Some call it the elixir of the gods, others call it hooch. A fancy cocktail might taste good but it comes at a price: your health. Let’s find out what the actual benefits are to giving up alcohol. Seconds after you stop drinking, your liver slowly filters out the toxins and sugars found in the alcohol. The molecule ethanol is what makes you feel drunk. It does this by binding to receptors in your brain.
Most notably ethanol binds to glutamate neurotransmitters, which in turn causes the brain to respond slower to stimuli. Along with glutamate neurotransmitters, there are several other receptors that ethanol binds with that slows brain function. The result of these inhibited receptors is what we call drunkenness. The reversal of this process can take a while, and the hangover that ensues after a heavy night of drinking is a mix of your body trying to get rid of the ethanol and other harmful molecules, along with dehydration.
Unfortunately, if enough ethanol builds up in your system, it can kill you. After about an hour, your body has filtered your blood several times and metabolized the drinks you’ve had. The time it takes your body to break down the alcohol directly correlates to the amount consumed. About an hour after you stop drinking your body starts to feel tired due to the high amount of energy it uses to remove the alcohol from your blood.
And since it takes about six hours for your body to completely break down all the ethanol in your system and bring the sugar, water, and other nutrient levels back to normal, the lingering effects of drunkenness will persist. After you’ve had your last sip of alcohol your body needs more rest than usual to recover from your attempts to poison it. Unfortunately, until you get past this stage, it is difficult to have a good night’s sleep.
In fact, recent research suggests that alcohol actually increases alpha wave patterns in the brain, which are only supposed to be present while you’re awake. This implies that alcohol tricks the brain into thinking the body is awake when it is really trying to sleep. But there is good news, if you manage to not drink for 6 to 12 hours your body physically starts to change for the better. For one thing, alcohol has been shown to weaken your immune system. This may leave you susceptible to viruses and bacteria that are present at bars and parties.
About 24 hours after you stop drinking, however, your immune system returns to normal. This is the first of many changes that will occur from sobriety. If you are a heavy drinker or alcoholic another much more noticeable change to your body will occur around 24 hours after you stop drinking. This is when withdrawal really starts to kick in.
Your body may still crave the chemical changes that occur when you drink, and therefore, you would start to develop symptoms such as the shakes, cold sweats, increased pulse, nausea, and anxiety. These will eventually pass but the amount of time these withdrawals last is based on each person and how much alcohol they usually consume on a daily basis. Congratulations! If you make it 3 to 5 days without drinking the real benefits of sobriety start to kick in.
You may find that your blood pressure begins to drop and you will overall feel less stressed. Doctors often recommend that people with high blood pressure reduce the amount of alcohol they consume, so even if this is not your goal, less than a week after you stop drinking your body will be grateful for the much needed break. You might also notice your appetite begins to decrease about a week after you stop consuming alcohol.
This is one of the reasons that people tend to lose weight when they quit drinking. The other reason is that on average each drink you’re consuming contains a couple of hundred calories. And since the sugars in alcohol don’t break down in your body very well, much of it gets stored as fat. If you can give up drinking for an entire week you may also find your skin looks and feels better. This is because your body is now more hydrated.
Not only does alcohol make you pee more often, but it also decreases your antidiuretic hormone levels, which play a role in allowing your body to reabsorb water. Somewhere around the seven-day mark after you stop drinking these hormone levels are back to normal and your body is retaining more water. This is good not only for your skin but for your body overall. Again it is important to remember that the time between when you stop drinking and start seeing these benefits will vary depending on the person and how much alcohol they previously consumed.
A couple of weeks without alcohol you may find your cognitive abilities start to improve. This is because the brain, like many parts of your body, is resilient. The damage done to your neural pathway by the ethanol can be reversed. You will never regain memories from when you blacked out while drinking or recover thoughts that were obliterated from overconsumption of alcohol, but many of your neural connections will heal themselves over the coming weeks and months.
