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What Happens To Your Mind and Body When You Stop Drinking

Stop Drinking

What Happens To Your Mind and Body When You Stop Drinking

Stop drinking. Just stop. Anyone over twenty-one will be familiar with those words. Just how familiar you are with them will of course depend upon your relationship with alcohol. But if you’ve heard the words, then you surely know what they mean. And if you know they’re meaning, then you know they can’t be ignored.

Just stop drinking.

Simple as that.

Especially since those words too often mean life or death.

That’s why the Forbes Health headline stopped us in our tracks. See, we’ve spent the last 22 years getting men to stop drinking and/or doing drugs here at Healing Properties, And barring some miracle cure, we’ll probably spend the next 22 years doing so too. So when we come across something that might help us help others find sobriety, we take notice. Sometimes we even pounce.

This is one of those occasions when we decided to pounce.

What Happens Mentally and Physically When You Stop Drinking According To Experts

So ran the aforementioned headline. The piece, by Heidi Borst, is clearly aligned with an outfit called Sunnyside, which seems to take a more moderate approach to alcohol. And while we’re explicit tea-totallers here, we didn’t hold that moderation against them. Why should we? We’re not against moderate drinkers; we’re against immoderate drinkers.

Besides, Borst’s piece was medically-reviewed by someone who knows all about why folks should or should not stop drinking. That would be Forbes Health Advisory Board Member Dr. Hrishikesh Belani, the primary care director of the LA County Health Services Ambulatory Care Network as well as an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

But it’s Borst who breaks things open right out of the box:

“Excessive drinking is bad for your health.” Bam! “It can also increase your risk of some cancers, heart disease, liver disease, depression and more.”


Borst doesn’t stop there though, because even moderate drinking also comes with health risks.

So there!

How Does Alcohol Impact the Body?

Duly set up, Borst brings out the experts:

“Everyone is different,” says Symetria Recovery’s Dr. Lea McMahon, “and the impact alcohol has on the body will depend on the amount consumed, the frequency of consumption and other lifestyle and genetic factors.”

Indeed, “excessive and prolonged alcohol use can lead to a range of negative short-term and long-term health consequences,” chimes in Dr. Jason Kellogg, the medical director of the Orange County drug rehab Hotel California by the Sea.

Just what are those consequences?

Well, the CDC offers up nice list of not-so-nice maybes, including increased risk of injuries, greater incidence of violence, risky sexual behaviors and alcohol poisoning itself (Short Term) or anxiety, depression, liver disease and dementia (Long Term). Then again, excessive long-term drinking usually leads to complete alcohol dependence, which can also segue into bankruptcy, homelessness and social ostracization.

Long term alcohol abuse has other potential consequences, of course, from learning problems and poor performance at school to high blood pressure, heart disease and increased risk of stroke. But you knew that already.

Didn’t you?

When You Stop Drinking

McMahon thinks those consequences can be galvanizing, if not downright inspiring. “Say you choose to stop drinking because you’re worried about the impact on your heart, well, you now may have more energy in the mornings, so you exercise, and in the evenings, instead of winding down with a glass of wine, you prepare nourishing meals.”

“It’s a domino effect of positive choices,” she says

Speaking of which…

Potential Weight Loss

Reduced alcohol intake can lead to weight loss, as alcoholic beverages are calorie-dense,” says Dr. Kellogg. Not only do the extra calories in alcohol and sugary mixers add up, but research suggests it’s also not as satiating as solid food, inhibits the body from breaking down fat and may stimulate food intake, which may all contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Alcohol may also increase belly fat. One 2017 Biomolecules study found that chronic alcohol consumption interferes with fat metabolism. Because the liver, which usually breaks down fat, has to break down alcohol, fat can accumulate in the midsection.
Keep in mind, though, that research on whether alcohol is a risk factor for weight gain is mixed. How alcohol impacts your weight is dependent on many factors, ranging from behavioral (like how often you drink, when you drink and what you eat when you drink) to physical (like your age, gender and genetics).

3 Mental Benefits of Quitting Alcohol

“Quitting alcohol isn’t just about physical health; it’s a profound transformation for mental well-being too,” says Dr. Kellogg.
Improved Cognition
Drinking makes it harder for the brain to work, impairing balance, speech and judgment. “Alcohol affects the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with long-term memory, spatial memory and learning,” says Andrews. “Excessive alcohol consumption causes this part of the brain to shrink.” And nobody needs any part of their brain to shrink. Ever.
Furthermore, Dr. Kellog insists that cognitive functions—including problem solving, decision making and self-regulation skills—can also improve with continued sobriety. Not a bad get.

