The 10 Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
Author: Thomas Roth
Last Updated: 6/09/2022
Alcohol is one of the most abused substances in the world. According to the data, there are 3 million cases of alcoholism each year. Unfortunately, these are only the cases that are diagnosed and many more go unnoticed. This is because people who abuse alcohol are less likely to seek treatment for alcohol abuse disorder (AUD).
When someone abuses alcohol it causes changes to the body and mind. In the body, alcohol damages organs like the liver and kidneys. In the brain, alcohol increases the risk of dementia through tissue damage and a lack of vitamin B. For these reasons, quitting alcohol has many benefits that need to be explored. Quitting alcohol can reverse the negative effects of alcoholism, extend someone’s lifespan, and have a positive effect on relationships.
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1. Improved Mental Health
Alcohol consumption impacts mental health because it causes changes to chemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain. When alcohol interacts with GABA receptors it floods the brain with serotonin and dopamine; this is what makes alcohol euphoric. However, when someone stops drinking alcohol these chemicals in the brain become unbalanced. Unbalanced brain chemistry can lead to mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and even paranoia.
When someone quits drinking, mental health improves. While it can take a few weeks or months to see mental health improvements, after the withdrawal period the brain begins to return to normal. Depending on the severity of alcoholism this can take weeks, months, or years. Quitting alcohol can also improve mental health by reducing loneliness. Because alcoholics can damage relationships and spend most of their time drinking, returning to a life without alcohol can restore affected relationships.
If someone continues to abuse alcohol and ignores the mental health implications, several problems can occur. Conditions like anxiety and depression will continue to get worse and more relationships will falter. Depending on the individual these mental health issues can also create co-occurring disorders.
2. Better Sleep
Alcohol and sleep are directly correlated. While alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that causes people to sleep faster, it impacts the quality of sleep. Sleeping after consuming alcohol can interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycles. Ultimately, individuals will spend less time in REM sleep and more time in the early phases of sleep, which don’t aid in recovery.
Alcohol addiction can also cause insomnia, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Some mental health issues like anxiety disorders can also develop from alcoholism and these issues can cause insomnia. Quitting alcohol can improve sleep and allow the body to return to a normal sleeping cycle. That said, the first few weeks after quitting drinking this is not the case because of alcohol withdrawal. Sleep improvements begin after about 2 or 3 weeks (on average). For some individuals with severe cases of alcoholism, sleep improvements can take months.
However, getting the appropriate amount of sleep is essential for a long and healthy life. When someone fails to sleep enough the body doesn’t recover from fatigue, the brain underperforms, and the risk of heart disease and cancer increases. In fact, not getting between 6 and 8 hours of quality sleep can shorten someone’s life span by over a decade.
3. Healthier Weight
Consuming alcohol adds calories to your diet. When someone quits drinking the reduced caloric intake can help with weight loss. Additionally, alcohol consumption causes people to make bad food choices. For example, something like McDonald’s might sound more appealing than a salad when under the influence of alcohol. For these reasons, quitting drinking can reduce someone’s caloric intake by a substantial amount.
Alcoholic beverages can also strain the body and deprive it of essential nutrients like vitamin B and minerals. When this happens, health conditions like fatty liver disease are more likely to occur. When quitting drinking people are also encouraged to make healthier lifestyle choices. These lifestyle changes can help with weight loss and physical fitness.
If someone continues to abuse alcohol their weight problem will not resolve. Health conditions because of obesity can occur, which include fatty liver disease, heart problems, knee problems, and many more.
4. Healthier Brain
Consuming alcohol deprives the brain of nutrients like vitamin B, which the brain needs for memory function. Alcohol abuse can also damage the brain and lead to conditions like wet brain and alcohol-related dementia. In the brain, alcohol can also interact with the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for memory, personality, and learning. When someone abuses alcohol, memory and learning become impaired.
Luckily, when someone quits drinking brain function begins to return to normal. After quitting alcohol for a few months or years, memory and learning begin to improve. Furthermore, conditions like the wet brain (early stages) can improve. While some of these conditions are reversible, like the early stages of a wet brain, other problems like dementia are progressive diseases that continue to cause decline. These conditions often develop during end-stage alcoholism.
Overall, alcohol’s impact on brain function can lead to death if left untreated for decades.
