I have been a psychiatrist for over 40 years. I worked as a consultant for the United Kingdom's National Health Service until 2002, and have subsequently been the lead addiction consultant and a general adult psychiatrist at The Priory Roehampton, a private mental healthcare facility in south-west London for the last two decades.
My patients are aged 18 and over and typically belong to higher socio-economic groups; around half of them have private medical plans, while the others are self-paid. In terms of addiction, around 85 percent of the work I do is related to alcohol. Many of my clients with depression often have an underlying alcohol problem, which they don't initially disclose but emerges as time goes on.
In January, I tend to see an uptick in patients who have been admitted due to alcohol dependence. Perhaps they have over-indulged during the holiday season or there have been consequences to their drinking over the Christmas period.
Many countries take part in "Dry January", a campaign which encourages people to give up alcohol for one month. In my view, taking a break from alcohol for four weeks is very psychologically beneficial, because it allows people to focus their minds on their relationship with alcohol.
Often, people drink because they're stressed or anxious, and they think alcohol provides an instant cure. Of course, not everyone who drinks has a problem, but a break from alcohol can allow people to consider how much they're drinking and why. It usually takes a month to see the benefits of stopping, but in my experience they become apparent relatively quickly.
What alcohol can do to the body
Alcohol's two main breakdown products are acetaldehyde and ethanoic acid. Those byproducts are toxic to all tissues of the human body; however, we are able to metabolize a small amount of them.
So, while we can metabolize around a unit of alcohol an hour, if you drink a lot, everyday, your body has to rid your system of those toxins. If you overload the liver, you have more of those toxins inside your body, which can damage the liver itself, your brain, your stomach, your heart and your pancreas.
These things tend to happen silently. For example, damaging your liver is like scratching the back of your hand with your nail constantly until you break the skin. You can drink for years and years until eventually your liver starts to become inflamed, without any pain, which silently proceeds to fatty liver disease and then to cirrhosis.
Typically, my patients have abnormal liver function. It takes a large amount of alcohol for this to occur and once it does, a person could live 20-30 years normally before the liver stops functioning correctly. Then, the liver will become more and more abnormal, unless you stop drinking completely. In my opinion, abnormal liver function is a sign to stop drinking completely, immediately.
Additionally, your gastrointestinal tract or stomach does not react well to alcohol, so drinking can increase your chance of developing ulcers, which can perforate and cause gastritis. Alcohol can also cause an increase in blood pressure, particularly if you are struggling everyday to detoxify yourself. So along with feeling bad, you are putting yourself at further risk of a cardiac event or a stroke, particularly as you get older.
I have a number of patients who come to me on anti-acid drugs, antidepressants and blood pressure lowering drugs, but when they stop drinking they don't need any of them. Very often, people presenting to general practitioners with common conditions will not tell their doctor they are drinking two bottles of wine a day. So their symptoms are addressed, but not the cause.
What happens when you give up alcohol for a month
Week one: Increased energy, reduced calories, better sleep
Once you stop drinking, the alcohol leaves your system quite quickly. This means, depending on the physical state of your liver, that you gradually start to feel better. As the week progresses, you usually have more energy because your liver is not struggling to recover every single day. Your energy will be devoted to getting you going, as opposed to recovering from alcohol.
Your sleeping pattern tends to improve because alcohol is a sedative, but it has a very short half-life. So even if you are incredibly inebriated and fall asleep, it's likely you'll wake up at some point in the night and experience rebound insomnia.
While you won't start to lose weight immediately, you may gradually notice a change in your body. Usually there's a similar number of calories, all of which are empty and primarily made up of sugar, in wine or beer as there is in semi-skimmed milk or orange juice.
Usually, when people drink large quantities of alcohol, they either don't eat very much or don't eat healthy food. So, going sober may encourage you to improve your diet. In my eyes, it's better to take an overall approach to your health and combine going sober with a good diet.
Week two: Better brain function and lower blood pressure
By week two, it's likely you'll feel less foggy. If your body isn't recovering from alcohol everyday, you'll be able to concentrate more, notice an improvement in your memory and increase your overall function at work and at home.
Sleep is related to your brain function, so your sleeping pattern should continue to improve. It's likely you'll feel better physically overall because your liver is not struggling to break down alcohol and can focus on the other jobs it has to do
Studies have shown that after a couple of weeks sober, you start to reduce the damage to your brain and your blood vessels. It's also likely you'll want to do more exercise because you're less physically tired, which will also help your sleeping pattern and mental health.
