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What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

The Cost of Alcohol Use

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

There is no denying that drinking is part and parcel of the fabric of humanity––think about every social event you have been to. Unless there is a strict no-alcohol policy at a social event, drinking becomes the ‘fuel’, chiding and igniting socialization. Whether it is to celebrate a recent job promotion, or a night out, or as a rite of passage when in college; alcohol consumption is steeped in our everyday life. But after the fun stops, the negative consequences barrel down on us like an unstoppable high-speed train.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) performed a study in 2010 on the effects of alcohol consumption on the U.S. economy. According to the results, the economic costs amounted to almost $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink1. Considering that the study was completed over a decade ago, and the continued rising standards of living, we can only imagine the financial ramifications of drinking today––on an individual and societal level.

These statistics are dangerously high, but whether you indulge in a glass of wine every night or a shot of tequila on the weekend, there are several advantages to going alcohol-free.

Short-Term Benefits

Short-Term Benefits

12 Hours After Quitting

Almost immediately, our alcohol-free bodies kick into high gear, responding quickly to a booze-free system. You will start to feel fresher and more upbeat. Your liver, which is the most affected organ when drinking, is working non-stop to break down the alcohol from your bloodstream through a process known as oxidation by alcohol dehydrogenases2.

According to researcher Alex Paton, drinking can also cause a diuretic effect on our bodies, causing the kidneys to produce urine. Here, the researcher argues that two factors are at play: the amount of fluid that is consumed as well as ‘the osmotic effect of alcohol and the inhibition of secretion of antidiuretic hormone’2.​ So, after 12 hours, you will be dehydrated, and the immediate need to satiate your thirst will be ten-fold.

72 Hours After Quitting

At this stage, the worst is over. Your body sugar might be back to normal. But if you have been in a blood sugar roller-coaster of binging on carbs and sugar, you might need to rebalance your diet and incorporate healthy foods into your diet.

Your liver, which received the most significant exposure due to direct blood flow from the stomach and small bowel, has regained its normal working flow2. Your suppressed hormones return to normal and can work on other organs that had been deprived due to the consumption of alcohol. Your body is now detoxified, and you will feel relatively back to yourself, mentally and physically.

1 Month After Quitting

If you have not had a sip of alcohol in a month, you will begin to notice significant changes throughout your body. According to research, your liver fat has decreased by 15-20%––helping the liver filter out harmful toxins. Here, your fasting blood sugars have improved, and cholesterol levels has decreased3.

You might also notice that your skin is breaking out less often, and those pesky white flakes in your hair are reducing. Because alcohol diffuses slowly and is distributed throughout the water in the body, most body tissues––skin––are exposed to similar concentrations as the blood4. Therefore, taut and acne-prone skin is very common. But after a month of receiving clean and pure hydration, tissues regain their vibrancy, making your skin look younger and dewier.

Conclusively, your mental and physical energy increases. So that gym workout you have always dreaded on a Monday morning after binge-drinking through the weekend, becomes a task easily accomplished.

Long-Term Benefits

Long-Term Benefits

1. Weight Loss and Improved Nutrition

Remember all those binge-eating sessions after a heavy night out––yes! Researchers suggest that the main culprit here is the pancreas, which produces extra insulin to help in the alcohol-breakdown process, but also causes intense cravings for… yes, you guessed it, carbs! Alcohol itself has empty calories that add to your daily recommended intake. Though a drink might only have between 100-200 calories, that adds up in the long term––if you consume 8-10 drinks a night, that is over 2,000+ calories!

Not only that, but according to research, drinking, particularly heavy drinking, can lead to malnutrition. Researcher Charles Lieber suggests that two factors are at play here: on the one hand, drinkers might ingest too little of the essential nutrients, and on the other, body functions are not able to properly digest, absorb and utilize any consumed nutrients4.

When you stop drinking, your body can properly manage the nutrients that you introduce to your body and help in maintaining a healthy weight. Any excess calories can then be expended through physical activity that you now have the energy to carry out.