5. Stronger Immune System
Alcohol consumption interacts with the immune system and makes it weaker. The immune system requires white blood cells to target and destroy viruses, cancer cells, and infections. Alcohol, however, reduces the body’s capability of producing white blood cells. A lowered white blood cell count increases the risk of infection and increases inflammation throughout the body. For these reasons, people who consume alcohol suffer from severe diseases like the flu and pneumonia. In fact, alcohol abuse can cause mild diseases like the common cold to progress to pneumonia.
When someone stops abusing alcohol the immune system begins to recover. This means that recovering alcoholics will experience fewer cases of flu, colds, and severe diseases. There’s also some evidence that suggests chronic ailments like inflammation can improve when someone quits drinking. Keep in mind that it can take months or years for the immune function to return to normal. It also depends on how long someone has been abusing alcohol and their age.
Continuing to abuse alcohol will make immune function worse. As someone grows older conditions like the flu become more deadly. Even things like the common cold can progress to pneumonia and lead to death.
6. Healthier Liver
The liver is responsible for removing alcohol from the blood. When someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to decrease, it’s because of the liver’s efforts to remove toxins from the blood. While the liver is effective at removing alcohol from the blood (it can remove up to 1 standard drink per hour), abusing alcohol causes the liver function to decline over time. Abusing alcohol can also lead to deposits of fat on the liver, which increases the risk of liver failure. According to the data, people who abuse alcohol have a much higher risk of developing liver disease than people who don’t drink alcohol.
Depending on the case of alcoholism, quitting drinking can improve liver health and function. With reduced alcohol consumption, exercise, and healthy eating, fatty liver disease can stop progressing and sometimes go away. Quitting drinking also reduces the risk of liver failure and other liver-related problems.
Continuing to abuse alcohol can damage the liver beyond repair. When this happens, the liver can fail and the individual will need a liver transplant to survive. Even with a transplant, the prognosis is not a good one.
7. Stronger Heart
Abusing alcohol leads to heart disease and an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke. For example, people who abuse alcohol are 50% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke within a day of consuming alcohol. Over the long term, people who abuse alcohol have an increased risk of clogged arteries and other heart conditions. Bouts of binge drinking can also strain the heart and brain, which can lead to coma and death only a few hours after alcohol consumption.
When someone quits drinking alcohol heart health improves. It doesn’t improve overnight but after many months and years the risk of heart attack and stroke decreases. Furthermore, arteries won’t be crowded with plaque deposits and other organs in the body will function better because of this. Ultimately, quitting drinking can save the heart from failure.
For someone who continues to abuse alcohol, though, the risk of heart disease continues to increase. As someone ages, the risk of heart attack and stroke increases regardless of alcohol consumption. When alcohol is added to the equation, the risk of heart problems increases drastically.
8. Decreased Risk of Cancer
Studies have shown that alcohol increases the risk of certain cancers. Alcohol can increase the risk of esophageal cancer, throat cancer, mouth cancer, and rare cancers like stomach cancer. Unlike tobacco, alcohol also increases the risk of other cancers forming because of a reduced white blood cell count. White blood cells can target and destroy cancer cells before it becomes a problem and this occurs many times throughout someone’s life. However, alcohol consumption can make the body less effective at removing all types of cancer.
Someone who quits drinking, however, reduces their risk of cancer. The risk of cancer will drop by a few percent each year that someone quits drinking, so it’s more of a long-term benefit than a short-term benefit. Quitting alcohol can also be beneficial during cancer treatment.
That said, someone who abuses alcohol will continue to increase the risk of cancer developing.
Lowering the risk of cancer is essential for someone who wants to live a long and healthy life.
9. Improved Digestion
Alcohol causes several problems with digestion. In the short-term, alcohol causes the stomach to produce more acid. More acid in the stomach leads to gastrointestinal distress and acid reflux. Acid reflux is known for increasing the risk of esophageal cancer, which can be fatal. Alcohol also causes problems for the small intestine, large intestine, and rectum. In fact, alcohol abuse is one of the few things that increase the risk of rectal cancers.
While alcohol can damage the digestive system, it can also cause discomfort. People who abuse alcohol are more likely to struggle with nausea and vomiting. Abusing alcohol can also lead to diarrhea and amplify the symptoms of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Individuals who quit drinking can find relief from symptoms like acid reflux and reduce the risk of digestive problems occurring in the future.
