The Benefits of Quitting Drinking: Living Out a Healthier Life
It starts out with just one drink at night to wind down from a stressful day at work. Then over time, a stash of alcohol is always available in the house. During busy days, drinking helps to get through the day and make everything more tolerable. During slow days, drinking is just a tool to pass the time.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “In 2019, 25.8 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge-drinking in the past month.” At the same time, the report concludes that “6.3 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.”
The NIAAA estimated in 2019 that approximately 14.1 million adults, meaning individuals 18 and older, had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the United States. These large numbers are an indication of a widespread problem and struggle for many people across the country.
An alcohol use disorder can have grave consequences. From financial troubles to maintaining healthy relationships, alcohol can negatively impact diverse areas in a person’s life.
However, alcohol use disorder does not have to be a death sentence. In fact, each year plenty of people are taking the necessary steps to get the help and support they need to stop letting alcohol control their life.
The benefits are numerous, and though it may sound stereotypical, turning away from alcohol as a crutch or solution has given many individuals a new chance and an opportunity to actively set fresh goals and build a healthier life.
What Does an Alcohol Use Disorder Look Like?
Before even considering cutting back on alcohol consumption or quitting it entirely, one might consider reflecting on how much alcohol they typically consume and how dependent they are on alcohol.
There are many reasons for wanting to quit drinking alcohol that range from wanting better skin to lowering the risk of some cancers. For some people, especially those struggling with an alcohol use disorder, quitting drinking is something that marks the beginning of a new chance at life.
So, what exactly does it look like for someone to experience an alcohol use disorder?
Firstly, it can be helpful to know that alcohol use disorder can have different levels of severity ranging from mild to moderate to severe, depending on the individual. Factors that determine the severity of an alcohol use disorder include the level of dependency on the substance and the number of symptoms experienced by a person. The greater the dependency and the more numerous the symptoms, the greater the severity.
Some common symptoms of an alcohol use disorder can include
- Inability to cut back on amount of alcohol consumed despite wanting to
- Difficulty limiting the amount of alcohol
- Strong urge to drink
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol
- Spending lots of time drinking
- Using alcohol in dangerous situations
Meanwhile, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as having five or more drinks in one session or 14 a week for men and four or more drinks in one session or seven a week for women.
One drink is defined as
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of unfortified wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor
Understanding the Health Risks of Heavy Alcohol Consumption
Over time, heavy drinking can really begin to take a serious toll on a person’s physical and mental health. Excessive drinking can reduce an individual’s ability to make proper judgments and can lead to risky or even dangerous behavior that can put an individual and surrounding people in harm’s way. Examples include drunk driving and an increased risk of attempting suicide.
Many physical problems can also be related to an individual’s heavy drinking. These issues include
- Increased cancer risk
- Stomach ulcers
- Liver disease
- Heart troubles
- Congenital disabilities
As we will explore below, these, among many others, are some of the physical risks that one can avoid or reverse by quitting drinking.
Making a Change: Deciding To Quit Drinking
So, you’ve decided to quit drinking.
Deciding to quit anything that has been carried on as a habit for a long time is an important decision and is often admirable. However, the catch is that no matter how admirable or beneficial this decision may be, it does not mean that quitting drinking will suddenly be accomplished overnight.
In fact, for someone who has been drinking heavily for a long period of time, it will likely be very challenging to quit, but it will not be impossible. Although millions of people struggle with their drinking habits, few of them ever seek professional treatment and support. A proper substance use treatment program can make a world of a difference for those serious about quitting and desiring long-term sobriety.
At Pathways Recovery in Sacramento, CA, we offer a range of services that include alcohol detox, residential alcohol treatment centers, and an outpatient program. Our approach to treatment includes embracing the healing of mind, body, and spirit in all of our clients as they learn about tools and strategies to utilize in living out a long-term recovery.
Quitting drinking, or any substance, is often best accomplished through professional treatment programs. Learning more about addiction, relapse prevention techniques, and other lessons such as healthy stress management, all work to provide a structured system of support. These additional tools, alongside medical supervision, often yield better long-term results than going it alone.
Nevertheless, professional alcohol misuse treatment is no guarantee that recovery will be a walk in the park. In fact, part of the reason that quitting alcohol is so difficult is due to changes and interactions that occur in the brain when it interacts with alcohol.
First, alcohol can encourage the stimulation of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate pleasure. When this chemical is released, the brain’s reward system is affected. When drinking, this can encourage people to keep drinking or feel like drinking is a rewarding experience. Consequently, some people come to associate these positive feelings they have with drinking.
