The week by week benefits of alcohol withdrawal
Alcohol is embedded into the roots of most western cultures. It is used as a tool to create positive or fun environments, to stimulate and drive social and business interactions, or deal with the pressures of everyday life, which is often referred to as alcoholism.
This is because, for most people, alcohol works to fulfil whatever objective it is used for. A few drinks can create a complete shift of character through a transformation of energy and confidence. But at what cost?
Alcohol impacts sleep, often leading to a sluggish feeling the next day. It impairs memory and causes dehydration, which prevents the body from functioning properly, while also promoting those raging hangover headaches. Most alcoholic drinks are also full of sugars, or other processed carbohydrates, which lead directly to a long list of nasty health complications.
We all know that the benefits of alcohol, if any, are greatly outweighed by it’s detrimental side effects, but just how much can abstinence from alcohol do for your body?
After one alcohol-free day
After one day without alcohol, a heavy drinker may start to feel the preliminary effects of alcohol withdrawal. Some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and abdominal pain, as well as possible dehydration due to the diuretic effects of alcohol (almost like a bad hangover). Distract yourself to make it easier. Exercise, sweat, keep moving, and stay hydrated.
The bright side is that after a day without alcohol your body begins the detox process, starting by normalising blood sugar levels.
After one alcohol-free week
By now, a moderate-to-heavy drinker will likely have felt some of the more climatic symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including high blood pressure, increased body temperature, breathing abnormalities, irregular heart rate, sweating, confusion, irritability, and mood disturbances.
These symptoms usually come and go within the first 72 hours of an alcohol detox, but the physical effects of sugar withdrawal can last for up to ten days, so be sure to keep well hydrated throughout the detox period. Thankfully, the health benefits will have started to become noticeable.
Sleep quality is drastically improved, as the number of deep sleep cycles each rest period is increased. This allows optimal recovery and feelings of rejuvenation, as well as higher energy and focus levels throughout the day. Stress also becomes easier to deal with and those, who used alcohol as a stress management technique, will have more creative energy to explore healthier ways of letting off steam.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a reward. Count how much money you would have normally spent on alcohol over a one week period and treat yourself with the savings.
After two alcohol-free weeks
The most challenging part of the detox is done. Your system is completely alcohol free and the health benefits have started to compound. Mornings are easier than ever before and so is exercise, as both your organs and muscles now feel stronger.
Alcohol slows your metabolism and your body produces acids to break it down, so you may have also noticed that now, even eating and digesting food is more enjoyable.
After three alcohol-free weeks
After three weeks without alcohol, your body continues to reap new benefits of detoxification, including improved vision, elevated sexual performance and happier kidneys.
After one alcohol-free month
After a month without alcohol, cell production and turnover has improved, resulting in better-looking skin. Liver function has recovered and now it doesn’t have to work as hard to keep you healthy. Digestion has further improved, resulting in the retention of more nutrients from every meal.
Immune function has also drastically improved and the body has begun to rid itself of the nasty cells which lead to cardiovascular disease and numerous cancers. Any thoughts of craving or desire for alcohol have usually begun to diminish by now, or at least become much more manageable. Research conducted by O de Visser & Piper shows that after one month without alcohol, most people start to feel a sense of achievement and control over their relationship with alcohol.
After three alcohol-free months
The detoxification time-frame differs from person to person and is influenced by numerous internal and external factors, although, by now, most people will have experienced all of the benefits listed above.
After three months without alcohol, the liver continues to experience recovery and relief. Sleep quality will usually continue to improve, directly influencing overall health and wellbeing. The immune system will continue to strengthen, raising the body’s defences against heart disease and cancer.
Read more on the importance of getting enough sleep.
Some will experience a lower blood pressure, while others can lose excess weight, but many report a significant improvement to overall mental health.
After six alcohol-free months
After six months without alcohol, focus has heightened and the body has continued to strengthen its defences against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Some report an improvement in memory, as well as emotional changes, such as improved confidence, self-esteem and relationships.
After one alcohol-free year
A huge achievement that deserves significant recognition, especially in this day and age, but let’s look at the health benefits. Overall health has drastically improved, both physically and mentally. Your organs, mainly your heart and lungs, are now operating with much less effort, as is your immune system. Now it’s time to give up the smokes as well.
A whole year without alcohol may seem impossible for some, but don’t worry if you can’t go it that long without your favourite drink.
The research led by Dr. R. Visser, from the University of Sussex, concluded that giving up alcohol for as little as one month can provide significant and lasting health benefits.
As part of the research conducted, a total of 2,821 participants completed “Dry January”, an alcohol free month, while 816 of these participants were able to abstain until August of the same year. The participants of Dry January completed surveys that gave the following results (as reported by Medical News Today):
- 93% reported a great sense of achievement at the end of the alcohol-free month
- 88% had saved the money that they would otherwise have spent on drinks
- 82% reported an enhanced awareness of their relationship with alcohol
- 80% felt more in control of their drinking habits
- 76% understood when they felt more tempted to drink and why
- 71% said that they enjoyed a better quality of sleep
- 70% reported better overall health
- 67% had higher energy levels
- 58% of participants lost weight
- 57% reported improved concentration
- 54% said that they noticed better skin health
- 71% learned that they did not need alcohol to have fun
So, bearing this information in mind, I strongly encourage you to try an alcohol detox for whatever period of time, or just gradually reduce your consumption of alcohol in general.
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your alcohol consumption, starting with first thinking about how much you drink, and what drives you to drink alcohol in the first place.
Cyndi Turner, a Virginia therapist who specialises in addiction treatment and alcohol moderation, says that knowing why you drink is essential when escaping the grips of alcohol. Knowing the reasons behind your alcohol use, whether it be work or relationship stress, insomnia, or anything else, can steer you towards alternative ways to address those issues in a more productive manner.
Next consider your approach. Are merely going to reduce your alcohol consumption, or allocate alcohol-free days? Or how long do you want to abstain from alcohol altogether for? You are far more likely to achieve success, in any aspect of your life, through setting goals.
Once you have your goals in mind, it’s easier to visualise the steps to take, but it helps to have support along the journey. Talk to your friends and family, or anyone else that may support you, or put pressure on you to drink. Anyone who cares about you will be supportive of your alcohol-free ambitions.
If you don’t have a supportive network of friends and family, change your environment. Find a community of like-minded people, such as an AA group or online community – on Reddit or Facebook. If you find it difficult to engage in groups, try speaking with a mental health professional, like a doctor, counsellor or psychologist – even if it’s just over the phone.
Other tips for those who are giving up the drink include, staying hydrated, exploring healthy stress and coping mechanisms, keeping a journal, rediscovering hobbies, listening to motivational and self-help podcasts on Youtube, mixing up the daily routine, removing alcohol from the home and prioritising wellness – through good sleep, a healthy diet and daily exercise.
Your drinking habits, including frequency of drinking sessions and average quantity of drinks consumed, will greatly impact the difficulty of your detox. If you are a heavy drinker, consider first reducing the frequency of drinking sessions and the quantity of drinks consumed, before trying to completely abstain from alcohol. Commit to certain ‘alcohol-free nights’ during the week, with an early morning commitment to follow the next morning, such as exercise, work, study, or something that you enjoy.
You don’t need alcohol to have fun, but a drink, or two, every now and then probably won’t hurt. Understand your limits and consume everything in moderation.
It’s all about finding the balance.