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Discover What Happens When You Quit Drinking [The Sober Truth]
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Discover What Happens When You Quit Drinking [The Sober Truth]

Written by Seth Fletcher on April 8, 2024
Medical editor Dr. Chintan Shah
Last update: April 8, 2024

Long-term alcohol use alters the mind and body in various ways. When you stop drinking, your body will go through a process of healing and recovery. The length and severity of this process depend on how much you used to drink and the duration of your alcohol use. If you decide to stop drinking, knowing what happens when you stop drinking, and the benefits of giving up alcohol can motivate you to remain sober. CCFA explains how to stop drinking and the impactful changes that accompany the decision to quit. 

Key Takeaways

  • Your body goes through a series of changes when you quit drinking
  • You may experience withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking
  • The effects of not drinking alcohol are both mental and physical 
  • Quitting alcohol also reduces your risk of developing alcohol-induced disorders like cancer and cardiovascular disease
  • Quitting is only the first step – you need to take deliberate steps to avoid triggers and maintain your sobriety

What Happens to Your Body Day-by-Day When You Stop Drinking Alcohol? – A Timeline

If you decide to quit drinking after long-term alcohol use, your body will go through a series of peculiar changes. It’s important to see a doctor before quitting alcohol cold turkey, especially if you’ve been struggling with alcohol addiction or have a very high intake. 

The timeline of what happens to your body when you quit drinking alcohol will vary from person to person, but generally, here’s what to expect when you quit drinking:

Day One

Day one is typically tough as withdrawal symptoms kick in as you begin to detox from alcohol. You may experience a range of symptoms like anxiety, irritability, nausea, sweating, and headaches. These symptoms are temporary and will peak within the first two days for most people.

Functioning alcoholics or people with alcohol use disorder may have intense withdrawal symptoms requiring medical intervention. In some cases, they may experience delirium tremens, a severe form of withdrawal that could be fatal and require urgent medical attention. The risk of relapse is also highest within the first few days after quitting. Doctors may prescribe medication for alcohol withdrawal to make the process bearable and mitigate the risk of relapse. 

Day Two to Three

The symptoms of quitting alcohol may begin to subside, and you start to feel normal. Individuals who have been drinking heavily for a long time may still struggle with symptoms at this point. 

One Week

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms should have stopped as recovery commences. The liver will begin to repair itself if it has not been severely damaged.  

Two Weeks

The detoxification process should be over by the end of two weeks. You may begin to lose weight as your body loses calories gained from alcohol use. Cardiovascular disease risk is reduced as your blood pressure and heart rate stabilizes. 

After One Month

After a month without alcohol, you will start to feel better than you ever did while drinking. There should be a gradual reversal of alcohol-induced brain shrinkage. Your skin may also begin to look better at this point – one of the signs your liver is healing from alcohol. 

Three to Six Months

You begin to feel more energetic and have a better sense of well-being. Your liver function will have improved markedly, and you’ll also have a reduced risk of developing alcohol-related ailments like cancer.  

One Year

You have come this far and can now begin to reap the benefits of stopping alcohol. The physical and mental changes will be significant. Physically, your liver function will improve while your blood pressure and cholesterol levels will normalize. Mentally, you will observe that your mood has stabilized and also see an improvement in your memory and cognitive function. The alcohol withdrawal timeline is different for everyone, but overall, you should notice an all-round improvement in your quality of life after a year of alcohol abstinence. 

Mental Health Effects of Quitting Alcohol

The mental health effects of quitting alcohol include the following: 

Decreased Anxiety and Improved Mood

Alcohol causes the brain to release cortisol, a stress hormone that leads to feelings of anxiety and stress. When people quit drinking, their cortisol levels can return to normal, leading to a decrease in anxiety. Secondly, alcohol is a depressant that interferes with the brain’s ability to produce serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being. Quitting drinking can normalize serotonin levels and lead to an improvement in mood.