However, as a person continues to drink, encouraged by these rewarding feelings, the brain becomes more accustomed to these higher levels of dopamine. As the brain becomes more tolerant, the feeling of pleasure is harder to experience. In order to combat this, people will begin to drink more frequently, and in increasing amounts, to experience the same amount of pleasure.
Lastly, the more a person drinks, the more the brain needs to balance the effects of the alcohol as a depressant. As a depressant, alcohol slows the body’s systems. In order to counteract this, the brain will increase levels of glutamate activity. Glutamate is an excitatory chemical. The result of this interaction is that the brain becomes excited in the presence of alcohol and can remain in this excited state, even if the individual isn’t drinking in that moment.
Although there are many challenges to quitting drinking, for many people, the health benefits and feeling as though they’ve gotten a second chance at life is worth it.
Learn About the Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
Quitting alcohol can result in numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Read on to discover some of the most notable health benefits from quitting alcohol.
Better-Looking Skin (Look Younger!)
Alcohol is well-known for causing dehydration. But dehydration isn’t just something that affects your unseen bodily systems and functions. Dehydration can result in apparent outward side effects through things like dry skin. Without proper hydration, skin loses some of its elasticity. Once someone stops drinking, skin can bounce back to some degree, especially the younger a person is.
Alcohol can also cause some body tissue inflammation. Inflamed skin gives off a red flush, a condition that usually indicates someone has been drinking. Generally, flushed skin vanishes after alcohol leaves the body, but over time, this inflammation can damage skin.
Consistent, heavy drinking can also cause skin to sag and become loose. This is due to alcohol’s ability to lower a person’s collagen levels. Collagen is a protein that is known for its ability to strengthen tissue and connect skin cells. It’s also the most abundant protein in the body.
Individuals who have rosacea may also find their rosacea becomes very irritated and flares when consuming alcohol. In less common cases, alcohol may intensify the effects of rhinophyma, a condition colloquially known as “alcoholic nose” and an effect of very severe rosacea. Individuals with rhinophyma experience a red, bulbous nose.
Get Better Quality Sleep
Since alcohol is a depressant, it can make people drowsy. This drowsiness along with a lowering of proper motor function and coordination is why activities such as driving while intoxicated are illegal.
However, when consumed often and in excess, alcohol can also lower the quality of sleep a person gets and can induce insomnia. Excess alcohol consumption can lead to more interrupted sleep, potentially causing daytime drowsiness.
Individuals with an alcohol use disorder often experience some type of insomnia symptoms. As alcohol interrupts REM cycles and causes sleep disruptions, people accustomed to using alcohol at bedtime can find themselves stuck in a vicious cycle. First, alcohol is used to fall asleep, but due to the poor quality of sleep, daytime fatigue sets in. In attempts to combat this fatigue, stimulants like caffeine are used during the day to combat tiredness. At the end of the day, an individual once again turns to alcohol in an effort to combat the effects induced by stimulants.
In addition, individuals with sleep apnea may also find that their condition is exacerbated by excessive alcohol use.
Achieve a Healthier Weight
Did you know that alcohol is actually very high in terms of calorie content? The calories in alcohol are called “empty calories,” meaning they provide little to no nutritional value to the body. Empty calories besides alcoholic beverages include calories that primarily come from sugar or solid fats. For example, empty calorie foods include treats such as cookies, cakes, muffins, and donuts.
Oftentimes, these empty calorie foods and drinks are items that seem appealing and are often classified as desserts or something “extra.” Nobody truly needs to consume these types of items for nutritional purposes, but their sugar and fat contents make them delicious to eat.
The calories from alcohol that the body processes are stored as sugar before being converted to fat. Just as people trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight make an effort to limit the amount of sweets they consume, individuals who give up or limit their alcohol consumption may find themselves losing weight.
Reap Mental Health Benefits
Generally speaking, there is a prominently recognized link between heavy drinking and the existence of another illness, including mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. In fact, some individuals may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication for their mental illness struggles.
Unfortunately, it’s known that alcohol can actually worsen symptoms of mental illness. This can also cause a vicious cycle to form where people will try to self-medicate their symptoms of mental illness with alcohol, only to then realize they are still feeling poorly. To remedy this, they turn back to alcohol use only to find the symptoms getting worse, thus continuing this self-destructive cycle.
Heavy drinking also causes a particular effect in people called a “moral hangover.” This term refers to feelings of uneasiness, regret, and guilt that can occur after doing something a person wishes they hadn’t done. People who struggle with an alcohol use disorder are more prone to carrying out poorly informed actions due to a warped sense of judgment that comes from excessive drinking.
