Doctors Explain What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Drinking

Expect clearer skin, improved mood, and even a brain boost.

by Julie Sprankles and JR Thorpe
Originally Published: 
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After a prolonged period of partying, you might be looking for a refresh and a reset. If you've decided to stop drinking, whether for personal reasons ("I need to stop being so tired all. The. Time.") or practical ("I spent the equivalent of a car payment on wine last month"), even a temporary pause on alcohol will have major effects on your body.

"For years the common paradigm was that drinking in moderation (one drink a day or less for an adult female, and two drinks a day or less for an adult male) was rather harmless for most people," Dr. Donald Sansom D.O., associate medical director at Sierra Tucson addiction treatment center, tells Bustle. "For the most part, the scientific community doesn't really think this any more." A study published he says, proved that no amount of alcohol can actually improve your health; not even a glass of red wine every day or so, which was thought for a while to help heart health. "Not drinking is a healthy choice," he says.

If you do opt to cut alcohol out of your life — whether it be a week, a month, or for good — you won't just notice a surplus in your bank account. Your body will undergo the following positive changes as well.

1. Your Complexion Clears Up

"Alcohol is a diuretic, which causes water to be flushed out of your system at a much quicker rate than other liquids," Dr. Joseph Volpicelli M.D., head of the Volpicelli Center, a substance use treatment facility, tells Bustle. In turn, urinating more can lead to dehydration — particularly since alcohol can keep your body from reabsorbing water. "Dehydration contributes to a multitude of issues, including skin breakouts," Dr. Volpicelli says. Your skin might feel dry or stretched, or oilier than usual, when you're drinking. Once your system is clear of alcohol, you might see a marked difference in your skin.

2. Your Cancer Risk Decreases

"Alcohol contributes to dozens of types of cancer," Dr. Sansom says. Extensive research has found a "strong scientific consensus" of a correlation between alcohol consumption and cancers because alcohol is a carcinogen. Cancer Research UK says alcohol increases your risk of cancer in three ways: by damaging DNA in cells, altering our hormone levels, and breaking down cell barriers so that other carcinogens can get in. Eliminating alcohol consumption could greatly decrease your risk for cancers of the breast, colon, mouth and more, according to the National Cancer Institute.

3. You Sleep More (And More Soundly)

"An improvement in mood, sleep, energy, and overall wellness are common benefits for those who quit drinking," Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk M.D., a practicing family physician, tells Bustle. A study published in 2015 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research suggests that drinking before bed leads to an increase in alpha wave patterns in the brain, which does not make for restful sleep. Giving up alcohol ups the odds that you will get a full night of deep sleep, because your brain waves will return to normal. Plus, you won't wake up with a hangover so, winning.

4. Your Brain Gets a Boost

Although we wish it wasn't so, drinking alcohol diminishes your mental acuity. Alcohol messes with your hippocampus — that part of your brain which creates memories — thereby essentially rendering yourself incapable of or much less capable of learning and storing new information. Dr. Volpicelli says dehydration can contribute to poor mental clarity too. None of this bodes well for team trivia night.

5. Your Glucose Level Regulates

There's a reason people with diabetes need to be careful when drinking, and that is because alcohol consumption can cause blood sugar levels to rise or fall. Blood sugar is the amount of glucose present in your blood, which affects your energy levels. For some people living with diabetes, sharp drops caused by alcohol can lead to dangerously low glucose levels. Surges in the opposite direction can create consistently high blood sugar levels, which can make you more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. When you quit drinking, your blood glucose levels drop to your body's typical levels.

6. Your Liver Shapes Up

Dr. Sansom says stopping drinking can be good for your liver and pancreas. A study published in Alcohol & Alcoholism in 2018 found that stopping drinking for just one month made a a significant difference to fat levels in the liver. And since the accumulation of fat in the liver is a sign of early liver damage, this is definitely an organ you want to take care of.

7. Your Mood Might Improve

"Heavy alcohol consumption in particular is associated with depression and anxiety," Dr. Sansom says. And Dr. Mieses Malchuk points out that even moderate drinkers may have a higher risk of developing psychological disorders. "The undeniable fact is that alcohol consumption does not promote better health but rather has many negative impacts upon one’s health," Dr. Sansom says.

If you're thinking of quitting drinking, particularly if your alcohol use is high, Dr. Mieses Malchuk recommends talking to your GP. "It is important to determine how to quit drinking safely and someone who knows you and your medical history can come up with a tailored treatment plan for you."

If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).


Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk M.D.

Dr. Donald Sansom D.O.

Dr. Joseph Volpicelli M.D.

Studies cited:

Burton, R., & Sheron, N. (2018). No level of alcohol consumption improves health. Lancet (London, England), 392(10152), 987–988.

Chan, J. K., Trinder, J., Colrain, I. M., & Nicholas, C. L. (2015). The acute effects of alcohol on sleep electroencephalogram power spectra in late adolescence. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 39(2), 291–299.

Munsterman, I.D., Groefsema, M.M., Weijers, G. et al. (2018) Biochemical Effects on the Liver of 1 Month of Alcohol Abstinence in Moderate Alcohol Consumers. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 53 (4) 435–438.

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