What Happens to Our Bodies When We Stop Drinking Alcohol?
From your head to your toes. Three doctors weigh in.
Like many of you, we’ve nursed hangovers from that after-work spicy margarita that turned into rounds of tequila shots in the dark room at Sing Sing. We’ve had a marathon of nights out for dinners with friends with a side of Malbec. We once even tried to go to a club! A club. Sometimes the hangovers lasted days; sometimes it was a lingering brain fog that wouldn’t clear; sometimes it was the...PDA.
We have a pretty good idea of what happens to the body when consuming alcohol, especially on a consistent basis, but do we know what happens when we stop? From your mind to your skin, a unifying theme emerged when we spoke to three doctors. Whether you’re swearing off booze for good or just for now, here’s what you need to know.
The Mental Effects
“For many, alcohol becomes a social crutch. For your mental health, it is incredibly freeing to leave those crutches behind and begin to establish connections with the people in your life based on your unaltered self and the activities and conversations that bring you together,” says Dr. Duy Nguyen, a psychiatrist at Beachway Therapy in Florida. “People challenging themselves to be sober should speak with those around them and make sure people understand their choice,” he recommends. But Dr. Nguyen suggests taking it slow. “Sobriety in its initial phase could bubble up feelings of frustration, even minor ones.”
Your Sleep Will Improve
“Sleep is also a major factor as to why someone would want to take a booze break. Alcohol, though a sedative, can interrupt REM sleep, which is the state in which we replenish our energy for the day to come. Sleep is an essential part of your mental well-being, because the human mind has a finite amount of energy, and if you aren’t resting at night, it becomes increasingly difficult to function during the day,” Dr. Nyugen stresses.
You’ll Have a Sharp Mind
“About three or four days after a hangover or after you make the decision to stop drinking, all your afflictions should begin to recede if they aren’t cleared up completely. You shouldn’t feel pressure under your neck or experience headaches. Your cognitive ability will have improved function. Any overwhelming cravings you may have experienced for sugar or high-carb foods should also calm down. Your mind begins to function more effectively,” explains Dr. Nguyen. “This, of course, is not the case for people who suffer from addiction and are dependent on alcohol or any other substance, as their system could go into withdrawal. Though drinking to the point of blacking out and suffering a hangover are not ideal scenarios—the effect on your brain and system when it happens once is less severe than the effects chronic and severe drinking can have on your system.
“On the other side of sobriety awaits a healthier system, a liver that functions accurately and works more effectively, cognitive functions that are sharp with less effort from the central nervous system.”
The Physical Effects
“In our bodies, we have microbiotas that help promote healthy body functions. In our gut resides a substantial amount of bacteria. Depending on our lifestyle, this bacteria can be healthy or harmful. The toxic nature of alcohol can eliminate substantial amounts of that healthy gut flora and can create an imbalance in those bacteria colonies. These imbalances in your gastrointestinal tract can cause nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. These imbalances are known as dysbiosis, and they aren’t restricted to your gut. Other conditions can cause these imbalances to spur in your skin or other organs,” explains Dr. Niket Sonpal, NYC gastroenterologist and internist. “These things subside when you begin to eat correctly, nourish your body, and stop drinking in excess. Certain types of alcohol, like red wine, are better than liquors for your health. Think about this, should you need to gradually decrease the heaviness at which you drink.”
You’ll Have More Energy
“You will feel more energized, you will digest more efficiently, and you won’t experience the type of bloating and weight gain that heavy drinkers go through. Alcohol can irritate the intestines and cause a buildup of enzymes that can lead to pancreatitis,” Dr. Sonpal explains.
You’ll Avoid the Scary Stuff
“If you are a heavy drinker, your liver may be affected. Alcohol inflames the liver, and as the liver suffers through this inflammation, tears begin to form and scar tissue appears. This scarring in the liver is what we know as cirrhosis, and it prevents the liver from detoxifying your body from negative enzymes and toxins, creating a snowball effect for your body and general health,” Dr. Sonpal cautions. “When you stop drinking, you are giving your liver time to recover and detoxify the body. Make sure you eat correctly and stay hydrated as well, as all these microorganisms in our body require proper care in order to promote good health.”
Your Digestion Will Improve
“You may notice once you are well into your sobriety that you are digesting foods better. You probably will lose weight just from the sheer calorie reduction from alcoholic beverages. You will experience diarrhea, bloating, and gassiness less often, and that is just your digestive system,” says Dr. Sonpal.
And So Will Your Skin (& More)
“In other areas, your skin will clear up as your general system becomes more healthy. Your blood pressure will begin to stabilize, and you will be at less of a risk for certain types of cancers such as stomach, liver, and throat cancer.”
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