What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

October 19, 2021

Alcohol is a subtle foe. At least that’s what the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states. Drinking alcohol is socially acceptable and a part of many people’s daily lives.

After a long day of working, happy hour sounds like a good idea for most. It can be hard for someone who’s addicted to alcohol to see these things. Seeing other people drink responsibly is frustrating for a person who’s having trouble controlling their drinking.

Heroin, crystal meth, crack, Valium — many times these substances are thought of as the most dangerous to detox from. However, alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to get off of. 

Seizures are possible when a person is detoxing from alcohol, which makes it an extremely dangerous endeavor to do alone.

A medical detox is highly advised for anyone that has become physically dependent on alcohol.

Of course there are many positive things that happen to a person when they stop drinking alcohol. Improvements in the areas of mental health, physical well-being, overall mood, and relationships are on the way for many who quit.

However, things can get worse before they get better.

Getting sober can seem overwhelming. In this article, you will learn about what happens when you stop drinking alcohol.

Quitting Alcohol — A Timeline of What to Expect

Anyone dependent on alcohol will go through stages of recovery after they stop drinking. What happens to each individual will of course vary, but there are some general assumptions about what most can expect to happen. 

Going “cold turkey” is very dangerous and can even be deadly. That’s why any hard or dependent drinker needs to seek out medical help when they decide to stop. The detox from alcohol is something that needs to be monitored by medical professionals.  

Even though quitting can seem scary, don’t let it deter you from trying. There is help available to everyone.

Here’s a rough timeline of what to expect.

Within the first 12 hours after the last drink, withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, restlessness, excessive sweating, and tremors. Some people might even start to hallucinate.

Within the first day, physical cravings can be extremely intense. Depression may set in along with low energy. Sleeping may be very difficult; however, in a detox, medication may be administered to help. Librium is a common drug used to help with alcohol detox. 

As you move into the 2nd and 3rd days of alcohol detox, things can start to get pretty dangerous depending on how chemically dependent a person is on alcohol. Increased heart rate and high blood pressure are likely to occur.

Close monitoring by a doctor may be imperative at this time. Sometimes a detox center or rehab will send a patient to the hospital if these symptoms get extremely bad.

Seizures can occur at this point. Seizures are particularly dangerous because they can cause someone to crash into things such as furniture or glass windows. They can also hit their head on the ground, which could kill them.

After the first 72 hours, withdrawal symptoms may start to get better. Food may become more desirable as it may have been hard to eat in the previous days. It is important to stay hydrated during an alcohol detox.

After 3 days and as the first week progresses, physical withdrawal symptoms are likely to subside. For some who were extremely chemically dependent, symptoms could get worse and could involve delirium tremens (DTs). DTs can cause confusion, disorientation, and extreme sweating.

As the first 2 weeks come to end, this is usually the end of the clinical detox period. Having a clearer head, a person is more likely to take advantage of the types of recovery methods that are available to them such as 12 -step fellowships and SMART Recovery.

Everything’s Better Now, Right? Maybe Not...

To those who don’t have experience with it, you may think everything will get better by just eliminating alcohol from a person's life. Yes, you might sleep better and have brighter skin, but a whole new set of issues will often arise.

For many, the use of alcohol has stuffed emotions deep within. Newly sober, a person may be extremely irritable, restless, anxious, depressed, angry, and over all discontented. In this way, an alcoholic or hard drinker may get much worse before they get better.

Alcohol abuse is a symptom of much deeper issues that must be addressed in order for a person to achieve any sobriety that is worth having.

That is why there are recovery methods in place. 12 step programs are the tried and true method for recovery.

The steps address resentments, fears, and encourage people to clean up the wreckage of their past as best as they can. People in 12 step fellowships maintain their sobriety by means of prayer and meditation, daily meeting attendance, talking with a sponsor, and selfless service.

12 step fellowships all work on the principle that helping other alcoholics will help members stay sober.

SMART Recovery is a more recent method used to help people stay sober. SMART Recovery uses cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that are proven to help many people struggling with addiction.

SMART Recovery also has meetings members can attend where they address subjects such as triggers to help people abstain from substances such as alcohol.

Life Gets Better!

Along with the above mentioned recovery methods, there are also other means of treatment after the detox phase.

Attending an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or continuing care program is known to increase a person's chance of maintaining long-term sobriety. You may also want to consider sober living.

While participating in recovery from alcohol, many things will come to pass. Health issues will improve, and many people will reach a much healthier weight.

Just as important, relationships will get better. Whether it’s relationships with your family, co-workers, or friends, methods used to recover from alcohol abuse are designed to heal. 

IOP at ASIC Recovery

At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping individuals develop healthier coping skills and build a supportive recovery network.

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