What Happens to Your Body If You Stop Drinking

Once you make the decision to stop drinking the changes to your body and mind are incredible say the alcohol addiction experts at Summit Behavioral Health.

Quitting drinking alcohol can be a huge step in your life, especially if you have an addiction to it. Most people suffering from alcoholism need professional help to stop, and it’s a tough thing to do. But once you have made the decision to abstain from drinking, you’ll see some pretty amazing things happen – not only in your mind, spirit, and relationships, but also in your body.

Alcoholism takes a toll on a person’s body, but the sooner you quit drinking, the better your chances of regaining good health, according to the alcohol addiction experts at Serenity at Summit. Below are some of the benefits you will experience when you quit drinking and the timeline they typically follow.

Benefits of Abstaining from Drinking Alcohol

Long-term or heavy drinking can cause serious changes to your body and your brain. Some of the risks of alcohol abuse include:

  • Digestive problems
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Heart and cardiovascular issues
  • Increase risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety
  • Increased risk of liver problems including cirrhosis
  • Dementia and other degenerative disorders (also known as “wet brain”)

However, by quitting drinking, you can reverse many of those symptoms and reestablish good health. The following are just some of the positive outcomes you may see by abstaining from alcohol:

  • The body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals increases
  • Metabolism is restored, leading to fat loss
  • Energy increases
  • Reduced risk of cancer and decreased stress levels
  • Lower blood pressure and reduced risk of stroke and heart attack
  • Quicker immune response
  • Reversal of alcohol-related liver damage

Alcohol Recovery Timeline

How long and how much alcohol you drank will have an effect on the timeline that you experience when you stop drinking. First, let’s take a look at the phases of alcohol withdrawal.

Acute Withdrawal

The first challenge you will face when you stop drinking is acute withdrawal. The symptoms will start as soon as six hours after your last drink.

  • Sweating and rise in body temperature
  • Raised blood pressure and heart rate
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

Withdrawing from alcohol isn’t something to be taken lightly. Depending on a person’s history of drinking, this stage can cause delirium tremens, seizures, and even death. If your alcoholism is severe, it’s essential that you find help in a medically-supervised detox facility.

Post-Acute Withdrawal

Completely detoxing from alcohol can take up to two weeks. Once that is done, you have made it through the most physically challenging part of withdrawal. During post-acute withdrawal phase, you will likely begin to experience the psychological effects of not drinking. Some of the symptoms of this phase include:

  • Decrease in energy
  • Emotions such as anger and aggression
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Decreased libido

This may also be the time where cravings for alcohol set in. Each person’s experience with post-acute alcohol withdrawal is different – for some it may only last a few weeks, for some it may be up to a year. Seeking help from an alcohol addiction rehab will help ease your transition into recovery and treat any underlying conditions you may have.

What is Going on In Your Body? A Timeline

The following is a timeline of how your body is reacting to the absence of alcohol. Again, not everyone experiences the same thing, this is a general timeline.

12-24 Hours After Quitting

During the first day of not drinking, your blood sugar normalizes. You will be feeling the effects of withdrawal at this point, so drink plenty of water and stay away from refined sugars. Try to eat healthy foods like fruit and vegetables.

48 Hours After Quitting

Your biggest alcohol detox hurdle is over; however, you are still likely feeling withdrawal symptoms. You probably still feel tired, nauseated, and have a headache lingering. Depending on the severity of your alcohol abuse, you make be shaky and dizzy. Your blood pressure is becoming more stable and your body temperature should have returned to normal.

72 Hours After Quitting

You may be feeling better physically at this point. But, if you were a heavy drinker or maintenance drinker (someone who drinks around the clock, never allowing the body to be free of alcohol), then you may feel worse and still have shaking and dizziness.

One Week After Quitting

You should start sleeping better – more deeply – which will increase your energy during the day. Your skin will be looking better as hydration restores. Conditions you may have had like dandruff, eczema, and rosacea will improve as your skin does.

