What happens to your body when you stop drinking

Common realizations when you're quitting drinking

People are no doubt well aware of the possibility of withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking. It’s a concept that’s out there in popular culture (Sterling Archer of the hit cartoon Archer constantly jokes about how quitting drinking would LITERALLY kill him, for example - and he’s not wrong, given his drinking level on the show) and people know enough to be careful when they’re stopping drinking cold turkey.

But what you may be less prepared for are some of the more mundane but ultimately longer-lasting and therefore more threatening challenges associated with quitting drinking.

Here are just a few we’ve seen in our experience, and our friends’ and members’ experiences:

  1. You have way too much time on your hands. What is this time? This is the time you used to spend passed out on the couch from too many mimosas. This is the time you used to spend at parties with people you didn’t like all that much, getting wasted. This is the time you used to spend recovering from brutal hangovers the morning after a big night. That’s why one of the most important things to do early on is identify other ways to spend your time.

  2. Alternative addictions pop up to take alcohol’s place. When we first quit drinking, I found myself suddenly spending 2x the norm on online shopping. My need for dresses hadn’t risen, but I was filling the hole left by alcohol with something else that gave me that rush of dopamine to the brain. Others find themselves eating more, or eating worse food, to try to compensate for the loss of something that gives pleasure. It is important to seek out other rewards, but important to make sure they are things that are good for you (your health, your bank account, etc.) long term. Try exercise, for example!

  3. You feel emotional, and it’s not just mourning the loss of booze. Guess what? Alcohol is a great way to avoid feelings. It delivers a dullness and a light euphoria for a short amount of time that makes it a common form of self-medication for anxiety. But when alcohol is no longer around, you are confronting hard days, bad weather, mean people, career frustrations, money problems, and more without that boozy shield. It’s hard. It sucks. And it is also part of life. Building up your skills to confront problems without drinking is one of the most important things you can do when quitting

These are just a few of the patterns we’ve seen. Please feel free to leave a comment if you’ve seen others.

As always, if you are considering quitting or reducing drinking, please give Drinker’s Helper a shot! We’re designed to help people in this situation in a variety of ways (a support group, motivational exercises and more!) and we hope we can help you.

What is alcohol withdrawal, and why does it happen?

Alcohol withdrawal is a set of symptoms, ranging in severity, that happen when you quit or cut back significantly on drinking.

Withdrawal happens, of all things, because your body is fighting back against the calming effects of alcohol. As you probably know, alcohol is a depressant. When your body fights back, trying to maintain your emotional equilibrium, it therefore makes you anxious and excited to counteract the depressant.

It doesn’t have to be the case that you’re severely dependent on alcohol and quit in order to experience withdrawal - you could be drinking a lot and then drinking less, and you still might get the milder end of the symptoms. However, if you are severely dependent on alcohol and want to quit, you should definitely speak to a doctor before doing so, as that end of the withdrawal spectrum can be so severe it’s fatal.

That’s part of how alcohol gets us addicted - it appears to help deal with anxiety because of its calming effects, and then withdrawal causes more anxiety, and you have to drink to treat symptoms caused by drinking in the first place.

The milder symptoms include:

  • Physical: shakiness, nausea, headache, insomnia, dehydration

  • Emotional: anxiety, irritability

The more severe symptoms (also known as delirium tremens) include:

  • Physical: hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t there), seizures, high blood pressure, fever

  • Emotional: confusion, agitation

The symptoms start about 6 hours to a few days after you quit or cut back, and can last for a few days. If you see a doctor, they can help by prescribing medication to deal with the symptoms.

If you decide to quit or cut back on drinking, in addition to seeing a doctor in case of severe withdrawal symptoms, try Drinker’s Helper, our app that helps people quit or cut back on drinking.