Whether you are stopping for good, or just having some time off, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the changes you could see. But first, if you think you may be dependent on alcohol, you should consult your doctor or another medical professional. Being dependent on alcohol can cause physical withdrawal symptoms like shaking, sweating, or nausea. If you have these symptoms if you miss a drinking session, it can be dangerous to stop drinking completely too quickly without proper support.
Alcohol Abuse & Misuse
Misuse of alcohol, often called ‘alcohol abuse,’ refers to excessive alcohol use or any other way that can place you at risk for experiencing physical, mental health, and social problems. Having more than 1 drink daily for women (7 per week) or 2 drinks for men (14 per week) is generally considered alcohol misuse. Binge drinking, a form of alcohol misuse, is when a man has 5 or more drinks or a woman has 4 or more drinks within a short period.
Binge drinking or alcohol misuse can increase someone’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder, more commonly known as ‘alcoholism’ or having an “alcohol addiction. AUD is a disease characterized by the inability to control alcohol use despite negative, harmful consequences.
Craving alcohol, having a tolerance to the effects of alcohol, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking are but some of the criteria that point toward having AUD. When a person has a physiological dependence on alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms that are experienced after they significantly reduce or stop drinking can be extremely distressing and uncomfortable, and people commonly return to drinking alcohol as a way of relieving their discomfort.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)?
What happens when you give up alcohol? Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur when someone who is physically dependent upon alcohol suddenly stops drinking or drastically reduces their alcohol intake.
Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal is thought to arise as a function of various changes in brain activity caused by prolonged and excessive alcohol use. Though the neurochemical details of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are somewhat complicated, its associated symptoms reflect compensation for previous disruptions in both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter activity—the balance between the two having been upended, to begin with as a result of prolonged alcohol use.
The effects alcohol has on the body are complex, but two particular neurochemicals contribute to both short-term effects of drinking as well as the development of alcohol withdrawal syndrome when someone stops drinking: the brain’s main inhibitory chemical, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and the brain’s main excitatory chemical, glutamate.
When a person drinks alcohol it changes the functioning of GABA receptors as well as certain glutamate receptors, resulting in a slowdown of brain functioning that a person typically experiences as decreased anxiety and sedation. The brain reacts by decreasing the amount of GABA being released and increasing glutamate signaling to compensate for how alcohol alters these levels. This adaptation functions as long as you continue to drink alcohol—this is known as ‘tolerance.’
If you stop or significantly reduce alcohol intake, it disrupts your brain activity, causing a hyper-aroused state which leads to a range of withdrawal symptoms that can appear within hours after your last drink.4,7 The withdrawal symptoms a person experiences, as well as their severity, may vary greatly from one person to the next, and it has been estimated that more than 80% of those with an alcohol use disorder may experience withdrawal symptoms.
Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal
What happens when you give up alcohol? Signs and symptoms of the various stages of alcohol withdrawal may include:
- Mood changes
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Heart palpitations
- Increased blood pressure or heart rate
- Rapid abnormal breathing
What happens when you give up alcohol?
Benefits of stopping
What happens when you give up alcohol? When you’re ready to stop, there are lots of benefits – from reducing your blood pressure and better sleep in the short term to many other important longer-term health benefits. Here are some of the improvements you could see from cutting out alcohol, in the short- and long term.
Short-term benefits when you give up alcohol
- No more hangovers: It may sound obvious, but stopping drinking means you will no longer suffer from hangovers. Nausea, headaches, or tiredness you may have felt the morning after drinking could be replaced with improved mood as well as feelings of productivity.
- Better mental health: Regular, heavy drinking interferes with chemicals in the brain that are vital for good mental health. So, while you might initially feel relaxed after a drink, alcohol can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. And stopping drinking could make feelings of stress easier to deal with.
