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Effects of alcohol: What happens to your body when you stop drinking for Dry January?

You'll start to notice changes within just a few hours.

alcohol. new year celebration with champagne
Effects of alcohol: What happens to your body when you stop drinking

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

If you're concerned about your drinking, or just feel like easing off after an alcohol-heavy holiday, a new year is a great time to adopt healthier habits. Dry January is a popular trend where people stop drinking alcohol for the entire month — but what does it actually do? Here's what happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol after developing a dependency on it.

The first 12 to 24 hours after your last drink

On the first day after you give up alcohol, you may start to notice early symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which can include:

  • Anxiety

  • Insomnia

  • Abdominal pain

  • Nausea

  • A feeling of dehydration

You're also likely craving your usual drink while feeling depressed and lethargic. You may experience shaking, sweating and hand tremors as the day progresses, depending on how much you were drinking before. On the positive side, your blood sugar is beginning to normalize. You may also be feeling hopeful and excited about a life without alcohol. Drinking plenty of water and eating healthy foods will help you get through the first day.

24 to 48 hours after your last drink

Withdrawal symptoms may start to reach their peak after the first day. You may start experiencing the most severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. During this time, you may have high blood pressure, confusion, irritability, fever, irregular heart rate and moodiness. Although there can be a general correlation between the amount you used to drink and your withdrawal symptoms, it's not always a direct line. Some people who have been heavy drinkers for years can quit with few or no withdrawal symptoms, while some light drinkers may experience more symptoms.

glass cup between hands woman with a glass of alcohol in her hands in front of a window
You may begin to notice the effects of quitting alcohol within just a few hours.

Some people experience hallucinations, seizures and delirium tremens (DTs). Because of the possibility of dangerous, life-threatening symptoms, you should not go through withdrawal alone. Fortunately, DTs are rare, occurring in only five per cent of withdrawal cases. However, they can be fatal, so you should talk to your doctor if you've been a heavy drinker and plan to quit.

During this period, you can try home remedies, such as using cayenne pepper on your food to reduce nausea. You can also soak basil sprigs and peppercorns in water for a healthy tonic with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help you feel better.

48 to 72 hours after your last drink

If you've been having symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, they should start subsiding after 48 hours. Your blood pressure and body temperature will start to stabilize, and the worst is behind you. Some people will continue to have moderate or severe symptoms for up to 72 hours, but most will begin to get relief.

Three to 7 days after your last drink

For most people, the physical symptoms of withdrawal will have passed by now. You'll start to feel more like yourself, and your cravings will start to subside. You'll start sleeping better and be more energetic. You may notice that you feel more hydrated, and dry skin conditions such as eczema and dandruff improve. In rare cases, severe physical symptoms such as DTs, sweating, and seizures may continue, and you'll still need medical supervision.

Man sleeping soundly in bed in the early morning
After a week or two of no alcohol, you should notice your sleep improving.

One to 2 weeks after your last drink

Your sleep patterns will continue to improve because you'll have more REM sleep cycles than when you were drinking. Drinking interferes with healthy sleep by inhibiting the release of melatonin in your brain. Although drinking may knock you out, you probably wake up after a few hours and have trouble going back to sleep. After you quit, you may start to notice some of the many benefits of better sleep, such as improved mental ability, better emotional regulation, reduced stress and improved immune function.

One month after your last drink

After you've gone a month without drinking, your liver will start repairing itself. You'll have less liver fat, so your liver can function more effectively. You'll also probably notice some weight loss. Alcohol has a lot of empty calories and can lower your inhibitions, making it harder to resist eating unhealthy, fattening foods.

Benefits of not drinking

If you're a casual drinker, you may not notice withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. Your results may be subtler and less dramatic. However, research shows that you'll improve your health by not drinking. Abstaining from alcohol is associated with lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, sexual dysfunction, liver disease and gut problems. So, regardless of whether you're a heavy drinker or only occasionally have a few drinks, you can reap the benefits of dry January.

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