One Month After Quitting

Your liver function should be improving. Liver fat is reduced by about 15% at this point and that increases its ability to filter toxins out of the body. You may notice a reduced amount of belly fat, and the most improvement in your skin happens around this time. Your energy level will continue to rise and you likely feel renewed physically.

If you haven’t already, you should be looking for emotional support from a 12-step group, addiction therapist, or other addiction professional. Most relapses occur within the first six months of sobriety. You don’t want that to happen to you.

One Year After Quitting

After a year of not drinking alcohol, you lose a significant amount of belly fat. The average is about 13 pounds. More importantly, your risk of mouth, liver, and breast cancers is drastically reduced, and your liver is likely to be functioning normally again.

Life Without Alcohol

Making the change to sobriety isn’t easy, even though the physical improvements are well worth it and you may need the help of alcohol addiction experts. The path to long-lasting recovery is full of twists and turns, making it a good idea to seek help and support to establish healthy coping skills and treat underlying issues. You don’t want to lose the sobriety that you fought so hard for.

Is Addiction a Choice or Disease?

Addiction treatment experts weigh in on both sides of the debate as to whether drug or alcohol addiction are the result of bad choices or an illness.

There has long been a debate about whether addiction is a choice or a disease. Some people feel that the addicted have made poor choices, and that it is a matter of willpower to break their dependence. Others feel that addiction is a disease that affects the brain, and that without professional help from addiction treatment experts it’s very hard to stop.

This post will look at arguments on both sides of the debate and then you can make your own decision whether addiction is a choice or a disease.

For additional information on the subject of addiction-choice or illness readRecovering From Addiction Is More Than Increasing One’s Willpower

The Disease Model of Addiction

Believing that addiction is a disease is not a new concept. In fact, Dr. Benjamin Rush said the condition is a disease that must be treated by a physician over two centuries ago in 1784. That school of thought didn’t really catch on until much later though, in the 1930s, when Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous. While the AA forefathers didn’t have the medical knowledge or technology to completely understand what doctors do today, their literature presented alcoholism as a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. Today, most medical professionals agree with the disease model of addiction.

Believers of the disease model of addiction focus on the changes that occur in the brain of chemically dependent individuals. They believe that once the changes in the brain take place, choice is basically no longer an option for the alcoholic or addict. Once your body becomes addicted and dependent on a substance you cannot just choose to stop using.

How Drugs and Alcohol Change the Brain

When people satisfy their basic human needs like hunger, thirst, and sex, they feel pleasure. Typically, those feelings of pleasure are the result of the release of certain “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Addictive substances affect the brain much the same way. They cause high levels of the same chemical to be released.

When this happens over a period of time, the brain’s chemistry is changed. The areas of the brain that are involved in reward, motivation, and memory are the most affected. When that happens, the individual may need the drugs or alcohol to feel normal. The person may also begin to have intense cravings for the drug or alcohol, even though they have suffered negative consequences due to their use. The addict will prefer the substance to other healthy pleasures and will eventually lose interest in normal daily activities. They may even stop caring about their own well-being, as well as the well-being of loved ones.

These changes in the brain don’t go away when the addict or alcoholic stops using, they can remain for a long period of time. That can make the addict vulnerable to triggers, which increases the possibility of relapse.

Is Addiction in Our Genes?

Those who accept the disease model of addiction believe that addiction, like other chronic diseases, is a result of several factors both biological and environmental. Studies show that about 10 percent of the U.S. population are genetically predisposed to addiction and alcoholism.

Does that mean that everyone in that 10 percent will become addicts? No. Just as those who are predisposed to diabetes can often avoid it by making healthy diet and fitness choices, so can those genetically predisposed to addiction by not using drugs or alcohol.

The Choice Model of Addiction

On the other side of the debate are the people who believe that addiction is a choice. They make their argument by pointing to reports and research that drinking alcohol or using drugs is a behavior, and that as such, it is therefore a choice. Many of those in the choice camp refer to studies that have been done that show that drinking habits can be modified – by choice – at least to a certain degree.