- Improved energy levels and better sleep: If you stop drinking completely, one of the first things you notice should be improved energy levels, better sleep and finding it easier to wake up in the morning. Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish during the day. This is because drinking alcohol disrupts your sleep cycle. Although some people find drinking alcohol helps them get to sleep more quickly, the quality of sleep is affected. Alcohol disrupts the important Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, which can leave you feeling tired the next day – no matter how long you stay in bed.
- Better skin: Drinking less alcohol can have a positive impact on your appearance – and your skin in particular. Alcohol dehydrates your body, including the skin, and this happens every time you drink. This can cause your skin and eyes to look dull. But stopping drinking could help your skin’s hydration.
- You could lose witght: If you’re overweight and regularly drink alcohol, you should find that your weight falls noticeably if you stop drinking. And not drinking at all will make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. For example, a typical pint of lager contains the same number of calories as a slice of pizza, and a large glass of wine the same as an ice cream sundae. Alcoholic drinks contain lots of ‘empty’ calories, meaning your body doesn’t get any nutritional value from alcohol. In fact, alcohol contains almost as many calories as pure fat.
Long-term benefits when you give up alcohol
What happens when you give up alcohol? Good health is a really important factor in how satisfied we feel with our lives. And by deciding to stop drinking, you could reduce your risk of developing many serious alcohol-related diseases. Alcohol is linked to seven different types of cancer including bowel cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, and mouth cancer. Giving up drinking could also have a big, positive impact on your liver and should reduce the chances of developing liver disease, as long as it hasn’t already been irreversibly damaged.
Your level of risk will depend on how much alcohol you have drunk over the long term, as well as other factors like family history and lifestyle. But, as drinking even at low levels increases the risk of these diseases, deciding to stop drinking completely is a positive choice. Drinking alcohol also causes other long-term health problems. Stopping drinking lowers the risk of:
- Heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Sexual dysfunction
- Gut problems
Stopping drinking could make your life feel brighter in all kinds of ways, as well as help your long-term health. If you’re ready to stop, arming yourself with strategies and tips can help you or a loved one take small steps towards big results.
Treatment, Alcohol Detox California & Prevention
Alcohol detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the difficult process of alcohol withdrawal, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to alcohol use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox. Inpatient or residential treatment involves living at a facility for the duration of treatment while you receive around-the-clock support and intensive therapy in group and individual sessions.
In general, the course of alcohol withdrawal is highly variable and somewhat unpredictable. Screening and assessment tools do not allow physicians to predict with confidence who will or will not experience life-threatening symptoms. Those experiencing mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms or who are concerned about experiencing withdrawal symptoms will benefit from the advice of a physician or clinician trained to assess and treat patients in alcohol withdrawal.
Those experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, or those who are at risk of experiencing moderate to severe symptoms (i.e., if you’ve had severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the past) typically require inpatient monitoring and treatment of withdrawal symptoms at an acute care hospital or detox-equipped facility. Outpatient treatment may be available for mild-to-moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, however, should symptoms become severe, inpatient care may be required.
Other post-detox resources include:
- Therapies such as family therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- 12-step meetings, such as AA.
- Participation with other mutual support groups such as Smart Recovery.
- AAC’s free online virtual support meetings.
To prevent or lessen withdrawal symptoms or medical complications that can occur with severe alcohol withdrawal, doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines. These drugs can stop certain withdrawal reactions from proceeding to serious consequences.
Other medications may also be used to stabilize patients or for supportive care (e.g., anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, and alpha-adrenergic agonists.) Patients who are dehydrated or malnourished may be given fluids or certain vitamins.
Reclaim Your Life From Alcoholism
What happens when you give up alcohol? A lot of benefits can arise from quitting alcohol abuse, but at the same time, it can be dangerous to do so without professional support. Alcoholism is a serious disease that can cause severe repercussions, such as alcohol withdrawal, that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California rehab institute can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to treat alcoholism professionally and safely. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. Have in mind that each call is private and confidential.
 Alcohol Facts and Statistics – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
 Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Dietary Guidelines.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Alcohol and substance misuse.
 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.