10. Improved Memory and Cognitive Function
Alcohol interacts with the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory. Abusing alcohol can reduce memory and impair learning, which leads to many problems with learning and general cognitive function. Alcohol abuse can also cause other parts of the brain to become damaged, which leads to less coordination and confusion. Ultimately, abusing alcohol can damage the brain and make it more challenging to function in everyday life.
When an individual quits alcohol many of these effects can be reversed. Memory function can begin to improve in a few weeks or months and cognitive function begins to improve. While alcoholism can lead to permanent brain damage, if caught early enough most of the damage from conditions like the wet brain can be reversed. Unfortunately, alcohol-related dementia can not be reversed. Instead, it can be slowed down.
Quitting alcohol is essential for a healthy brain and a long life.
What Do You Need To Know About Quitting Alcohol?
Under 40% of alcoholics recover from alcoholism. Furthermore, the longer someone abuses alcohol the harder it becomes to quit drinking. The good news is that it’s possible to quit alcohol regardless of how long someone has been abusing the substance. There are also different treatment methods and some can work for everyone. Depending on your needs and what a medical professional recommends, it’s possible to quit alcohol in a few weeks.
You’re also not alone when it comes to quitting alcohol. While outpatient and inpatient treatment programs are great for helping people with withdrawal and the initial steps, finding support groups is essential for long-term sobriety. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) can help someone maintain sobriety for their entire lives.
According to the data, quitting alcohol is not always necessary. Treatment methods like the Sinclair Method limit drinking as opposed to making someone quit drinking forever. A treatment like the Sinclair Method has a success rate of about 80% as long as patients continue to take medications like Naltrexone.
Quitting alcohol is also a waiting game and time is on your side. While the risk of relapse is high in the initial months after quitting alcohol, people who are sober for more than 5 years have a relapse rate that’s below 20%.
What Are the Steps to Quit Alcohol?
Quitting alcohol has different steps depending on the treatment method you choose. The steps for someone in an inpatient rehab program are not the same as the steps for someone who attends support groups. Even the steps to quit alcohol through outpatient treatments like therapy are unique compared to detox and inpatient care. That said, there are some universal steps for each treatment modality.
First and foremost, alcohol consumption needs to stop or become limited (Sinclair Method). After someone’s last drink, it’s important to find a treatment program that works. The available options are inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, detox (for severe withdrawal), sober living homes, and support groups. Once a treatment method has been selected or selected for an individual, following the treatment is essential.
When a treatment plan is completed it’s up to the individual to remain sober. Therefore, people need to maintain sobriety through support groups and avoid potential triggers like bars. In the event of a relapse, individuals need to seek out treatment again until alcoholism is no longer a problem.
What Will Be the Symptoms After Quitting Alcohol?
The symptoms that occur after quitting alcohol vary depending on the individual and the severity of the addiction. The common symptoms include ailments that make you uncomfortable like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. However, more severe cases of alcoholism can have severe cases of alcohol withdrawal.
Below are the common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
- Stomach discomfort
There are also severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that can occur between 12 and 72 hours after consuming alcohol.
- Delirium tremens
- Racing heart
For serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, medical attention is crucial for comfort and survival. Also, while only 1% to 5% of people experience delirium tremens, they’re more likely to occur in long-term alcohol abusers.
How Long Does It Take To Get Over Alcohol Addiction?
Overcoming alcohol addiction takes a few weeks for minor cases and between 30 and 60 days for more severe cases. Many processes occur within the body after quitting alcohol, which comes with uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. Inpatient programs last for between 30 and 60 days (on average) and outpatient programs can last for just under 40 days.
The withdrawal phase lasts for between one and three weeks but for serious cases of alcoholism, it can last months. Once the withdrawal phase concludes a person’s fight with alcoholism is not over. Maintaining sobriety is crucial for avoiding relapse, which causes many people to join groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). Joining these support groups is a lifetime commitment, so it can take someone decades to completely lose the urge to drink.
On the other hand, treatment methods like the Sinclair Method work differently. The Sinclair Method makes the effects of alcohol less pleasurable, so people are less likely to consume an intoxicating amount. Methods like the Sinclair Method can cure alcoholism without the need for an individual to be sober.
Ultimately, the time it takes to quit alcohol depends on many factors like the individual and the treatment method.