Better Concentration and Improved Productivity  

Alcohol interferes with the brain's ability to process information, making concentration difficult. Drinking also leads to dehydration, which further impacts one’s ability to focus. When people quit drinking, their concentration and productivity levels can improve as their bodies and minds recover. People who quit drinking may also find that they have more energy, which can lead to improved productivity.  

Greater Motivation to Chase Goals

Alcohol use leads to fatigue and demotivation due to its action on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates motivation and reward. When you drink, your reward system is flooded with dopamine, producing the buzz associated with alcohol. With time, the brain adapts to the sharp increase in the neurotransmitter by producing less dopamine, leading to lower motivation. Quitting drinking allows your dopamine levels to return to normal, filling you with greater motivation. When people stop drinking, they also find that their confidence and sense of self-worth improve, making them more motivated to chase their goals. 

Other Health and Lifestyle Benefits of Quitting Alcohol

Improved Relationships with Friends and Family

Alcohol use can prevent you from spending quality time with your friends and loved ones. When you quit drinking, you will have better clarity and more time to form stronger bonds with those that matter to you. Quitting alcohol also makes you less irritable and prone to conflicts, making you more fun to be around. 

Decreased Risk of Diseases

One of the main ways quitting alcohol can lead to reduced risk of diseases is through the improvement of liver function. When you stop drinking, your liver can begin to heal and recover from alcohol-induced damage, reducing the risk of liver diseases like cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. Alcohol does cause cancer, and quitting can also reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Quitting alcohol also reduces your risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disorders by lowering your blood pressure and improving your cholesterol levels.

Improvement in Finances

When you’re not spending money on alcohol, you’ll have more money to spend on other things. Quitting alcohol also improves job performance and productivity, which can help you earn more. You also get to spend less on medical expenses that may be due to alcohol-related illnesses. 

Better Skin Tone 

Alcohol dehydrates the skin, making it dull and lackluster. Quitting alcohol allows your skin to rehydrate, leading to a more radiant, youthful appearance. Alcohol also dilates the blood vessels in the skin, giving it a flushed, red appearance. When you quit drinking, your blood vessels will return to normal size, leading to an even skin tone. Quitting alcohol also reduces the amount of sugar in your diet, which can help prevent breakouts and promote healthy skin.

More Energy

When you quit drinking, you're no longer fighting the effects of alcohol, so you'll have more energy and can function more efficiently. You also have more time to engage in your hobbies or other activities that energize you. 

Weight Loss

Alcohol is high in calories, and quitting helps you cut out these non-nutritious calories from your diet. Drinking also leads to water retention, and you are also more likely to make healthier food choices when you stop drinking alcohol.   

Better Overall Life Satisfaction

When you quit drinking, you can let go of feelings of guilt and shame that may accompany your habit. Improved relationships, enhanced productivity, and the sense of accomplishment of stopping alcohol use can lead to better overall life satisfaction. 

How Long Does This Process Take?  

The time it takes for the physical and mental benefits of quitting alcohol to manifest can vary from person to person. However, most people start to notice improvements in their energy levels, weight, and mood within a few weeks of quitting. It may take longer for some people to see these benefits, and the benefits may be more immediate for others. How long it takes to see the benefits of not drinking depends on how much you used to drink, the duration of alcohol use, and the amount of harm caused by alcohol use. 

Tips on Maintaining Long-Term Commitment and Managing Sobriety Safely

Avoid Your Triggers

Triggers are people, places, things, or situations that remind you of drinking and can make sobriety difficult. It’s crucial to be aware of circumstances that bring on cravings and avoid them as much as possible. You can learn what steps to take when encountering unavoidable triggers, like breathing exercises or meditation. 

Have a Support System

Having a support system that provides practical, emotional, or financial support can be helpful as you try to maintain sobriety. A support system can include family members, friends, a therapist, or a support group. These people can provide encouragement and understanding and help you cope with cravings or challenges during your journey. A support system also offers a sense of accountability, keeping you on the path to sobriety. 