While you're unlikely to notice, unless it is excessively high, your blood pressure will decrease. For example, patients of all ages who come to us drinking heavily have exceedingly high blood pressure. Even if they're on a detox plan with a significant amount of tranquilizers, their levels can be up to 170. Giving up alcohol can bring these levels down within a few weeks.
Week three to four: Better skin, reduced anxiety, improved mood
Anecdotal evidence suggests the effects of a detox from alcohol are gradual over the entire four-week process; so there's not a set timeline for each to kick in at one time.
Throughout the period your mood is likely to improve. Alcohol is a depressant and while it's unclear whether the mental health conditions of my patients are related to the direct effect of alcohol or the shame and guilt which can be connected with it, often they find that after detoxing they no longer need to take medication for their conditions.
While drinking, a huge number of my patients would experience anxiety in the morning. Often they would have panic attacks trying to get on the train or bus. However, after detoxing, they no longer had that anxiety associated with the withdrawal from alcohol.
Often people have more sex, and enjoy it more, when they're sober. Alcohol interferes with your ability to feel sexual stimulation and can delay orgasms. People may notice they have more energy, so sexual function can be improved by stopping drinking. Usually your skin improves after detoxing. Heavy drinkers usually have tell-tale signs; they often look red-faced or puffy with bags under their eyes.
Overall, I believe having a short-term break from alcohol is beneficial as it can allow people to consider how much they drink: how many units they consume, how frequently and the volume of alcohol in their drink. But, more than that, it makes people consider the consequences of their drinking to their physical and mental health.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, of Priory's Roehampton Hospital in south west London, is one of the UK's leading alcohol addiction experts.
All views expressed in this article are the author's own.
As told to Newsweek editor, Monica Greep.
Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at email@example.com
Summary. Across the month, your body is likely to have benefitted greatly from giving up alcohol. Better hydration and improved sleep will have increased your productivity and daily wellbeing. Your liver, stomach and skin will also have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol.How do you feel after 30 days without alcohol? ›
Going alcohol-free for just 30 days can be a powerful way to improve your mental health, and you'll start to notice positive changes in your mood, appearance, and energy.How long after you quit drinking does your body return to normal? ›
The First Two Weeks
Most people will stop experiencing withdrawal symptoms in less than a week, in which time their body will begin to restore its normal function and quality of life can already improve considerably. Some improvements in sleep occur as early as seven days, and these gains increase in the week after.
Over time, your body can begin to recover from the influence of alcohol, and you can expect: A healthier heart and cardiovascular system. Decreased risk of cancers. Fewer illnesses due to your immune system improving.What does an alcoholic face look like? ›
When you drink, the dehydrating (or 'diuretic') effect of alcohol means your skin loses fluid and nutrients that are vital for healthy-looking skin. This can make your skin look wrinkled, dull and grey, or bloated and puffy. Dehydrated skin may also be more prone to some types of eczema.What happens to your body after 4 weeks of not drinking alcohol? ›
Research has found that just four weeks without a drink can be enough to start lowering both blood pressure and heart rate. * Your risk of type 2 diabetes has already started to reduce (in one study insulin resistance came down by an average of 28 per cent) and your cholesterol levels should be starting to lower.How your body changes when you stop drinking for 28 days? ›
1 – Weight loss.
2 – Your blood sugar levels improve. 3 – Your cholesterol levels improve. 4 – Your stomach will thank you for sparing it from all that junk food that usually comes with excessive drinking. 5 – Your liver regenerates better when you don't assault it with beer and wine.
You can expect improved liver function almost immediately after you stop drinking alcohol. Experts predict that most drinkers' livers can return to completely normal function after 4-8 weeks of no alcohol.Is it normal to sleep a lot after quitting drinking? ›
People recovering from alcohol abuse may sleep a lot in the early stages of sobriety, especially during the day. A pattern of heavy alcohol use often correlates with daytime sleepiness as the body adjusts to less alcohol.Can the body fully recover from alcohol? ›
Depending on the organ and whether there is relapse, functional recovery is possible. Even after years of heavy alcohol use, the liver has a remarkable regenerative capacity and, following alcohol removal, can recover a significant portion of its original mass and function.
