What Happens When You Quit Drinking

by Rebecca A. Watson on March 5, 2015

in Recovery

When I finally quit smoking, I needed a LOT of help. I used a nicotine patch for the physical cravings, accountability partners and a great app.

It helped me count days and told me all sorts of facts about what was happening inside my body the longer I avoided a cigarette. Things like:

  • Less than 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate will already start to drop back towards normal levels.
  • After two hours without a cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure will have decreased to near normal levels.

You can find this info all over the Internet, in cute little infographics and on timelines. If you’re a smoker in the U.S., it’s likely you’ve seen these more than once.

Fast forward to when I decided to stop drinking. I tried to find a similar app. Nothing really. I went online to find some cute infographics. Again, crickets.

Marketing 101: Images always look more glamorous with wine

Marketing 101: Images always look more glamorous with wine

So, as I get closer to finishing my second year without alcohol, I decided to make my own collection of information: a quitting drinking timeline, complete now (updated 2016) with an infographic!This comes with some disclaimers:

  • I am not an addictions counselor.
  • Quitting drinking if you are a serious consumer of booze can be really dangerous. Seek medical help you need it.
  • Some of this information is anecdotal, from my experience with more than 200 sober penpals. Other info I got online. I link to those sites at the bottom.
  • This is a work in progress. I will update it as I find more info.

So without further ado, here is what happens to your body after you stop drinking. (Click to enlarge.)

Quit Drinking infographic 1

8-12 hours after your last drink:

  • Hangovers begin and can last for more than a day

First 6 to 9 days after your last drink:

  • Extreme dehydration that can cause headaches and constipation (Drink LOTS of water to combat this)
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Higher levels of anxiety and depression (talk to your doc if you’re on meds for this)
  • May smell funny
  • Extreme fatigue
  • You may start having drinking dreams

2 weeks after your last drink:

  • Better hydrated skin
  • Dandruff, eczema and acne will be on their way out
  • Improved sleep: you’ll wake up feeling rested
  • Improved digestion
  • Improved liver function — without alcohol toxins, your liver can begin strengthening your immune system and help cuts and bruises heal more quickly

 3 weeks after your last drink:

  • Liver enzymes and iron storage improve

4 weeks after your last drink:

  • Moods, anxiety and depression will even out
  • Energy levels will return to normal

 5 weeks after your last drink:

  • Liver fat decreases by 15%
  • Cholesterol decreases 5%
  • Glucose decreases by 16%
  • Weight decreases by 2%
  • Sleep increases by 10%
  • Wakefulness increases by 9.5%
  • Concentration increases by 18%
  • Work performance increases by 17%

Or this pretty image with credit here:

what happens to your body without drinking

 

60 days after your last drink:

  • Distractibility, confusion and irritability have disappeared

6 months after your last drink:

  • You’ll remember some of your bad behaviors
  • You’ll meet a particular commitment and realize in the past you would’ve screwed it up
  • You’ll hear the shadow of your own self saying some harsh thing or throwing a tantrum and you’ll realize you don’t do that anymore

5 years after your last drink:

  • Incredible cognitive gains
  • Close to a full restoration of normal brain functioning

7 years after your last drink:

  • Nearly complete neurological recovery

Do you have some fact to add? I would love to hear it. Leave it in the comments along with the source and I will update.

If you like this post and are interested in reading more, I suggest starting with my 100 day post, or just check out all my posts about not drinking and recovery.

Wondering if you should quit drinking? Check out my audio class here. In the 20 minute class, I’ll walk you through my simple test to tell you if you should quit drinking for 100 days and tips on how to do it.

Sources:

Brown.edu
http://soberandcleanlife.com/what-happens-when-you-quit-drinking/
http://imgur.com/a/MudIR
Reddit.com
newscientist.com
choosehelp.com/

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne March 5, 2015 at 12:36 pm

love this article/timeline Rebecca. It’s so encouraging to look at how the body heals the longer it is free of alcohol. This would be a great support for people in their journey of being alcohol free.

