What physical changes happen when you stop drinking and when?
March 16, 2006 8:20 PM   Subscribe

If I were to stop drinking, what would happen physically, and when would I notice?

I am contemplating becoming teetotal for a while, partly in order to improve my fitness for a forthcoming sporting event at Easter, but mostly just to see what happens.

I currently drink half a bottle of wine most nights (ie 4 or 5 nights a week). Sometimes less; sometimes more. I drink beer or spirits maybe every couple of weeks. I don't feel any ill-effects from this regime except on those quite rare occasions when I get past the one bottle mark, and I'm reasonably physically fit already (36yo male, 174 cm, 81kg, 15% bf, lots of aerobic exercise, blah blah). No health problems apart from a couple of teensy weensy gallstones which haven't troubled me for a year. I've been drinking at this level since 30 or so; in fact I would say that I have moderated my drinking over that time.

If I stopped drinking right now, what changes might I expect to see, and when?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been dry for twelve years. One thing I noticed was that I generally began to feel much better physically nearly all the time.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:25 PM on March 16, 2006

IANAD, but I don't think that your stated consumption is so much that you would experience withdrawals or any negative effects. You will likely feel better, like Steven said.

If, on the other hand, you're actually drinking a quart of vodka a day, you should detox with medical supervision.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:35 PM on March 16, 2006

It should be mild. I drink a bit less or a bit more then you do, and I've gone "cold turkey" for months on end many times.

What I usually get is an insatiable hunger sensation. It's different then, say, pot munchies, and different then, say, quitting cigarettes and getting fidgety and snackish. And for me it's always been much easier to do then attempting to quit smoking.

I just feel really hungry and thirsty for a while like I'm craving some essential dietary element, but I can't figure out what it is I want to eat. (Oh, I know what I'd like to drink, for sure.)

If you're prone to mood swings, being snappish and surly or otherwise irritable, watch yourself. It'll carry over.

I would also consider tapering off slowly if you can manage it, or just modulating yourself down to a glass or half a glass of wine a day. The cardiovascular benefits are now known. And a single beer or single glass of wine (with plenty of water) is often just the ticket after a long bike ride, jog, swim, hike, or whatever.
posted by loquacious at 9:11 PM on March 16, 2006

I was a light-to-moderate drinker a couple of years ago when I stopped (at the age of 33). Two almost immediate (ie within a month) observations: I saved a lot of money and I lost weight - both without trying.

I also felt very lonely a lot of the time. While I had no problems hanging out with people while they were drinking, I have to conclude that my non-drinking DID interfere with some friendships, sadly. By your use of the metric system I presume that you are not from America, where it seems that virtually all non-parental adult life is centered around anesthesizing your central nervous system, so if you've sworn off it, it can leave you feeling a little strange.

Also, I generally felt more clarity and had more energy. I've recently tried re-introducing drinking to my life, very rarely and in small quantities, and what I notice more than anything else is how exhausted I am the next day - I feel beaten up. I've had my share of hangovers in my day - this is something different - it's not a headache, it's not nausea, it's like my entire body feels groggy. That, for me, is the most compelling reason to drink only small quantities and only on rare occasions.

All told, I have to say that it's been an incredibly positive experience and allowed me to take responsibility for my life in ways that I never could have imagined.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:14 PM on March 16, 2006

You'll lose a bit of weight, assuming you don't replace the calories.
posted by Miko at 9:24 PM on March 16, 2006

I've always subscribed to the adage "everything in moderation, including moderation". My dad is a 4-5 beers a night kinda guy, but every 12-18 months or so, he'll just stop drinking for 5-6 months. I don't know why he stops or re-starts, but I asked him about your question, and he seems to feel the same as loquacious - he says he feels a craving sensation for a few days after stopping, then feels normal again. Not any better, mind you - just normal.

Still, I don't think it's important to stop outright. I'm sure you enjoy your glasses of wine, you sound hale and hearty, and although less alcohol might be safer and healthier overall, teetotalling may not be nessecary to feel a little better.
posted by chudmonkey at 9:25 PM on March 16, 2006

You'll probably lose a bunch of weight. That's been my experience when I don't drink for a few months.
posted by fshgrl at 9:49 PM on March 16, 2006

I don't drink anything like that much these days -- once a week, maybe.

But in the days of yore when I was hardcore, I would periodically dry up for a few weeks or months at a time, to prove to myself that I could, and to try and maintain balance in my life, and because I enjoy being sober as much as I enjoy being drunk.

I didn't notice much in the way of physical differences when I went on the wagon. I usually gained weight, paradoxically, mostly because I didn't tend to eat much when I was on the road and on the booze.

