What happens when you stop drinking alcohol? Pretty much everything you’d expect—and also plenty that you might not.
Like, better sleep, less anxiety, and a clearer head, for one. And, glowier skin, hotter sex, and maybe even more connected relationships as well. But that’s not all: Recent studies show that the list of social, psychological, and physical benefits of teetotaling is ever-growing. It includes everything from more balanced hormones to a stronger immune system to reduced risks of heart disease, liver disease, and cancer. Plus, the potential of increased self-awareness, self-confidence, and higher self-esteem, too. As one doctor I recently interviewed put it, when you quit alcohol, “your entire body and soul improves.”
But swapping our evening glass of red wine for non-alcoholic spritzes and mocktails isn’t always super easy to do—even if you don’t officially struggle with an alcohol use disorder. That’s because alcohol is literally everywhere; its consumption is ingrained in our culture and societal norms. “Alcohol is the only socially-accepted mind-altering beverage in the world,” says Dr. Rafaat Girgis, a triple-board certified psychologist and the medical director at Moment of Clarity, a mental health treatment center in Orange County, California. “It’s served at parties, during meals, and on holidays; for most people, it’s just a part of daily life.” Which is why taking even just a short break for Dry January or Sober October—not to mention, quitting long-term—can often feel like it requires heroic levels of discipline.
One way to make it all a little easier: having a firm understanding of when you can expect to experience all the benefits. Anticipating everything that can occur after one day, one week, one month, and beyond can help you stay connected with the positive changes as they unfold— and remind you to give yourself some grace when temptations emerge. “Getting your body back to normal functioning depends on many factors, including your gender, current health, and your willingness,” explains Dr. Girgis. “Accept it, learn, and gain insight as you go.” After all, the body and the soul don’t improve overnight.
To that end, it’s also important to stay patient—and persistent. Good advice for any challenging situation, really, and especially when it comes to cutting back on or quitting alcohol. Tanya Mezher, a certified dietary nutritionist and the founding practitioner at functional medicine platform Malla agrees. “Recovery takes time, and setbacks may occur,” she warns. “Stay committed to your goals. The timeline varies from person to person, but noticeable improvements in physical and mental health can often be seen within a few weeks to months.”
With that in mind, here’s an overview of what you can expect in the short term and the long term when you stop drinking. Plus, a few more tips to help you succeed at every juncture in the journey. And remember: if you’re feeling hopeless or out-of-control because of heavy drinking, it’s important to seek professional medical support. You don’t have to go it alone and quitting cold turkey is not advisable. Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline, which operates 24/7, 365 days a year, at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for more information.
What happens you stop drinking after one day
For many, experiencing the intense flu-like symptoms of a hangover—nausea, headache, chills, sweating, restlessness, anxiety, bowel upset, and inflammation—can be a powerful impetus for deciding to quit or, at the very least, cut back. Therefore, depending on how much alcohol you typically consume, the first day off can be a little, ahem, rough. But the good news is, the first 12 to 24 hours of sobriety is when the healing also begins. Notably, you’ll experience increased hydration as your reduced blood alcohol levels reduce. “This could be the most critical part of stopping without a medical intervention,” Dr. Girgis says.
After three days
It’s not uncommon to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms and cravings within the first few days of quitting; fitful sleep and low-level depression are also common. “This is the time where you are most vulnerable physically,” Dr. Girgis says, noting that this is often the point when many hopeful quitters succumb to the temptation to quell discomfort with a little “hair of the dog.” If you’re able to resist, the results will be worthwhile: you should start to experience better sleep, increased energy, and improved digestion by the 72-hour mark—and also noticeable skin clarity and increased levels of energy thanks to improved hydration. The liver, which is responsible for metabolizing alcohol, will also begin to reset and repair.
After one to two weeks
By now, you should be feeling a marked difference—and any improvements you’ve recently seen in your skin, energy, and sleep quality will only increase. Your immune system should be firing more effectively now, too, which can mean less chance of sickness, inflammation, and infection. Withdrawal symptoms should also have noticeably subsided at this point, freeing you to relish in the improvement in mental clarity and sharpness.
After one month
Like a downhill skier picking up speed, the momentum—and benefits—really start to build after a month. Liver enzyme levels and blood pressure have normalized, reducing the risk of cirrhosis and heart disease. Cardiovascular levels are also improved, which may also contribute to weight loss and visible changes in your physique.
After three months
You may suddenly notice you’re seeing the world through a rosier lens: At three months, emotions and mental health have stabilized leading to a more positive outlook and much cheerier moods. You may be feeling more creative and motivated, too, as any alcohol-induced brain damage or shrinking should begin to repair. Sleep patterns should be completely regulated by now, which means you could be jumping out of bed faster than you ever have before.
After six months to a year—and beyond
This is when most people really start to feel like a whole new version of themselves in all ways. Everything from anxiety to depression to sexual function should be majorly improved by now—and will only continue to benefit as the body repairs. The risk of developing certain cancers, as well as liver and heart disease are also more markedly reduced. And, many people also report more fulfillment in their relationships and work as their self-esteem and confidence increase. “My feelings is that it truly takes one year for your body to return to normal,” Dr. Girgis says. This is also when you may decide to never look back again; when you realize that quitting alcohol might just be, as he puts it, “the best choice you will ever make.”
Staying committed long-term
When it comes to staying on the wagon, both Dr. Grigis and Mezer say that it’s helpful to continue to set clear goals and seek support—whether that’s through a professional therapist, a medical advisor, family and friends, or organized groups. “Share your intentions with friends and family who can provide encouragement,” Mezer advises. And, don’t neglect the self-care basics. “Nutrition and hydration are your friends,” says Dr. Grigis. “Choose healthy foods and beverages, and remember to be physically active—even if it’s just walking around the neighborhood.” They both say these things can really help you stay focused and avoid potential triggers, both important factors in long-term success. “Know this,” Dr. Grigis says. “The decision to stop drinking is yours, and though it’s a daily commitment, it is possible—and wonderful.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.