What Happens When You Stop Drinking

When you drink alcohol, even in moderate amounts, it can result in obesity. So, when you stop drinking, you may find that you have fewer cravings for food.

Alcohol Use Disorder: After You Quit Drinking

If you drink heavily for weeks, months, or years, you may have unwanted physical and mental symptoms when you try to stop. That’s because alcohol misuse changes how the brain works. These symptoms, also known as withdrawal, can be mild or serious. Here’s what you need to know.

Mild Short-Term Symptoms

Withdrawal happens because your brain gets used to the depressive effects of alcohol. These chemical changes affect how your nerve cells talk to each other. Over time, the nervous system can get worked up when there’s no alcohol in your system. This gets worse the more you drink.

Short-term, or acute, withdrawal can start within just 6 hours of your last drink. Symptoms usually peak a day or 2 later and go away within a week. Some issues may last longer for some people. These include:

Physical problems. You may have some or all of the following:

  • Upset stomach
  • Low appetite
  • Headache
  • Weird heartbeats
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness (tremors)

Strong cravings. Your urge to drink may be so intense that you can’t think about anything else. Ask your doctor for help if you can’t ignore your desire for alcohol. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) might be right for you.

Mood problems. It’s common to feel anxious or cranky. Your mood should get better within 3 to 6 weeks. Tell your doctor if it doesn’t. You may need treatment for long-term symptoms or an undiagnosed mental health condition.

Sleep issues. People with alcohol use disorder who quit drinking often have trouble sleeping. Tell your doctor if you can’t get enough rest. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi), medication, or a referral to a behavioral sleep specialist can help.

Hallucinations. Sometimes called alcoholic hallucinosis, these can show up within 12 to 24 hours after you quit. They’ll likely go away a day or 2 later. Tell your doctor if you see, hear, or feel things that aren’t there. It might not be a big deal. But it’s important to know if something more serious is going on.

Serious Short-Term Symptoms

Some people with alcohol use disorder are physically dependent on alcohol. That means serious medical problems can show up when you quit drinking. These include:

Withdrawal seizures. They’re more common in people older than 40 with a long history of alcohol misuse. Withdrawal seizures usually happen 12 to 48 hours after your last drink. But they could start sooner. Get help right away if you or a loved one has an alcohol-related seizure. Without treatment, you may form delirium tremens. That’s a medical emergency.

Delirium tremens (DT). These serious mental and physical symptoms usually show up 2 to 4 hours after your last drink. They can last for 1 to 5 days.

Your chances of getting DT are higher if you:

  • Have misused alcohol for many years
  • Have had previous alcohol withdrawal seizures or a history of DT
  • Are older than 30
  • Have another health condition
  • Feel withdrawal symptoms even with high levels of alcohol in your blood
  • Don’t get alcohol withdrawal until 2 days after your last drink

Get medical treatment right away if you or a loved one shows signs of DT. Here’s what that might look like:

  • Hallucinations (not the same as alcoholic hallucinosis)
  • Confusion
  • Fast heart rate
  • Quick breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Low body temperature
  • Agitation
  • Lots of sweating

Long-Term Symptoms

You might not have any issues after your short-term withdrawal goes away. But sometimes uncomfortable symptoms stick around for months or years. This is called protracted withdrawal.

Experts aren’t sure why this happens to some people. They think it has something to do with how fast or slow your brain adapts during recovery. Other mental health conditions can also play a role.

Long-term withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • A quick temper
  • Crankiness or an unstable mood
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Lack of pleasure from nondrug things
  • Body pain for no reason

How to Get Help

Lots of people with alcohol use disorder need professional help to quit drinking. Talk to your doctor about what treatments make sense for you. Bring up any worries you have about withdrawal symptoms. They’ll let you know what to expect and how to recover safely. But you’ll need to be honest about how much you drink and how often.

Everyone’s treatment is different. Here are some things your doctor might suggest:

  • Medication to curb cravings
  • Exercise or other healthy lifestyle changes
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Group or one-one-one support
  • In-hospital care

You can also use the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Alcohol Treatment Navigator to search for a substance use treatment center near you.