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Rebecca A. Watson March 7, 2015 at 7:53 am

Thanks Anne. Glad you found it encouraging. I really did too. I wish I had it when I first quit, which is why I decided to post this 🙂

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limo March 7, 2015 at 5:44 am

hi Rebecca, being at the start of a sober life (day 13) I do recognise the headaches – I need to drink more… water!
thanks for your post, highly encouraging. I used a similar app as you when i quit smoking 😉

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Rebecca A. Watson March 7, 2015 at 7:52 am

Hey limo, way to go at day 13! Nicely done 🙂 yes the headaches can be brutal so drink lots of the good stuff, aka H2O 😉 thanks for stopping by!

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furtheron March 17, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Given I’m nearly 11 years I should have a “Nearly complete neurological recovery” … hmm… trouble is I started drinking in my teens and was 41 when I stopped – pretty much a 25 year drinking career. I have no idea what a “Nearly complete neurological recovery” should look like! I’ll go look in the mirror that may help!

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Rebecca A. Watson March 18, 2015 at 1:07 pm

A complete neurological recovery…what does that look like? Good question. I often ask that kind of question when someone says, “Oh you don’t look 34.” But what does 34 even look like? I think after 11 years you can probably safely assume your brain has made a complete recovery and that, if there was any lasting damage, your brain has rewired in a much more awesome way. Because the universe and our brains are amazing things 🙂

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Stacy pandya May 10, 2015 at 2:05 pm

I love this blog! I love the articles! I need help and would love to get connected with some of sober pen pals. I’m trying to stop drinking.

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Java June 4, 2015 at 4:54 am

I’m on day 8 and I highly recommend downloading an app that helps you track water intake. I was feeling dehydrated even though I was drinking water but once I got the app and set it to 80 oz a day, I’m feeling MUCH better.

Another tip! Carbonated water mixed with a little juice is a great replacement for beer with dinner 😉

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Rebecca A. Watson June 5, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Great tip Java…it’s nice when technology can help us like that. I agree on both counts: Water is HUGE and I love juice with carbonated water 🙂

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Maggie August 24, 2015 at 8:54 pm

Apple cider vinegar, lemon or other fruit juice, and bubbly water. This us commonly called “shrub,” and is super refreshing. Recipes in The Joy of Cooking and elsewhere. Thanks so much for your words, Rebecca! I am on Day 9. 🙂

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Rebecca A. Watson August 26, 2015 at 6:20 am

Congrats on day 9 Maggie! I love lemon and bubbly water. Had no idea it was called Shrub — perfect!

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Maggie August 27, 2015 at 3:29 am

They’re also called “drinking vinegars” and are fun and delish. Thanks again so much — the world of sober-lady blogs makes me very happy. I’m kind of flying under the radar for now, and it’s nice to feel supported without having to explaaain myself to family and friends. Part of it is because I just don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but also, I’m honestly not sure how many times I could hear, “But *you* don’t have a drinking problem” before I started to believe it. I *know* I have a problem — I live in here! Sigh…. 11!

Shelby September 4, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Tummy issues go away! Alcohol strips the lining of your intestines, Causing bloating, fullness, ulcers, heart burn etc. And alcohol lowers testosterone, and ups estrogen, higher risk for cancer, low sex drive, etc etc etc 🙂

I am a nurse as well 🙂 I have to say, out of all of the encouraging things i have found on the net, yours is the most fun to read, inspiring and I can relate. I was/am the “Party” girl too. The life of the party, how can i give up that legacy? I know how to DO this lol Now what? I am on day 5, and I am rereading every recovery blog to help, I dont want to drink tonight, But its Friday, im only 36! I want to hang out with the hubby and relax. I Dont really want to drink per se, but the longer i go with out, my brain is creeping back to it constantly! The more determined i am, the more determined my brain is to think about it!

So I read your blog 🙂 And try to embrace how good i feel post day 5. Already, so I can imagine how good i will feel day 100. Thank you for baring your soul for us out here! Shelby

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Rebecca A. Watson September 11, 2015 at 10:46 am

Hey Shelby! Thanks for your comment. It’s always good to hear from a medical professional as well as a fellow lucid lady on her own journey 🙂

Best wishes to you as you move through the toughest days. Just know it gets easier and more fun the longer you do it. Big hugs!

