If you like to head out to the bar on the weekend or spend a Saturday night sipping wine on the couch with friends — as so many people do — then you might notice a difference when you stop drinking during the week. But even for those who don't get hungover or feel any lasting side effects, there's still a recovery period the body has to go through. And it's worth knowing about it.
"Whether we like it or not, alcohol is ... a toxin," Dr. Kelly Bay, a certified dietitian nutritionist, certified nutrition specialist, doctor of chiropractic, and health coach, tells Bustle. "The second you drink an alcoholic beverage, it is converted to toxic substances, such as acetaldehyde, and distributed throughout your body via your bloodstream. This goes on to be processed by your liver to be metabolized." And, she says, the entire process can lead to oxidative stress, which in turn leads to inflammation.
Alcohol can also throw off your electrolyte balance, Bay says, leading to dehydration. Plus, it can decrease the diversity of your gut microbes, which may "account for the 'booze blues' and anxiety people complain of after drinking," she says. "With what we now know about the gut brain connection, inducing gut inflammation can certainly impact your mental status."
The degree to which you're impacted will be dose dependent, Bay says, so everyone's experience will be a little different when they drink, and stop drinking, alcohol. But it's still interesting to consider what's going on in internally as you head off to work on Monday morning, after sipping beverages over the weekend.
"About one hour after your last drink, your liver is actively working to clear the alcohol from your bloodstream," Hillary Cecere, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist, tells Bustle. "About six to 12 hours after your last drink, headache and depressed mood may set in," which is when you might feel hungover and perhaps a bit down in the dumps, as mentioned above.
Cut to 18 hours after your last drink, Cecere says, and your blood glucose levels will begin to stabilize again. And it'll be at 72 hours, or about three days later, when you'll start to see improvements in your mood, as well as less disturbed sleep, which is yet another side effect that can occur after you drink.
Of course, "if you drink more heavily on the weekend, it may take your body longer to recover from the inflammatory cascade created by the alcohol," Bay says. "It may also be harder for your gut microbiome to bounce back." Saving your drinking for the weekend, however, can help a little bit. "Taking a break from alcohol can help decrease inflammation, normalize electrolyte balance, and give your body a chance to regenerate from the damage of drinking," Bay says.
But again, it'll all come down to your body and how you process alcohol. "Different bodies deal with alcohol in different ways depending on their genetics, their underlying metabolic activity, and underlying liver conditions," Dr. Tarek Hassanein, M.D., a board-certified doctor of internal medicine, gastroenterology, and transplant hepatology, tells Bustle. "Any vacation from drinking allows the body to heal. The longer time off from drinking, the better the chance of healing."
It's important to keep in mind that no amount of alcohol is considered "safe," and no type or amount can be "recommended," either. As Bay says, "Recent studies have kind of debunked the previous idea that moderate drinking can be beneficial. One of the main benefits of drinking red wine was attributed to resveratrol, a beneficial polyphenol that protects your body in a similar way to an antioxidant. This compound is also found in other foods such as cranberries, grapes, blueberries, and blackberries. So you can actually get resveratrol by eating fruit, rather than drinking alcohol."
That said, if you do want to have a mixed drink, or a glass of wine, or a beer, go for it. "Two to three drinks per week for a healthy individual should be fairy safe, all things considered," Bay says. It's just about going back to that all-important word — moderation — and being smart about it.
As Hassanein says, have a drink with a meal, savor it, and drink water so you don't overdo it. It'll take more than two weeks for the liver to recover from binge drinking, he says, which can be avoided by spacing drinks out. But even still, holding off for five days before having alcohol again still may not be enough time for the body to fully recover, even from moderate drinking.
Mutlu, E. A., Gillevet, P. M., Rangwala, H., Sikaroodi, M., Naqvi, A., Engen, P. A., … Keshavarzian, A. (2012). Colonic microbiome is altered in alcoholism. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 302(9). doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00380.2011
Dr. Kelly Bay, certified dietitian nutritionist, certified nutrition specialist, doctor of chiropractic, and health coach
Hillary Cecere, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist with of Eat Clean Bro
Dr. Tarek Hassanein, board-certified doctor of internal medicine, gastroenterology, and transplant hepatology