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What happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol

The capacity of alcohol to affect the human body is significant, and there are many cases where individuals with alcohol use disorders have ended up severely ill or even dead from drinking. Many people might be surprised, however, to learn that their bodies can actually bounce back fairly quickly once they stop drinking. While the early stages of recovery can be a rough ride, particularly for people who have formed chemical dependencies, getting well is very possible. From cognitive issues to one’s ability to sleep, improvements in well-being set in faster than you might guess.

The Effects of Alcohol

Before looking at what happens once a person chooses to stop drinking, it’s important to understand what the starting point in the treatment and recovery process is. To accomplish this, you should consider what the effects of alcohol consumption, especially sustained drinking over many years, can be. Alcohol has a documented history of causing many terrifying medical conditions, including:

  • Impairments in thinking, risk-assessment skills and physical coordination
  • Organ failure
  • Chemical dependency
  • Fluctuations in body chemistry, particularly metabolization
  • Brain shrinkage
  • Psychosis

As is the case with many substances that lead to addiction patterns, alcohol also has a strong influence on how dopamine is released in the human body. Dopamine is a neuroreceptor that plays an essential role in how the human brain constructs its sense of reward from different activities. When operating in a healthy manner, this reward system encourages humans to eat, hydrate and have sex.

Dopamine also encourages us to try things we found pleasurable again, and that’s where it can play an insidious role in the cycle of addiction. When a person goes into the alcohol detox process, the loss of the dopamine release can give rise to cravings for whatever triggered it. In this case, when people stop drinking, they can develop a strong urge to start drinking again. This addictive cycle also can be reinforced by drinking-related activities, such as dancing and socializing at the bar. Consequently, people often end up feeling empty and unrewarded when they begin the treatment process.

When You Stop Drinking: The First Hour

About an hour after you stop drinking, your body will respond by initiating its built-in alcohol detox system. The liver goes to work trying to filter out what it perceives to be a poison from your bloodstream. At the same time, the pancreas will start generating insulin, a process that leads to carb cravings even though the body may not be biologically hungry.

If you come from a genetic group that’s prone to the alcohol flush reaction, you’ll begin to see indications of the reaction during the first hour. These can include:

  • Inflammation of membranes inside the nose
  • A reddening of the skin
  • Increased symptoms for people with asthma

While we think of alcohol as making people tired, it actually serves as a sleep disrupter. The perception of drowsiness from alcohol consumption derives from the depressing effects it has on the nervous system. In point of fact, alcohol can be downright lethal during this period as cardiac and respiratory functions can become dangerously depressed.

The Next Two Days

At about the 12-hour mark following the end of a drinking session, you’ll begin to experience the effects of a hangover, especially if you did not make much effort to hydrate during your drinking episode and right after. Your body will ride up and down through shifts in glycemic levels, so you should definitely make an effort to have water nearby to mitigate the effects of a hangover.

It will take about 48 hours for your body to fully complete its alcohol detox effort. Some sense of grogginess may stick with you during this period.

One sign that someone may have an alcohol dependency problem will emerge about 10 hours after they’ve had their last drink. They may experience a combination of nausea, retching and sweating. If you go through this process, it will peak by 30 hours from when you stop drinking, and it should largely subside within 50 hours. Those suffering from severe mental problems arising from an alcohol use disorder may experience visual or auditory hallucinations that last as long as six days.

72 Hours Later

If you don’t have a chemical dependency on alcohol, this is the point at which your body will begin to feel significantly better. Carb cravings should now subside, and you’ll likely feel physical and mental energy returning.

For people who have developed long-term substance use disorders, this is where an alcohol detox can get downright scary. Around 72 hours since the last drink, an individual may develop delirium tremens, what are frequently called the DTs. This can lead to greater confusion rather than the improved mental function a non-addict might experience. At this point, a host of withdrawal symptoms can occur, including:

  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Delusions
  • Ketoacidosis
  • Hyperpyrexia

In extreme instances, a person may even undergo full cardiac or respiratory failure. This can result in death. Not surprisingly, there is a high risk of hospitalization under these circumstances.

If you’re worried that your alcohol detox efforts might lead to withdrawal symptoms, you can discuss your desire to stop drinking with a qualified professional. If necessary, you can be given drugs to encourage the process. However, it’s wise to be aware that one of the most common drugs prescribed, benzodiazepine, has its own withdrawal risks; it has been documented to have serious interactions with other medications, especially antidepressants.

