abstaining from alcohol

Alcohol is a poison. Drinking heavily can wreak havoc on your body. It can damage all your organs, increase your risk of cancer, and lead to brain damage. Quitting alcohol can significantly improve your health, but if you are physically addicted to alcohol, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you quit.

Wondering what happens to your body when you quit drinking? Keep reading for a look at the details. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline & Symptoms

About half of people who abuse alcohol have withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking, and 3 to 5% of people have very serious and potentially deadly alcohol withdrawal symptoms. If you are physically addicted to alcohol, quitting on your own can be dangerous. Detox protects you by allowing you to quit using alcohol while under medical supervision. 

To help you understand what happens during detox, here is a look at the alcohol detox timeline. The process is measured in the number of hours since your last drink:

  • 6 hours: Most people experience minor withdrawal symptoms in this window of time. People who are severely addicted to alcohol may have seizures at this point.
  • 12 to 24 hours: Some people experience hallucinations during their first day of not drinking. Luckily, this very severe symptom only happens to a very small percentage of people. 
  • 24 to 48 hours: Minor withdrawal symptoms continue during this time, including headaches, tremors, and digestive issues.
  • 48 to 72 hours: If you have alcohol withdrawal delirium, you may experience increased heart rates, elevated temperature, and seizures. Otherwise, you will just experience minor symptoms on days two and three of not drinking.  
  • 72 hours: The worst withdrawal symptoms can happen at this point. 
  • Up to a month: A small handful of people with alcohol use disorder may experience very moderate withdrawal symptoms for several weeks after they quit drinking. But most people do not have this experience. 

Again, the risk of serious withdrawal symptoms from abstaining from alcohol varies. Your doctor can help you decide if you’re likely to have withdrawal symptoms. 

If you have ever had a seizure or delirium tremens when quitting alcohol, you have a higher risk of facing withdrawal symptoms. Low sodium or potassium levels, low platelet counts, brain lesions, dehydration, and advanced age also increase your risk.  

Benefits of Abstaining From Alcohol

In many cases, when people quit drinking, they don’t experience any serious withdrawal symptoms. Instead, they experience multiple health benefits.

Cardiovascular Benefits

One drink a day can improve your heart health, but drinking more than that can be very hard on your cardiovascular system. Once you quit, you reduce your blood pressure. You also face a lower risk of heart attack. 

High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack. But your risk also increases due to the weight gain often associated with drinking. 

Weight Loss

Alcohol has a lot of calories. A glass of wine has between 125 and 150 calories. Craft beers have between 170 and 350 calories each. Even the 103 calories in a light beer can add up quickly. Similarly, distilled alcohol has between 100 and 200 calories per shot, and when you add mixers, these drinks become even more calorie heavy. 

To put this into perspective, imagine you drink a bottle of wine every evening. A standard bottle has about 6 glasses, bringing the calorie count to 750 to 900. A pound equates to 3500 calories, and this means that you can gain an extra pound every four or five days. 

Improved Liver Health

More than 15 drinks per week for men and more than 8 per week for women can damage your liver. In other words, if you’re a man who drinks just over 2 drinks a day or a woman who has more than 1 drink per day, you are putting your liver at risk. 

Heavy drinking forces your liver to work overtime, filtering toxins out of your system. Over time, you may develop fatty liver, cirrhosis, or other serious liver issues. Luckily, when you quit, your liver can repair itself. 

Reduced Risk of Cancer

Stopping drinking may also reduce your risk of cancer. Heavy drinking is linked to mouth, throat, esophagus, and breast cancer. In the United States, about 3.5% of all cancer deaths are alcohol related.  

All the Advantages of a Good Night’s Sleep

Alcohol is a depressant so it can make you feel drowsy at first. Many people even think that alcohol helps them sleep. However, although this drug may help you fall asleep, it impairs your sleep overall. When you drink, you tend to wake up repeatedly in the middle of the night and don’t get into the REM stage. 

Lack of sleep causes many issues including the following:

  • Memory issues
  • Cognitive problems
  • Unusual mood shifts
  • Balance issues
  • Increased risk of accidents or injuries
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Heightened risk of heart disease
  • Reduced immunity
  • Higher risk of diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Low sex drive

Immunity Boost

Drinking impairs your immune system. Even if you just have one night of heavy drinking, your immune system gets weakened for up to 24 hours. The more you drink, the more pronounced these effects become. When you quit drinking, you get an immunity boost which increases your ability to fight off illnesses. 

Regaining Cognitive Abilities

Drinking affects your ability to speak, walk, and function cognitively. Heavy drinkers may even experience these effects when they are not drinking. Heavy drinking can impair your ability to perceive distances and volume. It can also affect your motor skills and make it hard for you to read people’s emotions. 

In fact, over time, heavy drinking can lead to brain damage and increase your risk of dementia. When you quit drinking, you have the chance to regain your cognitive abilities. You also reduce your risk of causing permanent brain damage or dementia.  

Drinking is hard on your body, and it can also damage your career, your relationships, and your life. Don’t let alcohol ruin your health. Get help before it’s too late.

To learn more, call Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today. We can discuss your options and help you take the necessary steps toward a life without alcohol addiction. 


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  3. Calorie count – Alcoholic beverages. (n.d.).
  4. Nelson DE , et al. (n.d.). Alcohol-attributable cancer deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States.
  5. Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA. (n.d.). How long does it take to detox from alcohol? Timeline and more.
  6. Stephanie Watson and Kristeen Cherney. (n.d.). 11 Effects of sleep deprivation on your body.

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.