Some experts on this side of the debate point out that any persistent change in behavior will cause changes in the central nervous system. They make the argument that, for example, the brains of readers will be different than the brains of non-readers. This is how they counter the changes-in-the-brain argument of the disease model believers.

Many argue that believing that addiction is a disease is not only incorrect, but it’s simply unhealthy. They point out that as humans, we always have a choice. Additionally, they believe that if there really was no choice in the matter, then no one would recover from addiction. But people do recover, and that happens by choice.

Choice or Disease – Does it Really Matter?

Each individual has to make their own decision whether addiction or alcoholism is a choice or a disease. Perhaps you believe that it is a disease that can be triggered by a choice. If the potential addict never makes the choice to drink or use drugs, they will never become dependent on the substance. But if they do make the choice to use or drink, then they lose the power to continue to make the choice. In other words, once the switch is flipped, they can no longer un-flip it themselves.

Whatever your thoughts are on the problem of addiction, it is important for you to encourage anyone you know is struggling with drugs or alcohol to seek help. While the people who believe it’s a choice because some people can stop on their own make a point, the fact is that most people cannot stop on their own – they need professional help to begin their recovery.

If you or a loved one have a problem with drugs or alcohol, now is not the time to weigh in on this debate. Now is the time to seek treatment and work toward getting clean and sober. A new and different life awaits you on the other side of active addiction, and getting help from addiction treatment experts is the first step to getting there.

Do 12-Step Programs Really Work?

Many struggling with substance abuse ask our NJ drug addition experts if the 12-step program is an effective way to change their lives for the better.

Addiction is a disease that affects millions of people – if not directly, then indirectly as the family and friends of those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Most of those addicts don’t want to live the way they are; rather they want to be free of addiction and all the negative consequences that it entails. But how do they do that? Learn to live a new way, free of their addiction?

If you would like to read more about this subject read this article recommended by the NJ drug addiction experts: Program Spotlight: 12 Step Program-Complete, Ongoing Healing.

Some attempt to go it alone, attempting to get clean and sober with their own willpower and without professional help. Others attend treatment facilities for addiction, either inpatient or outpatient, to begin their recovery. Still others turn to 12-step programs to try to break free of their addiction.

What is a 12-Step Program?

Twelve-step programs are programs that are designed to help people recover from various types of addictions. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was the first 12-step program, founded in the 1930s by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. The AA program has been adapted to help other addictions including Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and many more.

The basic 12-step model operates under the premise that people can help one another attain and sustain abstinence from the substance or behavior to which they are addicted. This is done through meetings where they share their experience, strength, and hope with each other and offer support.

There are no requirements for membership in 12-step programs, except that the individual has a desire to stop using, drinking, or practicing harmful behaviors. Meetings are free and there are no leaders, no therapists or other medical professionals, and no accountability for attendance.

Members are encouraged, but not required, to work through the twelve steps of the program with a sponsor (someone with more sobriety who has been through the steps themselves). Only first names are used, so member can remain anonymous if they choose to, and it is forbidden to talk about other members outside of the rooms.

What Are the 12 Steps?

The original 12 steps, written for AA, are as follows:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

In some cases, for fellowships other than AA, the steps have been modified to emphasize the important principles of the program but with the gender-based or religious language removed.

The Pros and Cons of 12-Step Programs

Like any type of treatment or program, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with 12-step programs. Let’s take a look at the benefits first:

  • Cost – 12-step program are free, although they are self-supporting so member can make small donations to cover the cost of coffee if they want to.
  • Sponsorship – One of the only program models that uses sponsorship as a recovery tool.
  • Structured meetings – The meetings are on time and structured to a tee.
  • Accessibility – There are meetings available at all times of the day, in different areas (including internationally), and with different formats, so there is a lot of support available.
  • Fellowship – There is a strong sense of community in 12-step programs, there is usually very little judgment, and most members are helpful and supportive.