One Week

At this stage, if you’re not exhibiting withdrawal symptoms, your body should begin to show significant indications of bouncing back. Thanks to the fact that you’ll be sleeping better, you should notice a great deal more physical and mental energy. Alcohol also has negative effects on the skin, and these will begin to clear up once a person has quit drinking for more than a week. If you’re worried about dry skin, rosacea or dandruff, it’s very possible that cutting alcohol out of your diet may lead to a marked improvement in your appearance.

One Month

By the time it has been a month since your last drink, internal organs in your body will begin to exhibit signs of recovery. Liver fat levels should drop by about 15 percent, leading to a visible reduction in belly fat and an improvement in your body’s capacity to filter out toxic materials, including alcohol. You’ll also continue to notice improvements in the appearance of your skin.

One Year

The reduction of belly fat levels will continue for the whole year after you stop drinking, and you may lose more than 10 pounds during the process. Internal organs will also continue their recovery process.

It’s believed that the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the medulla are all adversely affected by alcohol consumption, and they should all bounce back during this period. There’s some evidence that the adverse effects on them may play a role in the increased cancer risks that are associated with heavy drinking. Consequently, if you can stop drinking for one year, you’ll face a lowered chance of developing several types of cancers, especially ones associated with the digestive tracts, such as oral, colon and rectal cancers.

Beginning the Recovery Process

One of the trickiest aspects of a recovery effort is that the ability of some people to quit cold turkey is high while others will struggle to kick a drinking habit. Amazingly, about 60 to 80 percent of people who appear to have serious substance use disorders during their teens and 20s will just quit having problems because they get too old to indulge in dangerous drinking behaviors by the time they hit their 30s. On the downside, the remaining 20 to 40 percent of the population who won’t be able to casually stop drinking or just age out of it are much more likely to require assistance from professionals within a structured treatment program.

A study of what leads to this split among people who show signs of addiction indicated that the susceptibility of an individual to addiction is roughly 60 percent genetic. On the flip side, the ability to kick a habit appeared to be 54 percent genetic. There will be those who never get addicted, and there will be those who never have trouble quitting cold turkey. Also, there will be drinkers who can easily develop substance use disorders and may struggle mightily to stop.

In light of the potentially lethal effects of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it’s advised that anyone who is worried that they might face a difficult climb when they attempt to stop drinking should look into recovery program options. Proximity to where you live is important, but finding a program that fits your needs is more important. If you’re dealing with a complex set of potential interactions, such as drinking alcohol along with using drugs, you may need to enter a program that’s focused on dual-diagnosis cases. This is particularly important because only a professional can make a determination about whether someone might need treatment with drugs in order to stop drinking.

It may be necessary to take a closer look at mental health concerns as well. For example, research has shown that there’s a genetic propensity for individuals with anxiety disorders to self-medicate by consuming alcohol. Many mental health treatments call for antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications to be prescribed, and there are possibly complex interactions that can occur in those who are being treated for alcohol withdrawal issues. An experienced professional can help you sort out how you might want to move forward with treatment under those circumstances.

You should also try to build up a social support unit. If there’s someone in your family or a close friend you trust to assist you with things like getting to counseling sessions, you should recruit them as an ally in your recovery process. Due to the strong linkage between alcohol and social activities, you may also want to curtail relationships that tend to lead to drinking sessions. For example, rather than meeting friends at a bar and deciding not to order a drink, you could choose to only meet in public places where no alcohol is served.

Given enough time, your body can begin to heal itself once you stop drinking. The recovery process, however, is one that can take months or even years. By far, the most important thing is to keep your focus on trying to get better. Even if you stumble and have a drink, you’ll want to remember what your goal is rather than dwelling on a slip-up. With a commitment to health and wellness, recovery is absolutely possible.

What is Outpatient Rehab

What is outpatient rehabOne of the most difficult challenges a person can face is overcoming addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, you may be looking into the different options available for addiction treatment. Every person is unique, so the circumstances surrounding their substance abuse should be considered when selecting a treatment program.