Show Sources

Journal of Christian Nursing: “Conquering the Craving: Treatment to Curb Alcohol Use Disorder.”

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder,” “NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator.”

UpToDate: “Management of moderate and severe alcohol withdrawal syndromes.”

Addiction Biology: “Acute withdrawal, protracted abstinence and negative affect in alcoholism: Are they linked?”

Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology: “Craving as an Alcohol Use Disorder Symptom in DSM-5: An Empirical Examination in a Treatment-seeking Sample.”

Brain Communications: “The effect of alcohol withdrawal syndrome severity on sleep, brain, and cognition.”

Journal of Addictive Diseases: “Treatment Options For Sleep Disturbances During Alcohol Recovery.”

Medical Clinics of North America: “Sleep Management among Patients with Substance Use Disorders.”

CDC: “Most people who drink excessively are not alcohol dependent.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): “Protracted Withdrawal.”

What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Drinking

The effects are wide-ranging, fast, and enough to give any drinker pause.

Updated: July 8, 2022
Originally Published: Dec. 23, 2020

Two glasses of alcohol being poured.

Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty

The pandemic has driven many of us to drink. Whether it’s a little added stress relief or an attempt to alleviate months of mind-numbing monotony, many of us are adding another cocktail, beer, or glass of wine at night. Does it lead to sluggish, irritable mornings? Sometimes. But even if you don’t notice the change, if you look at the science of what happens when you stop drinking, let’s just say you might have second thoughts about leaning into this habit.

First of all, alcohol in moderation is mostly fine and maybe even good for you, according to some research. The problem lies in the fact that it’s surprisingly easy to exceed what the experts call “moderate” drinking. For men, imbibing 15 or more drinks per week renders them a “heavy” or “problem” drinker. For women, it takes just 12 or more a week to enter the trouble zone.

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Now, having that many drinks over the course of seven days doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic (though it can put you at risk of developing a dependency). It does, however, take a toll on your health. “Alcohol is nondiscriminatory — it affects the entire body,” says Mita Johnson, an addiction educator and president of NAADAC, the Association of Addiction Professionals. “It slows down systems, causing them to work harder than they need to, and that’s what becomes problematic.”

Some of the downsides of heavy drinking are painfully obvious: low energy, morning headaches, an expanding waistline, to name a few. Others are subtler but potentially more harmful, such as high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, liver damage, and heightened risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several cancers. “Just because you’re not feeling something doesn’t mean something is not happening in your body,” Johnson says.

The good news is these negative effects are reversible. By cutting out booze, you can score more get-up-and-go, more patience with your kids, a clearer head, and much better health overall — and it doesn’t take long to reap the benefits. Although each person’s experience will be unique, here’s a general timeline of what happens when heavy drinkers give it a rest.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking: Day 1

On your first day without a drink, don’t expect to feel much different. Unlike an alcoholic, who will experience acute withdrawal symptoms and cravings within hours of quitting cold turkey, Johnson says most heavy drinkers who stop won’t notice the effects right away, “because you don’t have that much alcohol continually present in your system.”

What you might notice is sugar or carb cravings, as your body isn’t getting the empty calories it’s used to getting from booze. “When you stop using alcohol, your sweet tooth still kicks in, so be careful of which foods and beverages you replace it with,” Johnson says.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking: Days 2 and 3

Since you’re probably not physically addicted to alcohol, going without it for a few days won’t make much difference on a physiological level. Emotionally speaking, however, you might miss the release and relaxation you’re used to getting from wine, beer, or mixed drinks. If a stressful situation arises, you may wish you had your go-to and feel slightly irritated that you can’t indulge. Just push through it. Good things are about to happen.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking: Days 4 to 7

Subtle physiological changes start occurring within 72 to 96 hours of no alcohol, Johnson says. The first big one most people will notice is sounder slumber, as alcohol majorly messes with sleep cycles.

