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What are the benefits of giving up alcohol for a month?

If you're giving up alcohol for a month and are wondering what the benefits will be, Priory has outlined the positive changes you can expect to see over the weeks.

What happens when you stop drinking? A timeline

The timeline below gives the potential symptoms and experiences that someone who is dependent on alcohol might go through when they stop drinking. 

It’s important to remember that everyone’s body will respond differently to giving up alcohol. Our timeline should only be used as a guide to establish what you might experience in the days and weeks after you stop drinking.

Up to 24 hours after you stop drinking

Withdrawal symptoms are likely to begin within the first 24 hours of stopping drinking. Depending on the individual, they might start from as little as two hours after their last drink.

Early symptoms will be mild. They may include anxiety, hand tremors and shakes, sweating and headaches. As time goes on, alcohol cravings will grow and a feeling of fatigue and depression could begin.

12-72 hours after you stop drinking

For some, more serious withdrawal symptoms will begin after 12-24 hours. In rare, more severe cases, you might develop delirium tremens (DTs). Symptoms could include seizures, hallucinations and a significant increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This is a dangerous period for anyone who has stopped drinking and is experiencing withdrawal.

48-72 hours after you stop drinking

For the majority, the symptoms of withdrawal will begin to subside at this point, allowing you to function more normally and manage your symptoms. Symptoms of DTs may continue for some, with a feeling of disorientation and delusions alongside other severe withdrawal symptoms like heavy sweating and high blood pressure.

Between 3 and 7 days after you stop drinking

After a few days of giving up drinking, most people can expect their symptoms to stop. For the more severely affected, DTs and severe withdrawal symptoms may continue. For these people, medical supervision is recommended when giving up alcohol.

Week one of giving up alcohol

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Better sleep

After one week away from alcohol, you may notice that you are sleeping better. When you drink, you typically fall straight into a deep sleep, missing the important rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. While you are supposed to have between six and seven cycles of REM sleep a night, you typically only have one or two when you’ve been drinking.

There are many benefits of better sleep. You will be more productive, where you can learn and problem solve better. Your ability to control your emotions and behaviour will also improve. 

You’ll also have more opportunity to manage your food and drink intake. Sleep helps to balance the hormones that make you feel hungry or full. After drinking, your ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes you feel hungry) go up and leptin (the hormones that make you feel full) go down.

More hydrated

When you drink alcohol, you lose around four times as much liquid as what you actually drank.

Dehydration can cause headaches, as your organs take water from the brain due to their own water loss. Salt and potassium levels also reduce, which can impact nerve and proper muscle function while also causing headaches, fatigue and nausea.

Therefore, giving up alcohol can help you keep well hydrated, which is in turn beneficial for your brain. Your mood and concentration will be more stable, and the frequency of headaches is likely to decrease. You also won’t suffer from the effects of dehydration such as lack of motivation and increased fatigue, so will have more energy throughout the day.

Calories saved:

If you were to give up drinking six 175 ml glasses of wine a week, you would save around 960 calories, which is the equivalent to three burgers or five and a half bags of crisps.

And if you were to stop consuming six pints of average strength lager a week, you would save 1080 calories, which is similar to six bags of crisps or five chocolate bars.

Week two of giving up alcohol

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After two weeks off alcohol, you will continue to reap the benefits of better sleep and hydration.

As alcohol is an irritant to the stomach lining, after a fortnight you will also see a reduction in symptoms such as reflux where the stomach acid burns your throat.

After a fortnight, you are also likely to start losing weight as a result of giving up alcohol’s empty calories. If you were to stop drinking six 175ml glasses of wine per week, you would have saved 1920 calories at this point, and 2160 if you’d stopped drinking around six pints of lager.

Week three of giving up alcohol

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Drinking too much alcohol can cause your blood pressure to rise over time. After 3-4 weeks of not drinking, your blood pressure will start to reduce. Reducing your blood pressure can be crucial as it can help to lessen the risk of health problems occurring in the future.

As the calories in alcohol can cause you to gain weight, giving up alcohol can also help you to reduce your blood pressure as a result of the weight you can potentially lose. By this point, if you’d previously been drinking six 175ml glasses of wine a week, you would have lost 2880 calories over three weeks. And if you’d been drinking six pints of lager a week, you would have lost 3240 calories. 

Week four of giving up alcohol

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Giving up alcohol will have a positive impact on your skin due to you having better levels of hydration. As more water will have been absorbed rather than wasted, you are likely to have more hydrated-looking skin, as well as reduced dandruff and eczema.

Removing alcohol from your diet for four weeks can also help to improve your liver function as your liver will start to shed excess fat. If your liver function is not too badly affected by alcohol, it can recover within 4-8 weeks.

With the liver playing a part in over 500 vital processes, you also give your body a better chance of removing contaminants, converting food nutrients, storing minerals and vitamins.

Benefits of not drinking alcohol

Giving up drinking has a wide range of great benefits to our physical and mental health, some of which are named above. Here’s an extensive list of the benefits of not drinking in the long-term:

  • Your quality of sleep will increase. The two most important cycles of sleep – rapid eye movement (REM) and slow wave sleep - will be less disrupted, leaving you feeling brighter and more alert each morning
  • Your mood and levels of concentration will improve. This stems from having more energy and less fatigue, helping you be more productive at work or at home
  • You’ll be better hydrated, leading to a whole host of benefits. Headaches and having a dry mouth will decrease, skin will feel more radiant, and dark circles around your eyes will lessen
  • Your memory will begin to improve. Alcohol is proven to hinder the part of your brain that deals with memory (the hippocampus)
  • You’ll find it easier to lose weight. Alcohol slows your metabolism, making it harder for your body to process fats and sugar. Alcohol also has a high calorie count (approximately 160 calories for a medium glass of red wine, 210 or more in a pint of beer) and many of the mixers we enjoy with spirits, like vodka or gin, are high in sugar. You’ll also be less likely to have late night, fast food binges than you would after you’ve been drinking alcohol
  • Your stomach will feel better. Symptoms such as indigestion and acid reflux can be caused by alcohol irritating your digestive system. You’ll also be better able to absorb nutrients and store vitamins and minerals
  • Your skin health will improve. Alcohol can cause red and blotchy or puffy skin. Alcohol-free skin is better hydrated, removing these problems and reducing dry patches that can inflame conditions like eczema
  • You’ll reduce your blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to alcohol consumption, and this is known to be one of the main causes of heart disease
  • Your liver will be healthier. Over time, your liver fat levels will reduce. Good liver health also contributes to the quality of our skin

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. You will also have reduced your calorie intake by 3840 for the month, if you used to drink six glasses of 175ml wine a week, or 4320 calories over the month if you used to drink six pints of lager a week.  

If you are struggling with alcohol and are finding it hard to quit, you may want to think about getting support. We understand that embarking on recovery from alcohol addiction can be an emotionally difficult time.

Blog reviewed by Sarina Wheatman, Addiction Treatment Programme Manager at The Manor Clinic.

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