Since the needs of one individual in addiction recovery are distinct from the needs of another individual, you need to be aware of different treatment approaches before enrolling in an addiction recovery program. The most common types of treatment programs are supervised detoxification, long-term and short-term residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs and other outpatient services like individual counseling or group therapy sessions. Depending on the severity of your substance abuse and related health conditions, the most effective type of treatment program might be an outpatient program for alcohol and drug treatment.

Outpatient Treatment Program Basics

Outpatient rehab is a non-residential addiction recovery program. Because clients can live at home during treatment, this type of program is perfect for someone who is motivated to get sober but cannot take the time off from work, school or other responsibilities to attend inpatient treatment.

Although outpatient programs give clients more freedom during treatment, these programs can be just as intensive as inpatient treatment as they often require daily sessions with an addiction specialist. The number of hours of attendance required each day and the number of days per week will vary depending on the needs of the individual during each stage of recovery.

The first three months of treatment is the time period in which people in recovery are most likely to relapse. Thus, most outpatient rehab programs last between 30 to 90 days. However, the exact duration of treatment is determined by a client’s unique situation, challenges, and needs.

Elements of Effective Outpatient Treatment

To offer an individual the best possible support for overcoming their addiction to drugs or alcohol, an outpatient rehab program will offer therapy options utilizing evidence-based treatment modalities. Standard outpatient rehab programs include individual counseling sessions, group counseling and therapy, psychoeducational programming, pharmacotherapy and medication management, routine monitoring of illicit drug and alcohol consumption, case management, 24-hour crisis coverage, community-based support groups, medical treatment, psychiatric examinations and psychotherapy for clients with a co-occurring mental health disorders and vocational training and employment services.

Depending on the recovery goals of the client, they may want to explore adjunctive therapies, including acupuncture, art and music therapy, biofeedback therapy for stress reduction, meditation, and other holistic approaches and nutritional guidance. For some, therapeutic recreational events can be a valuable part of treatment because it helps individuals find substance-free activities to replace former substance use.

Both standard treatments and adjunctive therapies may be scheduled on a weekly or even daily basis depending on the needs of the individual.

Dual Diagnosis and Outpatient Treatment

According to SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were approximately 7.9 million adults who had co-occurring disorders in 2014. Thus, an important outpatient service to consider is whether a facility offers psychotherapy options for co-occurring mental health disorders. It is estimated that roughly half of people who struggle with addiction are also dealing with a co-occurring mental health disorder. If an individual who is managing both an issue with substance abuse and a co-occurring disorder wants the best possible chance at overcoming addiction, they need a program that includes dual diagnosis support. This type of program will treat both disorders to prevent future relapse in an attempt to self-medicate uncomfortable psychiatric symptoms.

The Ideal Candidate for an Outpatient Treatment Program

When you envision drug rehab, you probably imagine an inpatient program like you see on television or in the movies where you spend an extended period of time away from your daily obligations to treat your addiction in a setting similar to a hospital. While some people need to attend an inpatient program, it may not be a viable or effective model for your personal recovery journey. For some individuals, an outpatient program is an ideal option, offering the flexibility they need to achieve their recovery goals without forgoing their work and personal responsibilities.

What is most convenient for you shouldn’t be the only factor you consider when deciding what type of treatment program to attend. Instead, the most important factors to consider are the severity of your substance abuse and whether you have other related medical issues or psychiatric disorders.

As a spectrum disorder, addiction to alcohol or drugs can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. This means that people have different needs as they work toward sobriety depending on the classification of their symptoms. If a person only has mild or moderate substance abuse symptoms and is seriously committed to the process of recovery, an outpatient program might work best. The very nature of an outpatient drug rehab program involves being allowed to leave the treatment facility on a regular basis, and for this reason, outpatient treatment requires individuals to demonstrate a commitment to managing their own recovery without around-the-clock care.

Those who are dealing with severe substance abuse symptoms may not be suitable candidates for outpatient treatment programs. Because of the high risk of returning to substance abuse, a program that takes place on an inpatient basis may be the best option available. When a person has completed a more intense program, or they have been determined to be stable by the professional conducting supervision during the individual’s detoxification process, an outpatient program may present the best option.

Types of Outpatient Rehab

Depending on your individual circumstances and treatment needs, one type of outpatient drug rehab program may better serve your needs than another. The three most common types of outpatient rehab are intensive outpatient treatment programs, day treatment or partial hospitalization and continuing care groups.


