedly be able to recover in a faster way.

Lower Risk of Cancer

The risk of developing cancer begins to reduce after abstaining from alcohol for a period of three months. This includes the possibility of developing cancer in the esophagus, stomach, mouth, liver, breasts, and colon.

Liver Regeneration

Practicing sobriety for roughly a month will give your cholesterol levels a chance to drop. And with the drop in cholesterol, you can slowly but surely start saying goodbye to the fatty liver. When your liver finally begins regenerating it should be able to filter toxins more effectively.

Weight-Loss

When someone stops drinking, they often find that they lose weight. The caloric content of many alcoholic drinks is rather large and may play a considerable effect on one’s overall weight. In most cases, calorie consumption drops when one stops drinking, and with it, so do pounds. In addition, many people report feeling more energized and having more time for things like physical activity.

A woman holding her oversized pants with her fingers because one of the physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking is weight-loss.
Once you’ve quit drinking, you can expect to lose weight.

Lower Blood Pressure

After abstaining from alcohol for around 3–4 weeks, you should be able to notice an improvement in blood pressure. As was previously noted, alcohol can cause hypertension by constricting blood vessels. Once you’ve quit drinking, your cardiovascular system will be given a chance to recover from the strain it was under and should, therefore, be able to regulate blood pressure.

It’s Not Only the Physical Changes You Can Expect After You Stop Drinking but Also the Mental and Socials Benefits

There are numerous positive emotional and social components of sobriety in addition to the obvious physical benefits. These have the potential to drastically improve the quality of one’s life; including the life quality of the recovering alcoholic, and even that of their family members.

What Are the Mental Benefits of an Alcohol-Free Lifestyle?

As we mentioned earlier, alcohol acts as a depressant and, as such, it tends to disrupt so-called ”happy hormones” dopamine and serotonin. Unfortunately, with these hormones out of whack, one can only expect their anxiety and depression to worsen. Furthermore, the fact that people oftentimes turn to alcohol to escape their everyday worries doesn’t help. At all. In fact, it creates nothing but a vicious cycle that proves rather difficult to break…unless rehabilitative measures are taken, that is.

Luckily, depression and anxiety are commonly alleviated by abstaining from alcohol because, without it, chemical equilibrium often restores. Also, dealing with difficulties has proven to be much simpler after one’s given up drinking in favor of better coping mechanisms. Or rather, healthier ones, which, truth be told, there are many.

What Are the Social Benefits of Quitting Alcohol?

It may be unsettling to go out at first without reaching for a bottle, but doing so might actually help you build stronger relationships. Alcohol hinders your ability to build genuine bonds and form lasting memories. In fact, the majority of recently sober individuals note a marked improvement in their interpersonal connections. What’s more is that calling it quits with liquor may even improve your love life. Couples report leading happier lives together with alcohol finally out of the picture. Additionally, sobriety can improve one’s sense of self-worth by eliminating the guilt and humiliation that often accompany alcohol consumption.

Timeline of Physical Changes You Can Expect After You Stop Drinking

It should be clear by now that there are virtually no downsides to quitting drinking. But while your body will certainly begin healing from its adverse effects, the question is when? We can’t speak for everyone, but what we can do is provide a timeline of the physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking. Just bear in mind that, as no body is the same, the following might not fully apply to you. Nevertheless, they should give you a rough idea of what you’ll go through once you’ve been admitted to Little Creek Recovery and begun walking the road to recovery.

Week 1

During the first few days and after one week of sobriety, alcohol cravings, anxiety, nausea, and sleep disturbances are all to be expected; among other acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, beware that attempting to abstain from alcohol without any preparation can be extremely risky. Fatal even. For that reason, before you’ve actually stopped drinking, it’s necessary to discuss a quitting strategery with a medical professional.

Week 3

Chances are, by now, the symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal will have already diminished. But that’s not to say you’ll be in the clear yet. In fact, during the 3rd week of your sobriety, you’ll likely experience what is called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, also known as PAWS. Common symptoms of PAWS include increased anxiety, insomnia, and mood swings. Luckily, towards the end of this week, you’ll probably start feeling like your old self again. Normal sleeping patterns should begin reestablishing, your mind will be clearer, and your energy will be restored. Still, if you don’t happen to notice any improvement yet, don’t fret. Our bodies have a timeline of their own and relief is guaranteed to come. Sooner or later.

