Drinking is an incredibly common and powerful part of our culture, so it’s no wonder that some people get into trouble and start drinking more than is good for them. Whether it’s the negative health effects or the consequences for your life and relationships, there are a lot of reasons people think about quitting.
But a lot of people feel trapped when they consider quitting and worry that their bodies won’t ever fully recover from drinking so much.
The good news is that your body is an incredible machine of health. That means that a lot of the effects of alcohol use and alcohol use disorder are temporary and that your body can recover from them in time.
Let’s take a look at what alcohol use disorder is, and how your body begins to heal when you detox and enter recovery. Like an addiction, alcohol use disorder has consequences, but many of them heal and become better with time.
What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder, which is often called alcoholism, is defined as regularly drinking to excess. However, what is considered excessive use can vary a lot from person to person. Especially considering differences in age, weight, metabolism, and any medical conditions or medications that can interact with alcohol use.
That means someone who has alcohol use disorder doesn’t actually have to drink that much alcohol if they are more affected by their use. Meanwhile, other people might have to drink much more alcohol before it’s considered excessive.
Cultural acceptance of alcohol use can also make it hard to tell when someone has an alcohol use disorder.
One good gauge of whether you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol use disorder is whether alcohol use is beginning to interfere with your normal life. Another good measure is whether you or your loved one feel like alcohol is needed, or if someone spends a lot of time thinking about alcohol, even in circumstances where it’s inappropriate.
How Does Heavy Drinking Alcohol Affect the Body?
Alcohol use affects pretty much every system in your body and can have a wide range of impacts that aren’t necessarily obvious right away.
More than 90% of people who drink heavily also consume up to 60 grams or more of ethyl alcohol per day. That’s a significant issue because ethyl alcohol is more dangerous than other drinking alcohols (it’s the primary form of alcohol found in rubbing alcohol). Consuming it increases your risk of alcohol poisoning.
Because ethyl alcohol is naturally occurring in many types of drinks, the regular excess consumption of any alcohol puts you at greater risk of alcohol-related damage.
Since people with alcohol use disorder have much higher exposure to different kinds of alcohol, including the more dangerous ethyl alcohol, they tend to have much more serious impacts on their health than people who drink less often and in smaller quantities.
Alcohol use has a lot of impacts on your immune system, but one of the most important is that it interferes with your body’s ability to produce enough white blood cells. Since white blood cells are the most basic protection your body has against a range of diseases, you’re more likely to get sick and to have more serious complications from even common illnesses.
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can also lower bone density. Over time that can make it easier for your bones to be injured, develop stress fractures, and put you at greater risk of osteoporosis and other skeletal disorders.
Alcohol use has a wide variety of effects on the reproductive systems of males and females alike. It can interfere with normal hormone production and regulation, make it harder for men to become fully aroused, make it harder to achieve climax, and lower fertility.
Short-term alcohol use can increase your heart rate and cause high blood pressure. Extended use of alcohol can eventually permanently raise your blood pressure and heart rate, while also weakening your heart muscle. You may also develop an irregular heartbeat and other complications.
Alcohol affects your entire digestive system, from disrupting the normal function of organs to causing damage or interfering with the digestive process.
Inflammation and even lesions in the lining of your digestive organs are relatively common. Alcohol may also disrupt your stomach emptying into your intestines, which risks bacterial contamination of your food and can cause stomach upset and food poisoning.
Central Nervous System
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means that it slows down communication between your neurons and the nerves throughout your body. This is part of why coordination and thinking can both be more difficult under the influence of alcohol.
Long-term use can also lead to imbalances in neurotransmitters, which may lead to depression and other mental health disorders.
Your body has a wide range of organs and functions that depend on each other producing the right chemicals at the right time.
Secretions can be critical for adapting to a situation, digesting your food, and even managing your mood and handling stress.
How Does Your Body Heal After Quitting Drinking?
The good news is that despite all the damage caused by drinking and alcohol use disorder, our bodies have an incredible ability to heal and recover.
Heart & Blood Pressure
After you stop drinking your blood pressure starts to go down. If you’ve developed an irregular heartbeat, your heart muscle may begin to strengthen and self-regulate back to a normal beat. Cardio workouts will become easier, and you’ll be able to more effectively lower your blood pressure and heartbeat with medications, diet, and/or exercise.
Your liver is one of the organs most affected by the damage of alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, but it’s also one of the organs with the most regenerative capacity in your body. Even if you’ve been drinking to excess for years, your liver has the potential to regain a significant amount of its original mass and function.