Manage Your Urges

Urges are normal as you try to maintain sobriety. They can come unexpectedly, and the key is to have a plan for handling them when they come up. Some strategies for managing your urges include:

  • Distract yourself by focusing on something else, like reading or walking.
  • Reframe your mind by reminding yourself of the reasons you became sober in the first place.
  • Practice breathing exercises to relax and reduce the intensity of the urge. 
  • Consider urge surfing – a technique for managing urges that involves riding them out rather than resisting them.

Build Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships provide support and accountability and can also make recovery enjoyable. Connect with people who share and support your goals, and avoid those who are negative or encourage you to drink.

Develop a Routine

Creating a routine offers stability and structure, which can help you stay focused and motivated. Stick to your routine even on days you don’t feel like but allow for variations when necessary. Your routine should include exercise, hobbies, and other activities you enjoy.

Practice Healthy Living

Taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health can help you feel your best and keep you on the path to sobriety. Eat right, exercise, get sufficient sleep, avoid stress, and connect with nature as much as possible. 

Celebrate Milestones

Quitting alcohol can be challenging, so it’s important to note and celebrate your milestones. Whether it’s a week, a month, or a year, it helps to take a moment to acknowledge your accomplishment. Celebrating your milestones keeps you motivated and positive about yourself. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, the Canadian Centre for Addictions can help. At CCFA, we help our clients understand how to detox from alcohol use safely and the healthier coping strategies available by engaging them in one-on-one counselling with certified counsellors, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals. Call 1-855-499-9446 to learn more about our services.


Are you happier without alcohol?

Yes. People who quit alcohol experienced increased levels of happiness. Though alcohol is a drug that provokes feelings of euphoria and happiness in the short term, these feelings turn to moodiness, anxiety, and stress with time. Alcohol use also leads to poor decision-making, which can lead to regret. Also, the energy boost from knowing you quit alcohol can leave you feeling positive and happier overall.

Will I lose belly fat if I stop drinking alcohol?

Quitting alcohol can have a significant impact on your body composition, including belly fat reduction. Alcohol is high in calories and causes weight gain over time. It can also lead to fatty liver disease and an increase in visceral fat, which is fat stored deep within the abdominal cavity. Quitting alcohol can help reduce these effects and lead to a reduction in belly fat.

Does alcohol age you?

Yes. Studies show that alcohol consumption can accelerate aging. Alcohol dehydrates the skin, leading to dryness and wrinkling. It also reduces the body’s ability to produce collagen, leading to loss of elasticity and firmness. The buildup of toxins from liver damage can also contribute to premature aging.

Does alcohol damage sperm DNA?

Some studies show that alcohol may negatively affect sperm DNA. Alcohol damages cell mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, resulting in a decrease in the number of healthy cells. It may also cause DNA fragmentation, a process that leads to abnormalities in sperm DNA.

Can alcohol ruin your fertility?

Yes. Alcohol can have adverse effects on both male and female fertility. In men, alcohol can reduce sperm count and sperm motility and affect sperm DNA. In women, alcohol can disrupt the menstrual cycle, leading to irregular or absent periods.

How do I help an alcoholic friend or loved one?

Some tips on how to help an alcoholic friend or loved one include:
● Learn about alcohol use disorder
● Encourage them to seek help
● Help them find available treatment programs
● Accompany them to therapy and support meetings
● Help them find healthy ways to relieve stress

How do I know a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder?

You can watch out for the following signs of alcoholism in a loved one:
● Using alcohol in increasing amounts
● Having a strong urge to drink
● Continuing to drink when it’s causing problems in their work or relationships
● Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking alcohol

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

Dr. Chintan is a Board Certified Family Physician with an interest in holistic and preventative care as well as healthcare systems. Credentialed Physician with both American & Canadian Board of Family Medicine. Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Telemedicine clinician.

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