2. Improved Sleep Cycle

A drink or two a week can throw a tailspin on your sleep schedule, and using alcohol to aid in sleep can be counterintuitive. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) suggests that alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle. They report that one spends more time in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep––light sleep­––rather than in the three stages of non-REM stage––deep sleep6.

NINDS reports that when you stop drinking, your sleep-wake homeostasis––which tracks your sleep needs––and circadian rhythms––which controls when you sleep––regains their ability to control and regulate when you sleep5. Because your body needs to continually monitor your alcohol consumption when drinking, other bodily functions are pushed to the background. Additionally, you’ll sleep better because your bladder will not be wanting a release in the middle of the night.   

3. Improved Immune System and Heart Function

When you stop drinking, your body’s immune system strengthens in anticipation for infections that might come your way. Your body can now work correctly without the need to redivert to take care of the alcohol that is seeping through it.

It also reduces the risk of heart disease as the heart muscles remain strong to pump blood throughout your body. According to research, drinking can damage heart muscles––with women being at a higher risk compared to men. In a study carried by Urbano-Marquez et al., the researchers reported that the women in the study consumed 60% less alcohol in their lifetime compared to men. However, heart diseases like myopathy and cardiomyopathy were as common to women as for the men6.  

4. Improved Mental Health

When you have had a long day, it is not uncommon to reach for a glass of wine or scotch to calm the nerves. However, because alcohol is a depressant, our thoughts, actions and feelings are inhibited.

According to Fulton et al., the researchers report that alcohol has a direct relationship to poor decision-making processes, characterized by ‘diminished control over behavior and difficulty avoiding negative consequences’7. Alcohol suppresses the serotonin hormone––a brain chemical which helps to regulate mood and reduce instances of anxiety and depression. Also, the CDC suggests that alcohol consumption has led to an increase in aggressive behavior, lowered inhibitions and increased suicide rates––more so in men than women8.

When you stop drinking, you can regain control of your behavior and apply better decision-making strategies. Serotonin can flow freely, which helps to control the ebbs-and-flows of human emotion.

5. Reduces Risk of Cancer

The National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that alcohol is a known human carcinogen. Because of this, individuals can develop several types of cancer, including bowel, breast, head and neck, esophageal, and most commonly liver cirrhosis9.

The risk of getting any of these types of cancers increases over time, and it depends on the amount of alcohol consumed. When you stop drinking, the risks reduce as you can maintain control over what you consume, and work towards ensuring that you lead a healthy lifestyle.

Bottom Line

Bottom Line

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends up to 2 drinks per day for men, and 1 drink per day for women11. However, many of us are guilty of taking these suggestions as just that- suggestions

The moment you decide to take on these recommendations, your body will adjust; much like a stretched-out rubber band that has been released. The fact that the pleasurable effects associated with alcohol are temporary, and the negative consequences far outweigh any pleasurable effects, should be an indicator that your body is not equipped to handle alcohol consumption. It is unnatural to our physiology; therefore, the only recourse is to listen to your body.

References:

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy”. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/features/excessive-drinking.html

2Alex Paton. “Alcohol in the body”. (2005) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC543875/

3George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates. “The effects of short-term alcohol abstinence on fatty livers”. (2014)  https://gwdocsipc.com/the-effects-of-short-term-alcohol-abstinence-on-fatty-liver%20s/ 

4Charles S. Lieber. “Relationships Between Nutrition, Alcohol Use, and Liver Disease.” (2003). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6668875/

5National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” (2019). https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep

6A Urbano-Márquez, R Estruch, J Fernández-Solá, J M Nicolás, and J C Paré, E Rubin. “The Greater Risk of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy and Myopathy in Women Compared With Men”. (1995). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7596003/

7Fulton T. Crews1 and Ryan P. Vetreno. “Neuroimmune Basis of Alcoholic Brain Damage.” (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5765863/

8Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health.” (2019). https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health.htm

9National Toxicology Program: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “14th Report on Carcinogens” (2016). https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/whatwestudy/assessments/cancer/roc/index.html?utm_source=direct&utm_medium=prod&utm_campaign=ntpgolinks&utm_term=roc

10U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 8th Edition. “2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans “(2015). https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines

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