A woman crying.
Mood swings are a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal.

2-3 Months Post Quitting

Two to three months into your sobriety, you should be able to reap its full physical and mental benefits. You’re likely to stop experiencing episodes of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, your skin will have improved and the risks of developing a variety of conditions will have been greatly reduced.

1 Year

After roughly a year of abstinence, the mind and body are said to have recovered as much as possible from the adverse effects of drinking. Your brain chemistry, sleep patterns, and bodily systems should all return to normal at this time. While some alcohol-induced damage is, sadly, permanent and dependent on how long you’ve been drinking, many of the shorter-term consequences can be reversed in most individuals.

Beyond a Year

Physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking and the advantages of abstinence go beyond the 1st year mark. Without alcohol clouding your thoughts and making you grumpy, you’ll sleep better and have more energy. More energy to take part in activities that help promote a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, your heart and liver will continue on recovering and growing stronger. Your mind will have been restored to its full capacity, as well, allowing you to explore new ventures.

Side Effects of Quitting Alcohol

If you go back to the beginning of this article, you’ll notice how we mentioned that ”before you get better, you’ll actually feel worse”. And that’s why we are also here to talk about the ugly: side effects of quitting alcohol. Truthfully, the side effects of quitting aren’t even real ”side effects”. In fact, they are more or less unpleasant symptoms that accompany alcohol withdrawal.

An alcoholic that fell asleep because of the amount of alcohol consumed.
The road to recovery won’t be easy. In fact, before you get better, you’ll certainly get worse.

Chronic alcoholics are more likely to experience anxiety, headaches, irritability, lethargy, melancholy, and tremors. Luckily, many of these symptoms subside within 48 to 72 hours as a result of increased hydration. Some withdrawal symptoms, however, may last for a little longer, maybe weeks or months on end. This condition, as already mentioned, is described as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

We cannot but mention delirium tremens here – occurring in just approximately 5% of those going through alcohol withdrawal. The onset of symptoms can occur anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after the last alcoholic beverage is consumed, and they can linger for 7 to 10 days. Disorientation, restlessness, difficulties concentrating, and sensitivity to light are quite common early on in the condition. Later on, symptoms including tremors, anxiety, nightmares, and hallucinations may appear. It’s important to note that delirium tremens is a serious condition that’s considered an emergency. In case you experience any of the above symptoms, seeking immediate medical attention is absolutely necessary.

Little Creek Recovery’s inpatient and outpatient programs can both help you get through the withdrawal phase. In addition, we promise to do everything humanly possible to make this ”unpleasant period” as pleasant as it can be for you.

How to Cut Back on Alcohol or Completely Stop Drinking?

Now that we have put the physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking out of the way, it’s time we talked about how you can cut back on alcohol… or rather, completely stop consuming it? We aren’t going to lie, it isn’t going to be simple. Yet, it is possible to say goodbye to this bad habit. Once and for all! First and foremost, you need to decide for yourself that enough is enough. When there’s a will, there’s a way. That’s the first step towards recovery and the most important one. Congratulations! You should be incredibly proud of yourself for even deciding to quit! Then, it’s recommended that you seek professional assistance. Reach out to people that have a history of helping alcoholics overcome alcohol addiction. They should be able to guide you through the process, as well as help you define your goals.

In addition to acquiring help from professionals, you are encouraged to join a support group, pick up a hobby, and engage in any sort of activity that may help you cope. There is even medication available that helps combat alcoholism. Although that’s something that you should refrain from taking without consulting a physician. You may even search for help online.

A woman holding out her hand as to say ''stop''.
If you are struggling to stop drinking, seek professional help.

To Conclude

There are hundreds of people that have gone through the same thing that you are going through now. And guess what? They have come out of it a winner, which means that so can you! Reach out to them for advice, guidance, and overall support. They should be able to bring forth all the physical changes you can expect after you stop drinking and explain how to overcome the hardships that may present themselves on the way to becoming your old, sober self. Also, remember that, at Little Creek Recovery, it’s possible to meet such people face to face. Don’t hesitate to contact us at your own convenience to discuss all treatment options, as well as meet your ”heroes”.

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