You will see even bigger benefits if you quit for more than 1 or 2 weeks. WIthout the pressure of filtering alcohol, your kidneys will begin to repair themselves. Like the liver, the kidneys filter out toxins. They are not quite as affected by alcohol as the liver is, but overconsumption can definitely cause damage over time. After a couple of weeks of no drinking, the kidneys will heal enough to maintain proper fluid levels, waste excretion, and hormone balances.
If enough damage is caused to the kidneys from excessive drinking you will feel much better once they are healed. The organ that takes the brunt of the damage when you drink is the liver. It is a vital structure and without it, you can’t survive. So, about three weeks to a month after you completely stop drinking, your liver will begin to thank you. It is around then that the tissue will start to regenerate fully and the liver will repair itself. Without having to worry about alcohol, your liver can focus on breaking down other toxins that are produced by the body, which overall will make you feel healthier.
The regeneration of damaged tissue takes time, but it happens much quicker when you stop drinking. A month or two after your last sip of alcohol your liver will be working at full power again. Just reducing the amount of alcohol you consume on a weekly basis can be beneficial for your liver. But if you really want to thank this vital organ for all it’s done to keep you alive, there is nothing better than giving it a rest from breaking down alcohol. And if liver regeneration wasn’t a big enough benefit, there is another major change that will occur to your body after not drinking for around a month or two.
I’m sure you’ve heard that a glass of wine a day can improve the health of your heart. Well, too much drinking can also damage your heart and increase your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. Around two months after you stop drinking your heart will have repaired most of the damage caused by overconsumption of alcohol. However, the best thing you can do to increase heart strength is to exercise.
By reducing or completely stopping your alcohol consumption and exercising more, your heart can become stronger and healthier. Even though this next change doesn’t directly impact your body, something amazing happens when you’ve stopped drinking for a few months. Your bank account suddenly start looking healthier too! Having more money could lead to less stress in your life, which would definitely be beneficial for your health. Research has shown that people who drink socially end up spending between $500 to $1,200 on alcohol annually.
But if you live in a more expensive city and enjoy going out for drinks frequently, these numbers can be much higher. People who stopped drinking have noticed that the money they saved was enough for a downpayment on a car or to take the vacation they’ve always wanted to go on. These are clearly positive impacts on your life that may result in less stress and increased happiness. Interestingly, stress has very similar effects on the body as alcohol does. It can increase blood pressure, cause heart problems, negatively affect your skin, and cause depression.
Months after you stop drinking your body may feel a hundred times better due to a combination of less stress and allowing your organs to repair themselves. One of the most surprising changes to your body after you stop drinking happens without you even feeling anything. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has found that alcohol can be a carcinogen.
This means that there is a chance the substance can cause cancer. The research suggests that people who consume large amounts of alcohol are at higher risk for certain types of cancer, which makes sense when you think about it. Since your body technically sees alcohol as a toxin, and your liver is responsible for removing that toxin, it is no surprise that people who are heavy drinkers have a high risk of developing liver cancer. Some research also suggests that alcohol can cause an increased risk of cancer in the esophagus as well.
More research needs to be done, but there does seem to be a correlation between heavy alcohol consumption and increased risk of cancer. This means that once you stop drinking, you are actually lowering the chances of your body developing cancer. And this benefit doesn’t just persist for a few years, but for the rest of your life. Just to be clear, most doctors and scientists agree that occasionally drinking alcohol poses very minimal health risks. In fact, consuming alcohol in moderation may have some health benefits. However, health problems arise when overconsumption occurs.
But to be fair, this is true with almost anything you put into your body. When you stop drinking your body goes through several changes over time. But even if you only reduce the amount you drink, similar beneficial effects can occur. If you are planning to do something like sober January, or want to cut off alcohol for a bit to see how it goes, just know that you will definitely feel better after the initial shock to your system.
However, the health effects that come from long-term sobriety probably won’t occur just in a single month. If you want to drink from time to time that’s okay. You can still receive some of the benefits alcohol consumption to one drink or less a day. By reducing alcohol intake your body can recover and you can live a long and happy life while also having a glass of hooch every now and then. Let us know in the comments!