“When a problem drinker has alcohol in their system, two things happen: They have fewer REM cycles than normal, and they often don’t sleep through the night,” Johnson explains. “The body breaks down alcohol into sugar before breaking it down further into vinegar and water so the kidneys can remove it. At the point that it’s sugar, it’s a stimulant, and the effect is enough to wake you up during the night.” Even though most people fall back asleep eventually, they often don’t get deep sleep, which is key for regenerating cells and restoring energy.

After four or five successive days without alcohol in the system, Johnson says sleep cycles typically begin to normalize, and people start waking up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking: Week 2

With better-quality sleep comes more daytime energy. Once restful nights become a regular occurrence, tasks feel less arduous, work doesn’t drag as much, and when your kids ask you to play a board game, you’re more likely to say yes.

At this point, you mind find you look better too. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more, flushing water from the body and leading to dehydration. This hinders all systems, but it really shows on the face. When skin cells are parched, the face looks dull, dry, tired, and old. With alcohol no longer sapping your cells of moisture, the reflection in the mirror may not scare you as much.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking: Weeks 3 to 5

This is when the really good stuff starts to happen. After a few weeks to a month, Johnson says the central nervous system repairs: “You start thinking more clearly, your memory is better, and you can concentrate better.” Along with that, anxiety and depressive symptoms often abate.

You’ll probably also notice fewer digestive issues. “When you drink regularly, the stomach is irritated because there is way too much acid present,” Johnson says. “This can cause pain, indigestion, and acid reflux. For many people, all of that slows down and starts reversing after several weeks of not drinking.”

The liver and kidneys become much healthier, too, which Johnson says is a very big deal. “The liver is so important,” she says. “It’s responsible for ridding the body of toxins and converting nutrients into substances the body can use, such as vitamin K for blood clotting, which start building back to normal levels. We see a reversal of alcohol-induced fatty liver issues, which can lead to liver cancer, when someone stops drinking. Cirrhosis, or scarring of the of liver, will stop.”

The three- to five-week period is also when sugar cravings brought on by the lack of alcohol tend to subside, Johnson adds. And, assuming you haven’t indulged those craving the past few weeks, you could find your clothes fit a bit looser. Johnson insists it’s impossible to put a timeline on weight loss since everyone’s diet, metabolism, and activity levels are different. That said, it’s common for people to drop a few pounds at this juncture.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking: Months 1 to 3

After a few months of refraining from booze, all of the positive changes that come from abstinence add up to significantly improved long-term health projections. “Within a month to a few months, we start to see a decrease in heart-related issues such as high cholesterol and blood pressure levels,” Johnson says. “Future cancer risks — such throat, stomach, and liver cancer — also decrease significantly.” Cheers to that.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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Table of Contents
Table of Contents

If you’re like most people, you probably enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage. Whether it’s a glass of wine with dinner or a couple of beers while watching the game, alcohol can be an enjoyable way to relax and socialize.

However, there are also many people who struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction. If you’re one of these individuals, you may have decided that it’s time to quit drinking.

Timeline: What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

If you’re ready to give up alcohol, and you are drinking every day, here is a timeline of what you can expect in regards to your mental and physical health when you stop drinking. If you have alcohol use disorder but only drink on weekends, know that you will also get benefits from stopping:

  • After One Day: The first day is always the hardest, but it’s also an important milestone. After 24 hours without alcohol, your body will start to detoxify and you may experience withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to remember that they are only temporary and will usually subside within a few days. For individuals with severe alcohol dependence, however, withdrawal symptoms can be more severe and may require medical attention.
  • After Three Days: After three days, you will likely start to feel more like yourself. However, individuals who have been drinking heavily for long periods of time may still experience some symptoms of withdrawal and may even have hallucinations or delirium tremens (DTs) and seizures. Delirium tremens is a a serous and life threatening condition, and If you’re concerned about your symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
  • After One Week: After one week without alcohol, your risk of seizures is much less. Also, your risk of developing cardiovascular disease will start to decrease. This is because alcohol can increase your blood pressure and make your heart work harder. In the coming weeks, your liver will also begin to repair itself.
  • After One Month: A month alcohol-free is a big accomplishment. This is usually when people start to feel their best after giving up alcohol. By this point, most physical withdrawal symptoms should have subsided and you should start to feel less anxious and more positive. One study showed that after 6 weeks of abstinence from alcohol, brain volume increases by an average of 2%.
  • After Six Months: After half a year without drinking, you will really start to reap the rewards. Your risk of developing cancer will decrease, and your liver function will have greatly improved. You’ll also have more energy and stamina, and you may notice that your skin looks healthier.
  • After One Year: Congrats on making it to 12 months! At this point, your risk of developing all types of disease will be reduced and your bone density will start to increase. Keep in mind that everyone is different and will experience different things when they stop drinking.
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While giving up alcohol can be a challenge, it’s important to remember that the benefits are well worth it.