Now, let’s look at the drawbacks:

  • No accountability – Because 12-step programs are anonymous, there is no accountability for not attending.
  • Some attendees are court-ordered – Many courts require defendants of drug and alcohol related offenses to attend 12-step meetings, so they are not always there for the right reasons and they may distract other members from getting what they need out of the meetings.
  • No therapy – There is no therapy, psychiatric care, or medical professionals in 12-step programs.
  • Religious undertones – For those who are not open to religion or spirituality, the religious undertones of some 12-step programs may be off-putting.

Does the 12-Step Model Work?

Because 12-step programs are anonymous and there is no record-keeping of meetings and members, it’s hard to answer this question. Just how many people are able to get and stay clean using 12-step programs would be a guess, at best. However, the prominence of these programs and the stories of success from those in recovery suggest that it is effective.

Probably the most effective way to make good use of 12-step programs is to use them in conjunction with other recovery options. Nearly three-quarters of alcohol and drug addiction treatment facilities incorporate the 12-steps into their addiction treatment plans, so when patients complete treatment, it’s likely that they are already familiar with 12-step programs making it easy to continue with them in the future.

At the very least, 12-step programs provide members with support and encouragement from others who are battling addiction successfully, and it puts them near others who understand what they are going through.

If you are considering beginning a 12-step program, give it a try. Keep in mind, that effective and successful treatment for addiction is unique to each individual. While these programs don’t work for everyone, NJ drug addition experts say they do work for many, so why not see if you’re in the latter group by contacting us now.

5 Steps That May Save Your Life And Your Job

Serenity at Summit, an MA addiction treatment center explains how to talk to your employer about your addiction so you can keep your job and get the lifesaving help you need.

According to an Employer Brief1 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 76 percent of people with drug or alcohol abuse problems are employed. Unfortunately, many of those people do not seek help because of the stigma associated with addiction. Many believe that having to talk to their employer about a problem with drugs or alcohol would be detrimental to their career. It takes a lot of courage to make the decision to seek help from an addiction treatment center and begin recovery for anyone. But it takes even more when one feels that there is more to lose by choosing to go, despite the fact that it is a decision that could be live saving.

Addiction is extremely difficult to overcome without professional help. Perhaps you feel like your addiction is not affecting your work right now. The reality is, it probably is. However, even if no one knows about your addiction, it will be very difficult to continue to keep it under wraps indefinitely. Addiction is a progressive disease that, when left untreated, only gets worse – never better. It is better to seek treatment now, before your job has suffered from the effects of drug addiction, so that you have a position to return to.

Once you have made the decision that you need inpatient treatment for an addiction and must be away from work for an extended period, you are going to have to talk to your employer about it. This may seem like a daunting and scary task, but it’s better done sooner rather than later. The following are some steps that you can follow to make the task less difficult.

Steps to Take Before Talking to Your Boss

There are a couple of things you should do in preparation for the conversation:

  1. Check to see if your employer has an EAP program. Most companies offer an employee assistance program (EAP) as one of their benefits. The program is designed to help employees with personal or work-related problems that might impact their job performance, physical or mental health, and emotional well-being. Most EAP inquiries can be kept confidential and they may be able to help you with resources and support to begin your recovery.
  2. Examine your company’s alcohol and drug policy. Check your employee handbook or with your Human Resources department to see if there is a policy specific to alcohol or drug addiction treatment. If there isn’t one, look at policies that are in place for sick employees – specifically, the process for taking a leave of absence due to illness.
  3. Know what your rights are. The Americans with Disabilities Act2 (ADA) prohibits employees from discrimination and protects the rights of employees with disabilities. Chemical dependency is considered a disability, so employees with addiction issues cannot be discriminated against if they are performing their work duties satisfactorily.
  4. Research treatment options and facilities. Before you speak to your employer have a plan in place for your treatment so that you can communicate exactly what your employer’s expectation should be regarding your leave of absence and return to work.
  5. Understand the financial aspects of treatment. Missing work can cause a financial burden, but you do have some options. It’s important to become familiar with your company’s short-term disability benefits as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act3 (FMLA). Some employers will allow employees to exhaust their paid-time-off (or vacation and sick time) hours before having to use short-term disability.