This benefit might seem a bit out of place amidst a long list of physical and mental benefits, but this benefit is certainly true! When someone drinks a couple of beers or goes through a bottle of wine in a week, the cost doesn’t seem to be too much.
But when someone is drinking heavily every single day, the cost of continuously replenishing an alcohol supply can add up quickly and begin to take a financial toll. The prices can quickly add up when a person often frequents bars. Ordering cocktails and other mixed drinks at a bar tend to be more expensive overall when compared to just buying a six-pack of beer at the local grocery store.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism created an alcohol spending calculator that lets users input information about their drinking habits and find out how much they spend on average per week on alcohol.
People who are chronic heavy drinkers are more likely to be at least a little bit malnourished. As previously mentioned, alcohol is full of empty calories that don’t really offer any significant amount of nutrition to the body. Instead, those calories are processed as sugar and later turned into fat.
Excessive drinking can cause a person’s body to become depleted of important nutrients. When someone is a heavy drinker, there is a tendency to not pay as much attention to eating healthy, balanced meals with any kind of regularity. Instead, drinking takes up a lot of the time spent eating and comes to serve as a substitution of sorts. However, alcohol is hardly enough to sustain a person.
As a result, individuals who struggle with an alcohol use disorder don’t receive the amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins they need. Substituting alcohol for carbohydrates, for example, less energy is obtained from the calories, which can lead to weight loss and malnourishment.
Low blood sugar is just one condition that follows malnourishment. Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, can cause harm to a person if left untreated. The brain and various tissues require glucose to function properly, but individuals with hypoglycemia may experience injury in some form due to this lack of glucose.
Lower Risk of Some Cancer
Among populations of people who are heavy drinkers, certain types of cancers are more common. These include mouth and throat cancer, liver cancer, esophagus cancer, colon and rectum cancer, breast cancer, and larynx cancer.
The National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists alcohol as a known carcinogen, a substance that has the potential to cause cancer in tissue. It should also be noted that carcinogens such as alcohol do not necessarily mean that a person who drinks will automatically get cancer because of excessive alcohol consumption.
There are a variety of factors that can increase a person’s risk for developing an alcohol-related cancer. These factors include things such as how much time a person spends drinking, how long a person has excessively consumed alcohol, and how much a person will drink at a time.
Avoiding alcohol altogether is a good option that can eliminate the potential for any alcohol-caused cancers to develop in the future, sparing a person’s physical and mental health, time, and money.
Save Your Liver
It’s common knowledge that heavy drinking is very bad for the liver’s health, so it comes as no surprise that quitting drinking can put a person on the path to good liver health.
Alcohol is processed through the liver and is not exactly the easiest substance for the body to process. When a large amount of alcohol is consumed at once, the liver works extremely hard to try and process it all. When this excessive consumption is repeated, the liver will eventually get tired from having to work so hard all the time. The liver was not meant to handle frequent, heavy periods of drinking, so over time, individuals who are heavy drinkers can develop various liver problems.
These problems can include hepatitis, fatty liver syndrome, and cirrhosis. All these conditions can result in worse overall health to an individual.
However, choosing to quit drinking can prove to be a great move to keep your liver healthy. The liver is regenerative, meaning it can repair itself if given enough time. The liver constantly generates new cells to keep itself healthy. Alcohol can interfere with this regenerative process and obstruct the liver’s ability to create new cells.
When a person quits drinking alcohol, the liver can repair itself in a matter of weeks to months on average. In some extreme cases, it may take a year or several years for the liver to fully rid itself of any unwanted byproducts. In even rarer cases, some damage is just too much for the liver to bounce back from, although most people generally experience a reversal of the damage in a matter of months or weeks.
Strengthen Memory and Thinking Capabilities
Heavy alcohol usage has been linked to memory loss and increasing difficulties in focusing and remembering even recent events. In some cases, a person could experience a kind of permanent memory loss. With heavy alcohol usage, both short-term and long-term memory loss is possible.
Because alcohol is a depressant, it slows down the body’s systems. This means it also slows down how nerves communicate with one another, including in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for helping create and store memories. When alcohol slows the process down, short-term memory loss can occur.
Over a long period of alcohol consumption, the hippocampus can not only slow down, but it can suffer damage. Prolonged use of alcohol can destroy nerve cells, affecting both short-term and long-term memory.
Some types of dementia, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome has been connected with long-term heavy alcohol use. However, generally a person must be consuming 21 or more drinks a week for four years or more to experience long-term memory loss. Memory loss is a condition that will progress the longer a person has used alcohol in excess.