Other Effects of Quitting Alcohol

Here are some of the most common effects of giving up alcohol.

1. Your body starts to detox.

When you first stop drinking, your body will begin to detoxify itself. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, tremors, sweating, and nausea.

2. You may have trouble sleeping.

One of the most common side effects of giving up alcohol is insomnia. This is because alcohol acts as a sedative, so when it’s no longer in your system, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

3. Your appetite may change.

When you drink alcohol, even in moderate amounts, it can result in obesity. So, when you stop drinking, you may find that you have fewer cravings for food.

4. You may feel irritable or anxious.

It’s common to feel anxious or irritable when you first give up alcohol. This is because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, so when it’s no longer in your system, your body has to adjust to the change.

5. You may have mood swings.

Along with anxiety and irritability, you may also experience mood swings when you give up alcohol.

6. Your liver will start to repair itself.

Alcohol is a toxin that can damage your liver. However, when you stop drinking, your liver will begin to repair itself and the damage will start to reverse.

7. Your risk of developing certain diseases will decrease.

If you’re a heavy drinker, you’re at an increased risk of developing certain diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke. However, when you stop drinking, your risk of developing these diseases decreases.

8. Your skin may improve.

One of the surprising side effects of giving up alcohol is that your skin may start to look better. This is because alcohol can cause dehydration, which can lead to dry, dull skin. So, giving up alcohol can help your skin to look more hydrated and glowing.

9. You may have more energy.

Once the initial symptoms of withdrawal have subsided, you may find that you have more energy than you did before you stopped drinking. This is because alcohol is a depressant, so when it’s no longer in your system, your body has more energy to work with.

10. You may think more clearly.

Another benefit of giving up alcohol is that your mind may be clearer. This is because alcohol can cause changes in brain chemistry, which can lead to cognitive problems.

11. You may feel happier.

One of the best things about giving up alcohol is that you may find yourself feeling happier overall. This is because alcohol can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

12. You may have more money.

One of the financial benefits of giving up alcohol is that you’ll likely have more money to spend. This is because alcohol is a costly habit, so giving it up can free up some extra cash.

13. You may live longer.

One of the most significant benefits of giving up alcohol is that you may increase your lifespan. This is because alcohol abuse can lead to serious health problems, such as liver disease and cancer. So, giving up alcohol can help you to avoid these potentially deadly diseases.

14. You may feel more productive.

One of the unexpected benefits of giving up alcohol is that you may find yourself more productive than before. This is because alcohol can cause fatigue and decreased motivation, so when you stop drinking, you may find it easier to get things done.

15. You may have better relationships.

Alcohol can cause problems in relationships, such as conflicts, communication problems, and trust issues. So, giving up alcohol may help you to improve your relationships with friends and family.

It is worth mentioning that nutritional status improvement occurs when someone strop drinking, which is one big reason why people may see many of the above improvements with sobriety.

A Word From Verywell

There are many benefits to giving up alcohol, both short-term and long-term. If you’re considering quitting drinking, these benefits may be just what you need to help you make the decision. Of course, giving up alcohol is not always easy, and there may be some challenges along the way. But if you’re committed to sobriety, it’s definitely possible to achieve your goal.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol use disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

10 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of “Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder” and “7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety.”

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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