Intensive outpatient programs may be offered during the day or evening to accommodate busy schedules. Those who take part in an intensive outpatient treatment program participate in more frequent meetings at the outset of the program. As time goes by and the person reaches their recovery goals, they will need to attend fewer meetings per week.

Day Treatment or Partial Hospitalization:

A more comprehensive form of outpatient treatment is known as day treatment or partial hospitalization. When a person participates in a day treatment program, they typically spend between five to seven days per week attending scheduled treatment for addiction recovery, but they can leave the premises of the facility during the evenings and any days off. In some instances, a person will begin in the day treatment program and progress to an intensive outpatient program as their needs for addiction recovery treatment evolve.

Continuing Care:

Continuing care groups are also known as aftercare groups. These group counseling sessions typically meet once per week and are facilitated by a licensed professional. Clients can only take part in these groups after successfully completing an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

Benefits of Outpatient Treatment

For those who are candidates for outpatient substance abuse treatment, there are a number of benefits to this type of program, including the freedom afforded by a program that does not require individuals to reside at the rehab facility during treatment. This aspect of outpatient care is invaluable to individuals who have personal or professional obligations that must be maintained during the addiction recovery process.

One benefit of an outpatient program is that you don’t have to forgo your commitments during treatment. This allows you to continue to financially support your family and take care of your children or spouse without hiring a full-time caregiver. Additionally, by not taking days off from work, it is less likely that your boss or co-workers will discover that you have a problem.

Another benefit is that the cost of attending an outpatient rehab program is significantly cheaper than an inpatient rehab program. If you cannot afford inpatient treatment, then this may be the best option for you.

What Outpatient Treatment Cannot Accomplish

An outpatient addiction treatment program cannot offer supervised detoxification services. When a person stops using a substance to which their body has become accustomed, it is possible that the sudden cessation of use will cause symptoms of withdrawal. During the process of supervised detoxification, these symptoms can present a number of challenges and, in some circumstances, may prove to be very dangerous or even life-threatening.

An inpatient facility that offers a supervised detox program can provide a person who is going through this uncomfortable yet essential stage of recovery with the confidence that accompanies 24/7 supervision by a team of experienced professionals. In some instances, the best course of action is to enroll in a short-term detox program at a hospital before taking part in an outpatient program. The treatment professionals at the outpatient program will advise you on whether supervised detox is necessary considering your circumstances. Because addiction affects each individual in a unique way, it is best to consult with a medical professional to determine what path to recovery will prove most effective for your personal situation.

Goals of Outpatient Rehab

When an individual participates in an outpatient treatment program, our aim is to equip them with the tools they’ll need to sustain their recovery for as long as possible. By providing each person with the techniques, information, and education they need to face the challenges that lay ahead, we want to do everything we can to make sure our clients are in the best possible position to maintain their recovery after completing the outpatient program. Recovery from addiction is an ongoing journey, and our goal is to offer you the guidance necessary to succeed.

What Participation in an Outpatient Program Looks Like

A person who enrolls in an outpatient addiction recovery program will be provided with a schedule for treatment. The precise nature of this schedule for treatment will depend on the needs of the individual seeking recovery support. For some people, it may be necessary to attend all day sessions several times per week. However, other individuals may only require a couple hours of on-site treatment per week. The frequency and services included in each personalized plan for outpatient treatment will vary, but the common element will be the requirement that the individual is able to commit to attendance for the treatment schedule they agree upon with their counselor.

The specific treatment strategies that will be included in your customized schedule for outpatient addiction recovery will be contingent on your personal needs. Some of the strategies for treatment that may be utilized include participation in 12-step style programs, education about addiction, therapy on an individual and group basis, treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, advocacy for issues of a legal nature and continuing aftercare support, including help avoiding the temptation of returning to substance abuse.

When to Consider an Outpatient Rehab Program

Addiction recovery is a deeply personal process that will require different things from each person. If you think that an outpatient treatment program might be your best option for recovery from substance abuse, you should consider the options that are available to you. Living with the burden of addiction is not a viable option in the long run. When you are ready to build toward a more sustainable way of life, an outpatient drug rehab program might provide you with a chance to maintain your obligations while working to overcome addiction.

Blog Coming Soon

Thank you for all the support over the last few months. We are working on getting our writing team together, and will be releasing the blog in the near future. Please continue to help support us as we strive to provide the best information possible for those seeking inpatient treatment information. – Team