What to Expect When You Stop Drinking: Effects, Risks & Benefits
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Last Updated - 7/7/2023View our editorial policy
Find out what to expect when you stop drinking, the withdrawal timeline and the benefits of sobriety.
Deciding to quit alcohol can completely transform your life, with numerous physical, mental and emotional benefits. However, withdrawal effects during detox can be unpleasant or even life-threatening. That is why it’s so important to be aware of what happens in the hours and days following quitting, as well as the risks of abruptly stopping alcohol consumption.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking?
Deciding to quit alcohol can be a life-changing decision with numerous physical and mental health benefits. Understanding the timeline of events that occur when you stop drinking can help prepare and motivate you in your recovery journey.
- 6–12 hours after the last drink: Within hours of your last alcoholic beverage, withdrawal symptoms may start to appear. Initial signs are usually mild, such as anxiety, headache or irritability. Symptoms may vary depending on your level of alcohol dependence. Sweating, nausea and tremors may also occur in this time frame.
- 24 hours after the last drink: Some people will experience increased withdrawal symptoms after 24 hours, such as increased heart rate, body temperature fluctuations and blood pressure spikes. This is also the time when some individuals may begin to experience hallucinations.
- 48 hours after the last drink: After two days, withdrawal symptoms might peak, causing some of the most unpleasant side effects. Seizures, DTs (delirium tremens) and severe hallucinations are possible during this time for people who drank heavily.
- 72 hours after the last drink: By day 3, many of the most intense withdrawal symptoms will start to subside. However, you may still have lingering effects or psychological symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. By this time, you may also feel some physical improvements, such as increased energy levels and improved digestion.
- One week after the last drink: After about a week, your body will adjust to the absence of alcohol, and withdrawal symptoms should be significantly reduced or gone. You may begin to notice improvements in your sleep patterns, appetite and mental clarity.
- One month after the last drink: Within 30 days, you will likely notice significant physical and emotional changes. You may find yourself thinking more clearly, feeling more energetic and enjoying improved physical health. You might also notice that your mood has stabilized, and you are experiencing fewer cravings for alcohol.
As your sobriety progresses, the benefits continue to accumulate, and your overall well-being will likely continue to improve. While this timeline provides a general overview, it is essential to remember that everyone’s experience quitting alcohol is unique. Consulting with a medical professional or a support group can provide the personalized guidance and assistance necessary for a successful recovery journey.
The Risks of Suddenly Stopping Alcohol Consumption
Is it dangerous to stop drinking alcohol suddenly? While quitting drinking is a good health decision long-term, abruptly ceasing alcohol consumption can be risky for those with an alcohol use disorder or a history of heavy drinking. This is because the body becomes accustomed to the daily intake of alcohol. When the substance suddenly leaves the body, this can lead to a range of withdrawal symptoms. Some are uncomfortable, but some can be severe and even life-threatening.
When deciding to quit drinking, it’s important to consider the potential risks of alcohol withdrawal. Mild withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Sweaty or clammy skin
- Enlarged pupils
- Inability to think clearly
- Insomnia, or difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
In some cases, more severe symptoms may develop due to delirium tremens (DTs). These include:
- Severe confusion
Considering DTs have a mortality rate between 1 and 5%, it is crucial for individuals who plan to stop drinking, especially those who have been drinking heavily for an extended period, to seek professional guidance and support. A medically supervised detox program can help monitor and manage withdrawal symptoms, ensuring safety and comfort throughout the process.
Recognizing Alcoholism: How Do I Know If I’m an Alcoholic?
Being able to identify whether or not you have AUD is a vital step in determining the proper course of action, such as seeking help and support. AUD can manifest differently for each individual. However, there are common signs and symptoms that you can look for to help determine if you may be struggling with alcoholism.
Some of these signs include:
- Consuming alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended
- Spending a lot of time obtaining, using or recovering from the effects of alcohol
- Experiencing intense cravings to drink
- Inability to cut down or control alcohol consumption
- Neglecting important responsibilities at work, home or school due to alcohol consumption
- Continuing to drink despite recurring social, legal or interpersonal problems caused by it
- Developing an alcohol tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking
Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
- Improved sleep quality: Alcohol is a known disruptor of normal sleep patterns, so once withdrawal subsides, you’ll likely start sleeping better. A good night’s sleep can lead to improved mood, increased energy levels and enhanced cognitive function.
- Weight loss: Alcohol is packed with empty calories and can lead to poor food choices. As you reduce or eliminate alcohol from your diet, you may find it easier to maintain or lose weight.
- Improved digestion: Alcohol can irritate the stomach lining and disrupt the function of the digestive system. If you experienced gastrointestinal issues like heartburn and indigestion while drinking, you’ll likely start feeling better soon after stopping.
- Reduced spending: Alcohol isn’t cheap, especially if you were buying beer, liquor or wine frequently. By cutting out alcohol, you can save a significant amount of money and put it towards paying down debt or saving for a vacation.
- Healthier relationships: Alcohol can sometimes cause conflicts, misunderstandings or strained relationships. When you cut out drinking, your relationships with friends and family may become more genuine and meaningful.
- Lower risk of developing serious health conditions: This includes reducing your chances of developing liver disease, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and several types of cancer. Your immune system will also be stronger, giving your body a better defense against illness and infections.
- Better emotional and cognitive health outcomes: Studies show that alcohol can lead to neurotoxicity, causing dysfunction relative to how much and for how long alcohol was consumed. Since alcohol is a depressant, quitting can boost mood and decrease depression and anxiety symptoms. Improved cognitive function can enhance one’s ability to think clearly, make sound decisions and maintain more stable relationships.
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Speak with a Recovery Advocate today to talk about your treatment options.
Help for Alcoholism at The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health
Quitting drinking isn’t easy, but with all its benefits, it’s worth pursuing. And you’re not alone. At The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health, we provide comprehensive, individualized treatment for alcohol use disorder in a safe and nurturing environment. At our facility, you can expect:
- An initial assessment that helps to develop a tailored treatment plan based on your goals and needs
- Various levels of care, including medical detox, intensive inpatient programs, inpatient rehab and partial hospitalization
- Evidence-based therapies addressing the root causes of addiction, including CPT, CBT, DBT and EMDR
- Individual and group counseling to help develop healthy coping skills
- Recreational therapies like yoga are also available.
- Aftercare planning that ensures ongoing support, therapy and access to additional resources
By seeking help at The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health, you can receive immediate support and ongoing resources to maintain your sobriety, empowering you to lead a healthier, alcohol-free life. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to get started on the admissions process, or verify your insurance benefits instantly online.
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- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.” 2006. Accessed June 27, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol and substance misuse.” Updated February 1, 2018. Accessed June 27, 2023.
Bayard, Max; McIntyre, Jonah; Hill, Keith; Woodside, Jr., Jack. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.” American Family Physician, March 15, 2004. Accessed June 27, 2023.
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “The neurotoxicity of alcohol.” 2007. Accessed June 27, 2023.