Will your liver ever work like someone who never drank to excess? Well, there’s no guarantee. However, you can get back to closer to normal function. This is good news because your liver does a lot of important things in your body including helping you process medications and remove some of the toxins in your food.
Most people lose weight and see an improvement in metabolism after ceasing drinking. Cravings tend to go down, and the digestive system begins to heal and receive more nutrients from food, which may change what you want to eat and when.
Fair warning – some people use food as a way to distract from the craving for alcohol, which can lead to weight gain instead of weight loss. However, early interventions can help people lose this kind of weight and get back on track for weight loss.
Your skin will begin to look younger and healthier within a few weeks of stopping drinking and may seem less pale and tired looking in as little as a few days. Over time, the collagen will return to your skin, reducing the appearance of wrinkles. If you’ve developed liver spots, these may fade over time.
Lower Cancer Risk
According to the CDC, drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing at least 11 forms of cancer, including breast cancer, and especially dangerous forms of colon and esophageal cancer.
When you stop drinking the damage being done to cells stops, which begins to reduce your cancer risks right away. Cancer risk will continue to go down throughout detox and while you maintain sobriety.
Your libido will increase after stopping drinking, specifically after you’re through detox. Normal reproductive functions normally return within a few months to a year.
Alcohol is a depressant, but that doesn’t mean it helps you sleep. In fact, alcohol use can lead to a disrupted sleep cycle leaving you feeling tired even after sleeping. Stopping alcohol use lets your body regulate sleep better, helping you feel rested when you wake.
Stronger Immune System
Without alcohol interfering with white blood cell production your body will be better defended against illnesses within as little as a couple of days after stopping drinking. White blood cell count will continue to improve until it reaches or nearly reaches normal levels.
Clears Brain Fog
Alcohol has a wide range of effects on your brain that last longer than the feeling of being drunk. Within a few days of clearing detox, most people report being able to think more clearly. Also, they can feel like they’ve come out of the mental fog and are only now starting to see and think clearly.
The Alcohol Recovery Timeline
Alcohol use disorder recovery looks different for everyone, but some important hallmarks are largely similar for everyone. This overview focuses on major common experiences in recovery, but won’t necessarily include all the benefits you experience from stopping drinking.
72 Hours After Your Last Drink
The first 72 hours are usually the hardest because this is when you are in active withdrawal. By 72 hours after your last drink, you should begin feeling better, more clearheaded, and may be tired or want water and food. Your body will begin getting real rest, and your systems start to return to normal function.
First 2 Weeks
For the first 2 weeks, you’re still in detox, so you’ll be dealing with the last lingering effects of active alcohol use, including brain fog and other side effects. However, you’ll also begin sleeping better, should start to get a more normal appetite, and may notice more energy or better concentration.
30 Days And More
Your blood pressure should go down (assuming alcohol was the reason it was elevated), your skin will start to look healthier, and you may begin losing weight.
Generally, you’ll start feeling healthier and more energetic at about 3 months out, and that will be consistent, instead of the ups and downs that happen earlier in recovery. Your mood may also be improving, and many of your body’s normal functions are stabilizing and improving.
One year out you’re more likely to be feeling energetic, and hopeful, and will typically feel less depressed or anxious than you did. Your heart, liver, immune system, and central nervous system are still recovering, but you’re experiencing improvements more than the lingering problems of alcoholism.
What is the Healthiest Way to Quit Drinking?
Like many addictions, alcohol use disorder can make it difficult to stop drinking and you can have some pretty severe side effects from stopping. However, it’s still better to stop cold turkey than to try and slowly stop. Every drink, even small ones, prolongs your withdrawal and detox timeline.
It’s a good idea to have friends and family keep an eye on you while you’re withdrawing. They can help prevent you from getting a drink, and make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating.
Your friends and family should also be ready to contact a health care provider or take you to the ER in case your withdrawal symptoms become severe.
Alternatively, you can opt for a rehabilitation center where medical professionals will monitor your withdrawal, detox, and help manage your symptoms.
What is the Next Step?
If you’re serious about stopping drinking and recovering from alcohol use disorder, it’s a good idea to seek outside support. Having a strong support system in place is important for both your long-term and short-term success.
If you’re looking for a rehabilitation facility equipped to help you, take a look at our admissions process and see if we’re a good fit.
Not sure which facility is right for you? We understand. Here’s a little more about our alcohol use disorder recovery program.
Want to see what the facility looks like? We would too! Here’s our gallery so you can see what Agape looks like on the inside.