If you’re considering quitting alcohol, you’re on your way to a happier, healthier you. This substance can have many negative impacts, and quitting alcohol can create numerous benefits for your health, relationships and overall well-being. But what exactly happens when you stop drinking? 

When you stop using alcohol, you won’t start to see positive effects until after you have finished detoxing. The initial side effects of stopping alcohol may be unpleasant, but it will ultimately be worth it when you start looking and feeling better. 

What Happens When You Stop Drinking? A Timeline

Quitting alcohol has many long-term benefits for your health. While long-term quitting doesn’t have many downsides, the immediate withdrawal effects can be somewhat unpleasant and even dangerous in some situations. Here’s what you can expect when you stop drinking:

0–6 Hours

Within the first few hours of quitting alcohol, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will start to decrease, and you may feel more alert. You will not likely have meaningful withdrawal symptoms within the first six hours.

6 Hours

After about six hours, you may start to experience some initial withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, anxiety and nausea. These symptoms will often be subtle at first and just a minor irritation.

12 Hours

After 12 hours, you will definitely begin to have withdrawal symptoms. As a general rule, the longer your symptoms take to begin, the lower the severity of withdrawal you are likely to have. At this point in withdrawal, symptoms will begin to transition from a mild irritation to quite distracting. Symptoms that have already started will gradually intensify, and new symptoms may begin.

24 Hours

At 24 hours, withdrawal symptoms will intensify. For those with a more mild withdrawal, symptoms may peak around this point. For most people, however, symptoms like headaches, vomiting, clammy skin, anxiety and increased heart rate will intensify.

36 Hours

After 36 hours, withdrawal is typically at its worst, with the onset of more severe symptoms like seizures. A relatively uncommon but highly fatal condition called delirium tremens may also begin around this time. In fact, over 1 in 3 people with this condition will die without medical help. 

48 Hours

At 48 hours is when peak symptoms may begin in severe cases of withdrawal. Most people with a withdrawal this severe should be under medical care. At this point in withdrawal, the person stopping alcohol may be confused, experience hallucinations or have seizures.

3–7 Days

After three days, withdrawal symptoms may gradually lessen. They will decrease in intensity more slowly than they developed and begin to disappear, one by one. By one week, most physical symptoms should be gone except in severe cases. However, most people will be symptom-free at this point, apart from potential psychological or mood-related symptoms.

Week One Benefits

After you have made it through the difficulties of withdrawal, you should begin to see immediate benefits physically, emotionally and financially. 

Improved Sleep

Alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep but prevents deep, restorative sleep. After quitting alcohol, you may notice you feel more well-rested than you did while drinking. 

Dehydration Eases

Alcohol dehydrates the body, leading to symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and dull skin. Once you stop drinking, your body will start to maintain better hydration. You may likely notice your headaches disappear and you feel more alert. Over time, you may also notice your skin looks fuller and healthier.

Fewer Calories Consumed

There are a variety of factors that contribute to weight gain. However, alcohol is high in calories, and drinking can lead to overeating. Therefore, after you quit alcohol, you will likely be consuming fewer calories, which may help you reach a healthier weight.

Decreased Spending

According to the CDC, the average person in the U.S. spent $807 a year on alcohol in 2010. This is just the cost of the alcohol and doesn’t include other factors, like tipping servers, taking a rideshare service instead of driving or being less inhibited with online spending. For heavier drinkers, the costs can add up significantly. 

Week Two Benefits

By week two, your calorie intake will have decreased by about 6000 calories, meaning that you will have lost two pounds. Decreased spending may have already saved you $300–$400 or even more by this point. While the benefits of the first week continue to build, other benefits will start to appear.

Gastrointestinal Healing

Alcohol is irritating and inflammatory to many parts of your body. After two weeks of sobriety, your gastrointestinal system will begin to noticeably improve as the irritating effects of alcohol are gone. Aside from just feeling better in your gut, you will also notice less gassiness and bloating. Coupled with the new weight loss, the decreased bloating may also improve your belly’s appearance.

Week Three Benefits

By week three, you will have ingested about 9000 calories less than you would have, helping you drop about three pounds of weight while also have less bloating. This will likely make a difference that you will actually notice in the mirror. Additionally, you will probably have saved about $450–$600 by this point. Physical withdrawal symptoms will also be well in the past, and you will feel clearer and more energized.

Decreased Blood Pressure

Alcohol raises your blood pressure, increasing your risk of many other health problems. After three weeks of sobriety, your blood pressure will likely begin to reach a near-normal level. If you take medicine for hypertension, you may even notice that you have to adjust your medications. Over time and with your doctor’s supervision, you may be able to stop taking these medications further, saving money and improving your health.

Week Four Benefits

By week four, you will have been sober for about a month. A month of good sleep, better eating and improved spending habits will begin to add up. You will have avoided drinking 12,000 calories or more, dropping four or more pounds, and saved over $800 by this point. You will feel better and find it easier to think and operate. Looking back, you may begin to wonder how you functioned in the haze of constant alcohol use. The benefits will only continue to compound.

Better Looking Skin and Hair

Improved hydration for a month will have a noticeable effect on your skin and hair by this point. Your skin will probably look healthier, fuller, more youthful and have fewer blemishes. Your hair will likely look shinier and healthier. Many people find themselves reminded of how they looked several years prior to that point in their lives.

Improved Liver Function

Alcohol causes inflammation in the liver. Depending on how severe this is, you may not even know it is affecting your liver, or you could be very sick. While chronic inflammation can cause permanent damage, by four weeks, the inflammation will be substantially reduced. It may take several months to completely stop; however, most of the severe inflammation will be gone after a month. This will keep further alcohol-related liver damage from occurring and may cause a substantial improvement in your liver health.

Other Significant Benefits

While there are many time-related benefits to stopping alcohol, there are also several other benefits that you will likely see that don’t follow a specific timeline. These benefits often happen gradually, where one day, you suddenly notice just how far you have come.

Increased Longevity

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to many health problems, including liver disease, heart disease and cancer. After you quit alcohol, your risk of the numerous health problems alcohol can cause will be reduced, and your overall longevity will increase.

Improved Relationships

Alcohol often strains important relationships. Quitting can make it easier to communicate, build trust, eliminate behaviors that strain relationships and give you more time to focus on building relationships. Everyone’s situation is different; however, over time, stopping alcohol generally goes a long way toward building better relationships or repairing the relationships that alcohol destroyed.

Improved Mental Health

Alcohol often worsens psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety. Alcohol also can become a coping mechanism or an emotional crutch. Once you stop, you will be better equipped to actually face life and may find that you experience less anxiety and depression.

Better Memory and Cognitive Function

Drinking heavily can impair memory and cognitive function. Alcohol directly affects the brain and indirectly affects it by disrupting sleep cycles and causing dehydration. You will find that you’re able to think more clearly and remember things more easily after quitting alcohol. This can improve your performance at work or school, making it easier to learn new things and function at a high level.

How To Quit Drinking Safely

Quitting alcohol can be challenging and even dangerous. If you are at risk of moderate or severe withdrawal symptoms, you should seriously consider seeking professional help. A good treatment program can make withdrawal safer and more comfortable. It will also give you strategies for maintaining your sobriety over the long term, helping you to avoid relapse and keep the benefits that you worked so hard to achieve. 

We care about you and want you to be successful in achieving the benefits that long-term sobriety offers. Please contact us if you have questions about the recovery process or how to find a treatment program that fits your needs.