Maintain More Stable and Positive Social Relationships
When someone is a heavy drinker and is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, drinking takes up a lot of that person’s time. Their thoughts might be consumed with thinking about when they’ll have their next drink, and they might spend lots of time indulging in those drinks.
As people begin to realize that the amount of alcohol they are consuming seems excessive, they might become anxious and fearful of having an alcohol addiction. Although supportive relationships with family and friends are very helpful to those struggling with an addiction, many individuals feel ashamed and push away their close relations.
Some individuals with an AUD may also begin drinking as an answer to a lack of meaningful connection in their lives. Drinking and the drunken stupor that comes with it can be used as a safe space for some people. Drunkenness can be a means of avoiding painful emotions and create a temporary connection to something, in this case alcohol.
However, this connection to alcohol is never as fulfilling as healthy, personal relationships with others. By quitting alcohol, a person can move away from the unfulfilling and shallow connections with drinking and begin to create meaningful, lasting relationships with peers.
Explore Personal Interests and Find New Hobbies
Drinking takes up a lot of time. People who find themselves addicted to alcohol will often spend most of their time thinking about the next time they will be able to drink, stockpiling their alcohol supply, and drinking. Then there are the consequences of heavy drinking to deal with: hangovers, illness, and general moodiness.
Personal and professional relationships can suffer as a result of alcohol overconsumption. Some people struggling with AUD might find they are closing themselves off from others and pushing other people away. Instead, comfort and safety is found in getting drunk and detaching themselves from conflicts.
Venturing beyond one’s comfort zone can be intimidating and even embarrassing, especially for individuals who feel guilty or have a very negative view of themselves due to their struggle with alcohol use.
However, upon quitting alcohol, a person suddenly has an entire world of possibilities open to them. Time that was once spent drinking and feeling sick can now be spent on interior reflections and really taking the time to discover interests in the world beyond alcohol. After someone quits drinking, they can try out new hobbies they’ve always wanted to do like knitting, playing chess, starting a vegetable garden, or finally dedicating 20 minutes a day to exercise.
In the midst of AUD, it might seem as though the whole world has become so narrow that alcohol is the only path, but the truth is, there is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered. Finding interesting and meaningful hobbies and interests can put you on the path to living a fulfilling life without needing alcohol as a crutch or time waster.
At Pathways Recovery in Sacramento, CA, we are dedicated to helping each of our clients live out a healthier, better future. As an alcohol and drug residential facility, we help clients start their journeys toward long-lasting sobriety. Quitting alcohol won’t be easy, but with our comprehensive care, clients will find themselves surrounded by encouragement every step of the way. We know that the journey to long-lasting sobriety doesn’t just include not drinking. We’re committed to treating each client like the unique individual they are. Our treatment consists of treating mind, body, and spirit.
Are you ready to turn your life around and quit alcohol? Call 916-735-8377 to speak with one of our compassionate team members and get started on a treatment plan that works for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens to my body when I stop drinking?
If you are a heavy drinker, when you suddenly stop drinking you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include cravings for alcohol, sweating, trembling, moodiness, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, and headaches.
On the more positive side, your body will gradually become healthier when you stop drinking. Excessive alcohol consumption can take a toll on your liver, heart, skin, and memory, to name a few. Over time, your body can recover from some of the damage that occurred due to heavy drinking.
How long after you stop drinking does your body heal?
The timeline for the healing process will depend on the part of the body in question and the individual’s history with alcohol consumption. Individuals who have consumed alcohol at greater quantities for longer periods of time will likely take longer to heal than others.
The human body, meanwhile, is remarkably adaptive and is incredible at bouncing back from injury. Liver damage caused by heavy drinking, for example, can repair itself in a matter of weeks to months, depending on the person.
Damage to neural networks in the brain can potentially heal, but the timeline is longer and ranges from five to seven years. Of course, this process can also be slower or faster depending on the individual case.
Does skin clear up after quitting drinking?
Better skin is a benefit of quitting drinking. Alcohol can dehydrate the skin, causing it to lose elasticity and sag. It can also inflame the skin, making it appear red. Over a period of time, and with prolonged exposure to excessive amounts of alcohol, this inflammation can cause damage to the skin.
Quitting alcohol can allow skin to remain better hydrated, and some inflammation can also calm down, leading to overall improved skin.
Can your body heal if you stop drinking?
Yes, in many ways your body can recover if you stop drinking. It’s common for individuals who quit drinking to note that they have more energy, are better focused, and just feel better overall than when they drank heavily.
The body is amazing at adapting to its situation and can reverse some of the physical damage caused by drinking. Liver damage, for example, is reversed by the liver’s natural production of fresh cells, helping eliminate any unwanted byproducts in a matter of weeks or months.