Having a Professional Conversation About Your Addiction

Now comes the hard part – sitting down and discussing your situation with your boss. Ideally, you have a supervisor who is understanding and will be compassionate. But if you don’t, there are still some ways to keep the conversation as professional and painless as possible. If you have a supervisor who you do not feel comfortable having the conversation with at all, you may want to consider talking to your Human Resources department first, and having them act as an intermediary. Whether it’s your boss or HR, you can use the following steps when you have your conversation:

Keep it simple. You don’t have to give details about what you are going through, and your boss doesn’t have the right to ask. Just state simply that you currently have a substance abuse issue that requires treatment and that your treatment facility will be able to provide the necessary documentation to HR.

Ask for resources. If you haven’t already spoken to HR, this is the time to ask your supervisor who you should contact. You can also inquire about other resources your company may have for sick employees.

Request confidentiality. Clearly, your boss shouldn’t discuss your situation with other employees, but it is still a good time to request that your privacy be guarded.

Express your desire to return to work. At the end of the conversation, be sure to let your boss know that your desire is to return to work, ready to do the best job you can, as soon as your treatment is completed.

Keep records. Document any conversations that you have with your supervisor and HR regarding your treatment plans and your temporary absence from work. You may never need the documentation, but it’s better to err on the side of caution in case you do.

Final Thoughts

You are making a courageous and healthy choice to begin recovery for your addiction, don’t let the fear of telling your employer keep you from doing what is best for you and your family. You cannot be fired for asking for help, and doing so may open up doors for you that addiction has closed.

Jim Kane CEO

Serenity at Summit
61 Brown Street
Haverhill, MA 01830





1 Employer Brief- http://peerassistanceservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/SAMHSA_Employer-Brief1_SavebyAssurAccessToSubstAbuseTreat.pdf

2 ADA- https://www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm

3 Family & Medical Leave Act- https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/

Ask An Expert With Maria Ulmer: How Do You Tell Someone They Need Addiction Help?

Ask An Expert

Summit Behavioral Health’s very own addiction expert and Chief Clinical Director, Maria Ulmer, offers helpful insight on a question frequently asked by the loved ones of an addict.

Q: How Do You Approach Someone To Tell Them That They Need Help?

Mari Ulmer Chief Clinical Officer
Mari Ulmer, Chief Clinical Officer

A: Addressing someone you care about regarding an addiction or compulsive behavior can be stressful and overwhelming. Often we over-think the situation and before we know it, we are consumed with worries and fears about the “what ifs”…

“What if they are offended by my concerns?”

“What if they become angry or upset with me for confronting their behaviors?”

“What if even after I’ve expressed my concerns they continue to drink or use drugs?”

We do not have control over someone’s behaviors, thoughts, or feelings, however, we do have control of our own behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Take some time to reflect upon your experience in your relationship with the addict or alcoholic. Consider how much you care for this person, how much they mean to you, and how their addictive/compulsive behaviors have interfered or impacted your relationship with them. Once you have taken the time to do some self-reflection, sit down and have a conversation with your loved one and share with them your honest and genuine reflections about your relationship with them and how their using behavior has begun to get in the way of being able to continue on in a healthy relationship with them.

There are support groups in the community for you access such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. It is often very helpful to reach out to others for support – especially those who have had similar experiences such as yours. Counseling can also be extremely effective in helping you to sort through your concerns and how this is affecting your daily life and responsibilities. It is important to practice healthy self-care each day and a therapist/counselor can assist you in prioritizing your emotional and physical needs as you learn to manage this relationship. There are lots of resources on the web and your local community regarding addiction and recovery – remember you are not alone!

Thank you for your question! – Maria Ulmer

If you have a question about addiction and recovery, that you would like answered by our expert, please take a second and submit it to us. Our expert, Maria Ulmer, will be answering these weekly. Remember, you are not alone, which means you are not alone in your questions either. We are here to help! #SBHAskAnExpert