The Benefits of Quitting Alcohol

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Quitting drinking isn't always easy, especially if you've been misusing alcohol for years. However, there are many benefits of taking the steps needed to stop alcohol use, both mental and physical. Here we discuss a few of these benefits, helping to provide additional motivation to quit alcohol for good.

Health Risks of Heavy Drinking

Before you learn the benefits of quitting alcohol, it's helpful to understand the risks of higher levels of alcohol use. Heavy drinking can take a major toll on numerous aspects of your health, elevating your risk of: 

  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Anxiety
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Cancer
  • Cirrhosis
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Digestive issues
  • Fibrosis
  • Hearing loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Sexually transmitted infection
  • Stroke

As the alcohol begins to leave your system and you establish healthier habits, you will start to feel better—perhaps better than you have in years.

Health Benefits of Recovery

Research shows that some of the damage caused to the brain, liver, cardiovascular system, and gut will slowly heal when you stop drinking. After you get past the temporary though sometimes severe discomfort of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you'll notice increasing improvements in your physical and mental health. Here are a few to consider.

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Better-Looking Skin

Have you ever heard of the term "alcoholic face?" This is a phrase used to describe the negative effects excessive alcohol use can have on the skin, including:

  • Broken capillaries on the face and nose
  • Dry skin due to dehydration
  • Inflammation
  • Jaundice (with chronic, long-term use)
  • Reduced collagen levels, resulting in loose, saggy skin

Heavy alcohol consumption has also been linked to psoriasis, an inflammatory skin disease. When you stop drinking, your body gradually restores elasticity to the skin and redness and yellowing around the eyes slowly fades.

Improved Sleep

Alcohol use and poor sleep are closely linked. This is because alcohol interferes with the sleep-wake cycle, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. It also relaxes the muscles in the throat, making you more prone to sleep apnea and snoring.

While you can expect some sleep-related issues in early recovery, the longer you abstain from alcohol (and practice good sleep hygiene), the greater the improvements in your sleep quality. 

Healthier Weight

Alcohol robs your body of essential nutrients and derails your metabolism. It is also filled with sugar and empty calories. If you binge drink, you can easily consume 600 calories or more in alcoholic beverages in one night.

The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse defines binge drinking as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dLi in a short period of time (about 2 hours). This typically occurs after five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women.

A big part of alcohol recovery is not only learning to quit drinking but also learning to live a healthier lifestyle, which includes proper nutrition and exercise. While everybody differs, regaining a healthy weight is a realistic goal for many people who maintain sobriety for the long term.

Better Mental Health

There is a high rate of comorbidity between alcohol addiction and mental illness—including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.2 million U.S. adults experienced both mental illness and a substance use disorder in 2018, yet nearly 60% received no treatment.

While scientists have yet to determine the exact link, we do know that many people turn to alcohol and other illicit substances in an attempt to self-medicate symptoms of mental illness. But they may fail to realize that alcohol ultimately exacerbates mental illness. So, when you stop drinking, you can reduce these symptoms.

As you achieve your sobriety goals (small and big) and work toward a healthier you, you will begin to notice an improvement in your mental health. This can include increased self-confidence and self-respect, along with decreased anxiety and depression.

Improved Immunity

Alcohol interferes with the immune system, preventing it from producing enough white blood cells to fend off germs and bacteria. This is why many people who consume large amounts of alcohol over extended periods of time tend to struggle with bouts of pneumonia and tuberculosis.

What does this mean in real-life terms? When you give up drinking, you will also be giving up the many colds, flu bugs, and illnesses that you may have been unable to ward off due to chronic drinking in the past.

Enhanced Nutrition

Drinking can deplete your body of vital nutrients. Plus, many people with alcohol use disorder tend to "drink" their meals, eating less of the food needed to provide sufficient carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals their body needs.

Alcohol can even interfere with the digestion, storage, utilization, and excretion of nutrients. As a result, many people who drink heavily become malnourished. Once you stop drinking and begin building healthier habits, your body can also begin to better absorb healthful nutrients.

Lower Risk of Cancer

Alcohol is a known carcinogen. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk of developing certain types of cancer, including:

  • Breast cancer
  • Colon and rectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Oral cancer
  • Throat cancer

The American Society of Clinical Oncology adds that limiting alcohol use while undergoing cancer treatment may help avoid potential complications. This includes cancer recurrence or the development of secondary primary tumors (SPTs).

Reduced Cardiovascular Risk

If you quit alcohol, your heart is sure to thank you. This is because people who drink heavily are about twice as likely to have a cardiovascular event within 24 hours than those who don't drink at all, and up to six times more likely to experience this type of issue within a week.

A 2021 study involving 371,463 people further found that alcohol use contributes to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of how much is consumed. But alcohol misuse, specifically, is associated with an increased risk of heart problems. Among them are:

  • Atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart attack

Studies have also connected alcohol consumption with an increased risk of stroke, especially for people under 45 years of age.

Better Memory and Thinking

Heavy drinking can cause the hippocampus, the part of the brain critical to memory and learning, to shrink.

Abstaining from alcohol over several months to a year may allow structural brain changes to partially correct. Quitting drinking can also help reverse negative effects on cognitive functions, including those related to problem-solving, memory, and attention.

A Word From Verywell

Developing an alcohol-free lifestyle and achieving long-term sobriety takes a lot more effort than merely not drinking anymore. So, if you've stopped drinking and begun the road to recovery, congratulate yourself.

These benefits are just beginning. The longer you go without alcohol, the more improvements you will experience. This includes positive changes in your overall health, relationships, job or schoolwork, finances, and more.

Try your best to have patience as your mind and body heals and you relearn a life without alcohol—and take pride in how far you've already come.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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