A Glance at How Alcohol Impacts Your Body

Quick snapshot of the changes you’re going to feel when you quit

When we remove alcohol from our daily life, we are likely to experience both immediate and long-term changes in our bodies. Yesterday we discussed warning signs of withdrawal and protracted withdrawal; please consult a doctor if you think you’re at risk for dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox or a guided tapering plan may be helpful for you as your body adjusts.

Today, let’s check out a couple positive changes you may notice after the first week of abstinence from alcohol. Keep in mind that the degree and immediacy of these improvements will vary person to person, so if you don’t feel them right away, keep at it. You might also experience something called “the pink cloud,” where everything feels rosey and wonderful almost immediately after discontinuing alcohol use. These feelings may cycle, too. Removing alcohol from our lives is certainly a journey, not an immediate destination.

Possible health improvements after cessation of alcohol use:

  • 3-7 days: most acute withdrawal symptoms will subside. (If they persist or worsen at this point, contact a medical professional immediately.)

  • 1 week: sleep will likely begin improving. You will likely be able to fall asleep more easily, and your sleep quality improves.

  • 2 weeks: you may begin noticing some weight loss, and the liver has begun repairing itself. (In one study, participants’ liver fat decreases by as much as 20% by the 1-month mark.)

  • 3-4 weeks: blood pressure may begin to improve, and your heart-health is on the up and up. Cholesterol will likely begin improving as well.

  • 1 month: skin and eyes begin to look brighter, less puffy. Any broken blood vessels in the face will begin to heal and lighten.

  • 3 months: your energy will likely have improved substantially, and you may be feeling “back to normal.”

  • 1 year: any symptoms of protracted withdrawal (low energy, cravings, sleep issues) will likely subside. Your body has substantially healed itself from the effects of alcohol.

One thing to keep in mind is the hedonic setpoint we discussed when we learned about dopamine and the brain. It’s possible that in the weeks and months after you discontinue alcohol use, you’ll experience something called “anhedonia.” Anhedonia is a fancy way of saying that we become unable to feel pleasure or enjoyment. This will heal and is not typically permanent—it is simply our brains readjusting to more natural levels of dopamine. If this anhedonia persists, it may be a symptom of clinical depression. Consult a doctor or therapist if you experience this for a prolonged period.

In addition to the changes above, it is likely that your mental health, immune system, cognition, and memory will begin to slowly improve as you continue to abstain from alcohol. This is a time of healing; we literally heal our brains and our bodies when we stop using alcohol. Be patient with yourself if it feels like you don’t notice much difference right away, and celebrate any small wins as they come.

American Addictions Centers. (2020, October.) Anhedonia in Recovery. https://alcoholrehab.com/alcohol-recovery/anhedonia-in-recovery/
Molyneux, A. (2020, February.) A timeline of what happens when you quit drinking for good. Delamere. https://delamere.com/blog/a-timeline-of-what-happens-when-you-quit-drinking-for-good
T., B. (2020, July.) The Benefits of Quitting Alcohol. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-the-benefits-of-alcohol-recovery-67761