What Happens to Your Body When You Give Up Alcohol?

What Happens to Your Body When You Give Up Alcohol?

According to the National Institutes for Health, in 2019, over 14 million adults aged 18 and older had alcohol use disorder (AUD).

If you or someone you know wants to quit drinking, you may have questions about what happens to your body when you quit alcohol.

Fear about what may happen if you stop drinking may keep a person from trying. Learning what quitting may be like may make it easier to put down the bottle for good.

Read on to find out the reasons to consider quitting alcohol and what will happen to your body if you do.

Reasons to Quit Drinking Alcohol

There are many benefits of quitting alcohol. To name just a few:

  • improved relationships with family and friends
  • no more hangovers
  • improved mental clarity
  • reduced risky behaviors
  • no more guilt or apologizing
  • gains in self-confidence and optimism
  • saving money

As important as all of those might be, perhaps the most important benefit is improved physical health. Some of these benefits may include:

  • lower blood pressure
  • a lower level of triglycerides (fat)
  • improved liver health
  • loss of weight
  • lower cancer risks
  • improved sex life
  • better sleep
  • less getting sick/taking sick days

Signs Pointing to a Need to Quit

Do you or someone you know become irritated or anxious if a drink is unavailable? Is drinking prioritized above family, friends, or work? Is an excessive amount of time devoted to finding alcohol? Is the consumption of alcohol being hidden?

If any of the above is true, it may be a sign to stop drinking alcohol. The dangers of alcohol abuse are real and can be scary.

A shift in thinking may not happen all at once. A careful examination of one’s relationship to alcohol may be in order.

If a decision is made to quit drinking, it’s important to know that no one needs to make this change on their own. Friends, family, and professionals are there to assist you every step of the way.

What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Alcohol?

When the choice is made to give up alcohol, the road is not easy. Keeping in mind all those benefits and an ultimate goal of sobriety will be the key to getting through it.

Once someone has stopped drinking, the first 72 hours are critical. If they make it through those 3 days, they will likely have gotten through the worst of any withdrawal symptoms.

No one should go through the process of withdrawal alone. To keep track of the withdrawal process, enlist the help of family, friends, and/or medical professionals.

Let’s take a closer look at the timeline of quitting alcohol:


0–3 Hours

After the first hour, the body stops metabolizing—or breaking down—alcohol. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms may begin. Possible symptoms are:

  • cravings
  • hand tremors (the “shakes”)
  • vomiting
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • changes in blood pressure


3–6 Hours

Withdrawal symptoms will continue during this period of time. For a small number of people, hallucinations are a possibility. These can be scary, but not dangerous.

Seizures may occur, too, in about 5% of those going through alcohol withdrawal. If someone seems to be having an alcohol seizure, call 911.


6–12 Hours

In this time frame, withdrawal symptoms may persist or peak. Symptoms mirroring a hangover may appear, such as nausea or a headache. Sleep may be disturbed or hard to come by.


12–24 Hours

Any of the withdrawal symptoms can still be present. In addition, depression or acute anxiety can set in. Reduced energy may be an issue.


24–48 Hours

Problems to keep an eye out for during this stage are elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure. Seizures are still a possibility. Other withdrawal symptoms may begin to wane and become manageable.


48–72 Hours

At this stage, most people will begin to feel better and symptoms will fade. However, heavy drinkers could develop delirium tremens (DTs).

DTs can present themselves in a whole host of symptoms, not limited to but including: 

  • confusion/delirium
  • body tremors
  • agitation
  • deep sleep lasting more than a day
  • quick mood changes
  • restlessness or fatigue
  • seizures

Someone who is experiencing these symptoms needs to seek medical care immediately. DTs are a serious issue that can result in a stroke or death.


3–7 Days

For most people, withdrawal symptoms will retreat within a week of ceasing alcohol use. If any symptoms linger, consult a doctor.


Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Over the days and weeks following alcohol withdrawal, a person may suffer from acute withdrawal symptoms, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

If not managed, PAWS can lead to relapse. Watch for: 

  • foggy thinking
  • urges and cravings
  • hostility/irritability
  • sleep issues/insomnia/fatigue
  • issues with fine motor skills
  • lack of motivation/initiative
  • anxiety/panic
  • depression
  • inability to focus
  • changeable moods

Most of these symptoms last for a few days at a time. They may crop up any time in the first two years after quitting alcohol.

To avoid relapse, consult medical and mental health professionals. Practice self-care by eating healthy foods and getting plenty of exercise.

Talking to non-judgmental friends, family, or someone else in your support team may help you through a bout of PAWS. Keeping a journal may help pinpoint what triggered these symptoms to better prepare for any recurrence.

After 2 years, the brain recalibrates and naturally produces endorphins and dopamine. This process will lessen the frequency of PAWS symptoms.

Don’t Go It Alone

Living without alcohol isn’t easy. Nor is it easy to know how to quit drinking. A support network is vital for recovery. Before beginning any long-term treatment, it may be wise to go through medical detox.

Medical detox is a professionally-guided, safe, comfortable environment for withdrawal. Typically, this process lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Once they have gone through detox, a person can begin a treatment plan tailored to their needs.

Next Steps

Hopefully, it’s now a little clearer what happens to your body when you quit alcohol. It certainly isn’t a fun process, but the end result can be a more happy, fulfilling life.

If you or someone you know is ready to quit drinking, help is available. Contact us at Wellness Retreat Recovery Center today.