It takes at least two weeks for the brain to return to normal after drinking. Therefore, this is when the alcohol recovery timeline begins. It is less able to suppress a desire to drink until the brain has recovered. The reason for this is that alcohol has harmed the brain's cognitive function.What are the benefits of not drinking alcohol for 3 weeks? ›
In general, you may start to experience physical benefits such as increased energy, reduced anxiety, and improved liver health. You might also notice positive changes in your personal life, such as improved relationships and more free time for hobbies.Will I look younger if I quit drinking? ›
With on-time alcohol detox, you can get your health back on track. The skin will look younger, with fewer wrinkles, puffiness, and flare-ups. You will have an easier time losing weight and getting rid of the bad smell. Most importantly, you will give your eyes a new start.What happens after 90 days of no alcohol? ›
When you reach 90 days of sobriety, you'll likely feel a bit more relaxed. However, you may begin feeling sad and confused about your relationship with drugs and alcohol. Feelings of shame, guilt and depression are all normal, and these feelings can be worked through.What happens when you stop drinking for 30 days? ›
Cutting out alcohol for 30 days or more can lead to a "reduction in things like joint pain, headaches, and body aches," Scheller says. In fact, alcohol use can actually cause arthritis by increasing inflammation in your joints. Plus, alcohol can dehydrate you, contributing to the headaches.What do alcoholic eyes look like? ›
One of the physical characteristics of someone who is a heavy drinker is bloodshot eyes. This change in appearance is due to alcohol abuse swelling the tiny blood vessels in the eye, enlarging their appearance and making the eyeball look red.What are 3 symptoms of an alcoholic? ›
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so.
- Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use.
- Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol.
- Prioritizing Alcohol.
- Placing Blame on Others.
- Making Frequent Excuses.
- Drinking Uncontrollably.
- Struggling Financially.
- Shifting Priorities.
- Behaving Recklessly.
Feelings of depression and anxiety may subside. Critical thinking skills improve. Better performance and productivity at work or school. Increased savings due to a decrease in alcohol purchases.What to expect after 6 months of sobriety? ›
In the first 6 months of your sobriety, your body will start getting rid of toxins in order to become healthier. By the 6 month mark, your skin appears healthier. People around you notice your eyes are clearer. You've been taking care of yourself and bathing regularly, so your hygiene has improved.
1 One study showed that after 6 weeks of abstinence from alcohol, brain volume increases by an average of 2%. 3. After Six Months: After half a year without drinking, you will really start to reap the rewards. Your risk of developing cancer will decrease, and your liver function will have greatly improved.What can I drink instead of alcohol? ›
- Soda and fresh lime. Proof that simple is still the best.
- Berries in iced water. This summery drink will keep you refreshed and revitalised.
- Kombucha. ...
- Virgin bloody Mary. ...
- Virgin Mojito. ...
- Half soda/half cranberry juice and muddled lime. ...
- Soda and fresh fruit. ...
Your healing gut may be absorbing more nutrients.
Taking a break from booze also gives your gut a chance to heal alcohol-induced damage and take in more nutrients. That may mean weight gain because your body "is finally getting nourished again," Brooks said.
- lower blood sugar.
- lower blood pressure.
- fewer alcohol-related symptoms, like headaches, heartburn, indigestion and stomach upsets.
- less fatty build-up around the liver.
- improving existing conditions - depression, high blood pressure or skin conditions such as rosacea.
- better sleep.
Although positive changes may appear earlier, 3 months of not drinking can not only improve your mood, energy, sleep, weight, skin health, immune health, and heart health. It can even reduce your risk of cancer.How long does it take the liver to heal? ›
The liver, however, is able to replace damaged tissue with new cells. If up to 50 to 60 percent of the liver cells may be killed within three to four days in an extreme case like a Tylenol overdose, the liver will repair completely after 30 days if no complications arise.What I learned when I quit drinking for a year? ›
What are the results? A few months in, I experienced improved sleep, increased energy, less spiky blood sugar, better mental health, fewer bouts of anxiety. These days, I have fewer headaches and my whole digestive system, in general, feels less irritated and inflamed, with a growing sense of general wellbeing.Does quitting alcohol give you more energy? ›
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.
A common side effect of withdrawal, insomnia is often a result of the body trying to adjust back to a normal sleep cycle. In some cases, insomnia in alcohol recovery may persist for months or evens years after first getting sober.What is considered heavy drinking? ›
What do you mean by heavy drinking? For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.
You will experience physical signs your liver is healing, such as healthier-looking skin and eyes, increased energy levels, and reduced stomach pain and swelling. Other signs your liver is healing include: Improved amino-acid regulation – Your liver processes proteins and amino acids that your body cannot store.How can I repair my body after drinking? ›
- Do hydrate. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, meaning that it causes the body to lose water. ...
- Do eat. Ideally, eat both before and after drinking. ...
- Do sleep. ...
- Do take Vitamin B6. ...
- Don't drive or operate heavy machinery. ...
- Don't take Tylenol. ...
- Don't keep drinking.