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Chris September 16, 2015 at 3:06 pm

Rebecca, thanks for this article. It came up when I was doing a search. I am only on day 5 and as with every time I quit drinking wine I get severely constipated. Which on top of everything not only feels very uncomfortable it plays with my already anxious head that I am gaining weight. I am glad to see this goes away in about 2 weeks. Thought I was drinking enough fluid but will up it some. I am unsure if I will totally give up drinking as I can drink beer without an issue. Meaning I could just have 1 or 2 on the weekends and then not go crazy and have 10. Wine on the other hand is a trigger. It became my crutch after a bad day and a reward on a good day. Wine has this absurd thing with me – I can almost feel it going through my body and relaxing me. Therefore it has got to go. However for now giving up all alcohol and will see how it goes. In my young years as a young mother I gave up alcohol for 7 years so I know I can do it – back then I had no issues with alcohol just felt like it was a good thing to do. Your article and blog are very inspiring.

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Rebecca A. Watson September 17, 2015 at 10:44 am

Hey Chris! So glad my list can help you. I really wanted it when I first started out without alcohol. Not sure if you’re looking for advice, but I’d skip the beer or any other alcohol for 100 days. That will give you enough time to decide whether you like how you feel without alcohol. There’s some clarity around that 100 days that you can’t get otherwise, even with just a few beers on the weekend. Best of luck to you! Keep reading and thanks for the comment 🙂

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Leo September 28, 2015 at 8:31 pm

Hi Rebecca
This is an awesome site and the info is great! knowing what rewards are coming is really encouraging! Like yourself I’ve quit smoking. Close to a year now, and it was reading timeline information about how my health improved every month after quitting was what kept me going on..

But with alcohol I like to have a glass of wine with dinner ie 4-5 times a week. The fact that I have this desire, even just for one glass after work for most days of the week, I know I have a problem. Took a bit of effort but I didn’t have a drink last night. After having read your info im gonna give it try to quit!

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Rebecca A. Watson October 6, 2015 at 9:44 am

Hey Leo! I am super glad to hear that my blog post helped you 🙂 I know that frustration of knowing you have a problem, especially once you try to not drink one night. It’s not easy at first. And it might take a few tries, but it’s definitely worth it. You know that from quitting smoking I’m sure 🙂

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Bill November 26, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Hi Rebecca. Nice information. I am on day 40 and feeling good. Biggest fear I have is talking myself into believing I can have one drink with dinner, after, work, whatever. I know that will turn into 8-9. I am taking it situation by situation. I won’t even say day by day because most days I do not have cravings.

Thanks for sharing.

Bill

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Rebecca A. Watson November 27, 2015 at 11:40 am

Congrats Bill! Nicely done 🙂 Glad you’re feeling good. The whole talking yourself into a drink is avoidable IF you keep reading sober blogs and keep it in your mind that this can be tough … keep commenting on blogs, keep talking to others in recovery. It will help! Thanks for the comment 🙂

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Michelle January 29, 2016 at 11:11 pm

Hey Rebecca,
5 weeks in and feeling amazing, great to see the actual benefits of 5 weeks in your article,
Thanks a million

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Rebecca A. Watson January 31, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Hey Michelle, It’s awesome to hear you’re feeling amazing. It really is awesome, life without booze. I’m glad you found this timeline helpful.

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George February 28, 2016 at 5:48 pm

Today is my third day without alcohol. My drinking of red wine has increased to the point over the last 10 years where I feel I am an alcoholic. I am in a six week intensive treatment program and I was looking for some information about brain and physical changes when quitting alcohol. Your article gave me that information as well as hope that I will eventually start to feel better. I have no withdrawal symptoms so far and am on medication to treat my underlying mental illness which includes depression, anxiety and paranoia. I want my brain function to improve as well as have more physical energy. Will I get better? I desperately need to know that I will

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Rebecca A. Watson February 28, 2016 at 5:58 pm

Hi George, I am so sorry that you are dealing with the uglier side of alcohol. Mental illness is a tough nut to crack, but when you remove the alcohol you have a much better chance of healing. I have heard that a lot of meds for things like depression and anxiety don’t work as well when you drink, so removing the alcohol at least has that positive affect.

I also personally know that the amount of energy after quitting (for me it took about a month before I felt it) was incredible. Hang in there. What you are doing is so worth it. Have hope. You are finally giving yourself the kindness you deserve.