Better Sleep

Alcohol has sedative properties, so while it may cause you to fall asleep faster, your sleep quality will suffer, says McMahon. That’s because alcohol reduces time spent in the restorative REM stage of sleep, she explains. Research indicates that alcohol disrupts circadian rhythms (the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle), impairing sleep during the second half of the night, and notes a link between alcohol consumption and sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
McMahon says quitting alcohol might cause some sleep disturbances or insomnia initially, but sleep quality and quantity will improve with continued abstinence. “Proper sleep helps us maintain physical, mental and emotional health, so it’s an important consideration,” she says.

Reduced Stress

Many use alcohol to reduce stress and promote relaxation, but chronic alcohol use increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “Sometimes people drink alcohol to help them relax or navigate social anxiety, only to find it makes things worse,” says McMahon.
And as a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can worsen mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and panic disorder, says McMahon.
“By eliminating alcohol, your mood stabilizes and you may experience reduced sadness, alcohol-induced anxiety and overall emotional well-being,” says Andrews. You can manage stress and cope with life’s challenges in healthier ways, she says.
If you experience ongoing anxiety or depression, it’s important to reach out to a health care provider to discuss treatment options.

Better Immunity

“Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses and infections,” says Nicole Andrews, a registered dietitian nutritionist and oncology dietitian based in Kennewick, Washington. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one night of heavy drinking can weaken your immune system for 24 hours, and chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk of contracting diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia.
“When you quit drinking, your immune system gets a much-needed boost,” says Andrews. Your body can allocate its resources more effectively to fight off infections, making you less prone to common colds, flu and other ailments, she says. That heightened immunity can mean fewer sick days, increased energy levels and an overall improved sense of well-being, adds Andrews.

Meanwhile, the potential consequences of long-term excessive alcohol consumption reads like a laundry list written by one of the most incorrigible people on the planet. To wit:

Alcohol dependence
Alcohol use disorders
High blood pressure, heart disease and increased risk of stroke
Liver disease
Digestive problems
Several types of cancers
Weakened immune system
Social issues at home and on the job
Learning problems and poor performance at school
Memory problems and dementia
Mental health issues (like anxiety and depression)

(i.e. car accidents, falls, burns and drownings)

greater incidence of violence (self-harm and sexual assault)

alcohol poisoning (which is a medical emergency)
risky sexual behaviors, which can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections

Short Term, excessive alcohol use can cause:
Increased risk of injuries, including car accidents, falls, burns and drownings
Greater incidence of violence, including self-harm and sexual assault
Alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency
Risky sexual behaviors, which can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections
Meanwhile, long-term excessive alcohol consumption can result in:
Alcohol dependence
Alcohol use disorders
High blood pressure, heart disease and increased risk of stroke
Liver disease
Digestive problems
Several types of cancers
Weakened immune system
Social issues at home and on the job
Learning problems and poor performance at school
Memory problems and dementia
Mental health issues (like anxiety and depression)

Whatever the case, “However, alcohol will always have some effect on the body

McMahon is a licensed professional counselor, addiction expert and chief clinical officer at Symetria Recovery in Houston, and she says alcohol will always have some effect on the body, and that most of it will be negative.

When to See a Doctor
“If you are struggling to quit alcohol and experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms like hallucinations, seizures or extreme anxiety, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention,” advises Dr. Kellogg. If you have a history of severe alcohol dependence, he recommends consulting a health care professional before quitting, as abrupt cessation can be life threatening. For those with an alcohol use disorder, there are effective prescription medications that can be helpful when abstaining from alcohol.
Alcohol can cause psychological dependence, so if you’re finding it hard to manage the emotional element of quitting, reach out for help, says McMahon. “There’s no shame in seeking support, and there are lots of resources available, including professional treatment centers, peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and sober communities,” she says, adding that sobriety podcasts and sober social groups can also help.
“Remember, quitting drinking is a courageous and life-affirming decision,” says Andrews. “Your health, happiness and well-being are worth the effort. Stay strong, stay committed and embrace the positive changes that lie ahead.”

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