Once brain cells die, the effect of the brain damage is permanent. Thankfully, some of the changes in the alcoholic brain are due to cells simply changing size in the brain. Once an alcoholic has stopped drinking, these cells return to their normal volume, showing that some alcohol-related brain damage is reversible.How do you know if you have permanent brain damage from alcohol? ›
Repeated blackouts, a clear sign of excessive drinking, can result in permanent damage that inhibits the brain from retaining new memories. For example, an individual may be able to recall past events with perfect clarity but not remember having the conversation a few hours later.Does brain fog with alcohol go away? ›
A person may think they have damaged their brain or need alcohol in order to think, which can trigger a relapse. Yet symptoms of brain fog usually alleviate within a few days.Why am I gaining weight after quitting drinking? ›
As your gut heals, you may gain weight from increased appetite and increased food absorption. Often, this is a good sign, especially if you were underweight before. Since excessive drinking can also go along with eating disorders, weight gain might be a sign of a healthier relationship with food.Do you smell when you quit drinking? ›
Body odor from alcohol detox is common. First, someone who is in withdrawal from alcohol will often experience profuse sweating. Sweating naturally leads to body odor, but the profuse sweating for days can produce a more potent odor.Do you look different when you stop drinking alcohol? ›
Most people who give up alcohol notice that their skin is dewy, and healthier looking after just one week. By the end of Dry January, you're likely to see less swelling, clearer skin, and an overall healthy glow.Does alcohol cause puffy face? ›
Alcohol can cause water retention in your face. This makes your face look bloated and puffy.What are the big milestones in sobriety? ›
- 24 hours sober – a white or silver chip.
- 30 days sober – a red chip.
- 60 days sober – a gold chip.
- 90 days sober – a green chip.
- 4 months sober – a purple chip.
- 5 months sober – a pink chip.
- 6 months sober – a dark blue chip.
- 7 months sober – a copper chip.
After giving up alcohol for 100 days you can expect to see positive changes in your health. Your liver, if not damaged beyond repair, will start to recover, your kidneys will also start recovering and you will start feeling more alert, more energetic, and less drained.What does a month without alcohol do? ›
Summary. Across the month, your body is likely to have benefitted greatly from giving up alcohol. Better hydration and improved sleep will have increased your productivity and daily wellbeing. Your liver, stomach and skin will also have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol.What happens when you take a month off drinking? ›
“The simple act of taking a month off alcohol helps people drink less in the long term; by August, people are reporting one extra dry day per week,” notes Dr. de Visser. “There are also considerable immediate benefits: nine in 10 people save money, seven in 10 sleep better, and three in five lose weight,” he adds.How much weight can I lose giving up alcohol? ›
2 weeks with no alcohol will save you 7,000 calories. 3 weeks with no alcohol will save you 10,500 calories. 1 month with no alcohol will save you at least 14,000 calories.What happens to your body after 2 months of not drinking? ›
It may take a full month of not drinking alcohol to feel better. Although positive changes may appear earlier, 3 months of not drinking can not only improve your mood, energy, sleep, weight, skin health, immune health, and heart health. It can even reduce your risk of cancer.What 3 weeks without alcohol does to your body? ›
- More energy.
- Better sleep.
- More free time.
- Weight loss.
- Better memory.
- Improved skin.
- Reduced anxiety and depression.
- More money.
If you stop drinking alcohol for 2 weeks, your liver should return to normal.How long does it take for your liver to repair? ›
The liver, however, is able to replace damaged tissue with new cells. If up to 50 to 60 percent of the liver cells may be killed within three to four days in an extreme case like a Tylenol overdose, the liver will repair completely after 30 days if no complications arise.How long does it take for brain chemistry to return to normal after alcohol? ›
It takes at least two weeks for the brain to return to normal after drinking. Therefore, this is when the alcohol recovery timeline begins. It is less able to suppress a desire to drink until the brain has recovered. The reason for this is that alcohol has harmed the brain's cognitive function.What happens to your liver when you stop drinking for a month? ›
Because the liver is a tolerant organ, he said positive changes can occur within weeks of going dry. Kumar added that in the absence of alcohol, “the liver can focus on its other jobs, such as breaking down other toxins produced by the body, metabolizing fats and excess hormones that need to be broken down.”
First, your body is releasing its water weight. You see, while you're drinking, your body clings to any reserves of water because alcohol dehydrates you. When you stop drinking, your body releases that water and you start to pee more frequently and lose some of your water weight.What happens to your body when you stop drinking for 6 months? ›
Once you stop using and drinking, things start to change. In the first 6 months of your sobriety, your body will start getting rid of toxins in order to become healthier. By the 6 month mark, your skin appears healthier. People around you notice your eyes are clearer.