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George February 28, 2016 at 6:11 pm

Thank you so much for your prompt reply. When I was drinking I had so little energy I could barely do anything. Just maintaining myself and my dogs was about all I could do yet I had to hold a full time job and that became impossible. I am presently on short term disability until I complete the treatment program. The chronic fatigue was so severe I didn’t know what I was going to do. Never thought that it might be caused by alcohol. I now feel some hope for myself.

Neil March 31, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Thanks for the info, Rebecca – and for the other articles as well, and the links to some fantastic other resources and people. Day 6 for me today, and have signed up for the 100-Day Challenge…

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Rebecca A. Watson April 10, 2016 at 6:13 pm

Yay Neil! That is super awesome. I hope you’re doing well these days. Super happy you found things helpful.

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Rob May 11, 2016 at 4:32 pm

After 6 weeks I always forget why I wanted to quit and start to get tempted. Last time I wrote down on a split page reasons to drink and reasons not to drink. I had over 30 reasons not to drink and only one reason to drink (buzz). I carried this list and looked at it every time I was tempted.

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Rebecca A. Watson June 13, 2016 at 7:28 am

I love this! Only one reason to drink. It is true! Someone asked me what i liked about drinking once and i could only come up with “its a good escape.” Yeah there are so many better reasons to not drink.

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Joseph June 11, 2016 at 7:08 am

Hi

Its 2016 and I am on day 20 😉

Your blog is awesome and that is coming from a fellow blogger

Thank you so much for sharing !

God bless

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Rebecca A. Watson June 13, 2016 at 7:18 am

Congrats Joseph! Keep it up 🙂

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sarah May July 9, 2016 at 11:18 pm

Hi
I stopped drinking 10 weeks ago after 20+ years and feel fantastic! wish I stopped years ago. just one really annoying problem……. constipation!!
I go to a slimming club so eating all the correct food fibre, fibre and more fibre along with 2L of water a day!
i was a four times a week person with alcohol but not once every 10 days!
any suggestions please.

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Rebecca A. Watson July 10, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Hey Sarah May! I am so happy for you and your sober journey…yay for 10 weeks! The constipation thing is something a lot of people struggle with I think at the beginning. The only two things I can think to say, since you do think you’re getting enough fiber, is firstly to drink more water. Yes, more than 2L. Closer to 3 maybe. Here is a good resource to determine how much you need normally. I would suggest more than that while you are in the first 100 days of not drinking. Second, I know fiber comes from many places, but make sure to eat enough raw food, like salads. That always helps me. Oh, and if it doesn’t get better, for sure check with your doc, but just know that you are not alone with the problem and it should get better. Hang in there!

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TCD September 30, 2016 at 2:10 pm

I’m giving it another honest go. Not long in and my pallor is waning to something resembling human. Chronic anemia and dehydration had ravaged my complexion. At my worst I looked like Horace’s specter of pale death. So that’s an improvement.

I do seem to have a more acute sense of awareness. I thought for a while I was emotionally neutered by I’m feeling less numb lately.

The biggest upshot is that I’m reading more. I finished Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy this week.

But I still don’t trust myself around booze. Which, of course, is the real problem.

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Rebecca A. Watson October 1, 2016 at 4:08 pm

Hey TCD! Happy to hear you are giving it another go. It is so worth it! Glad to hear you are already seeing benefits. As far as trusting yourself around booze, well I would say avoid it then. There is no need to put yourself in situations where you might make choices you will regret later. That is my philosophy. Hope everything is working out with you.

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Mary July 16, 2017 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for the article. I know it is WIP, but what happens to your sex life?

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Rebecca Watson August 22, 2017 at 9:38 am

Hi Mary! That is such a good question and one that really has a different answer for everyone. Maybe I could write that one as a blog post? I mean some people don’t want to have sex because they always did it drunk. Others realize that they have some undealt with issues around sex that they had been covering up with alcohol (*raises hand*) which leads to therapy and another layer of stuff to work through before one could say they have returned to normal. But … it might be worth some Googling and polling my recovery friends.

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Rebecca A. Watson August 31, 2015 at 1:00 pm

OH man, yes lay low if you’re worried about hearing that kind of feedback from people. You don’t have to tell anyone you don’t want to. And you can tell everyone different amounts of your story too. Hope your week is going well <3

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