I did notice a major difference in the clarity of my mind after a week or so, though. It was like night and day. The hiatuses (hiatii?) were worth it just for that.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:09 PM on March 16, 2006

Do it. Your body works better. Your brain works better. You save money. Drink tea.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:29 PM on March 16, 2006

I'm on a heavier regimen than you, so ymmv.

Sleep. It's damn difficult to get to sleep and stay that way - and when you wake up it's worse than a hangover (I don't normally get hangovers).

This usually correct's itself in a couple of days.

Random "hot flashes" - like really short-lived fevers. Also, goes away in a couple of days.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:29 PM on March 16, 2006

Alcohol contains a lot of sugar, so if you get a craving that you might think is for a drink, it's probably for sugar, so eat some dried fruit or chocolate to replace the sugar and you should be fine.
posted by essexjan at 12:11 AM on March 17, 2006

Alcohol metabolizes to sugar, IIRC, so maybe that's the odd hunger loquacious talks about. (Seems true from my experience -- I crave sweets after a night on the town.) Might want to plan for some sugar withdrawal or add something sweet for a bit, like fruit. Exercise and peppermint tea have helped me with sugar withdrawal.

Ditto the lonely -- When I didn't drink, I wondered "how did I never notice how stupid we all got when we drank?" If you go to parties, you'll want to get there really early.
posted by salvia at 12:18 AM on March 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Since I'm a brewer, beer judge and beer writer, it's a bit tough for me to cut out the drinking entirely from my diet. (Funny that) But I do notice that when I've gone on a stop for a while, I do feel things speed up a bit.

This does have the cost that my normal 4-5 hours of sleep per night turns into my normal 3-4 for quite a while and never fully stablizes back into the close to 5 hour pattern.

Even with all the beer activities in my diet though, I still don't drink that much (~6 beers per week?) But since I'm flying to Belgium next week to do some research, you can imagine that I'm shooting that average to hell.
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:13 AM on March 17, 2006

I went dry for February for reasons stavrosthewonderchicken outlines above, from a level of drinking slightly above yours. Saved some money, felt a lot more alert (particularly in the mornings), sleep was intitially harder but then got better, didn't lose weight because my appetite was higher, found it pretty hard socially.

So my experience was much like that of fingers_of_fire but this wasn't enough for me to keep with it.
posted by ninebelow at 4:23 AM on March 17, 2006

You may find you sleep better. This would also be a good opportunity to explore the fun, non-alcoholic imported beverages section at the grocery, just to have something yummy to lift in your glass.
posted by bkeaggy at 7:30 AM on March 17, 2006

I'm detoxing right now from much the same regimen as you (except for the beer and spirits part). I'm experiencing a lot of the same symptoms mentioned above (particularly, the ones mentioned by PurplePorpoise).

Sleep for the first few days is pretty difficult. I find that it's because my mind just doesn't slowdown like it was before and I spend hours thinking about random things over and over. The last night or two it's been better and I'm hoping it will disappear by early next week. I'm moody in the evenings when I get home from work and my usual routine had been dinner then wine. I now substitute reading or walking after dinner and while it doesn't entirely eliminate the craving to return to the old routine, it does help.

I find waking-up in the morning (even after a little sleep) to be a lot less bothersome and my morning "exercises" (they can barely be called that) are not as difficult as they were before. I'm also able to get up and get ready faster and make it to work earlier so if that's a good thing for you, you can add it to the list.

As stavros mentioned, I try to detox every few months just to ensure that I can still do it and the drinking hasn't got out of hand. Each time I can usually last for a few weeks to a month and as a lot of people mentioned, it is my social environment that usually drives me back to the same old routine. With that in mind, my new tactic this time is the following:

For a regular weekly routine of drinking write down the amount of money you spend each day (after purchase, not after drinking) on alcohol. At the end of the 7 day week, tally up the total and for each week you don't drink either set the money aside in a savings account (or jar) and, when tempted, check the balance. Remind yourself that for all the fun involved with drinking (and there is) the negative physical effects and the drain on the pocketbook are not worth the strain.

As I said, I just started so I'm not sure it will work at all. So far I've saved almost $100 in one week. In my mind I'm imagining that extra $5200 in savings at the end of the full year and the round trip tickets to anywhere in Europe it will get me. ;) Good luck.
posted by purephase at 7:44 AM on March 17, 2006

In the long run, if you keep this up, you will probably be thinner, smarter, and less likely to die of any of several horrible, painful, wasting diseases. You won't notice the lack of these diseases, but you sure would notice one if you got it.

(And if you are actually Joe's spleen, you should be aware that cirrhosis of the liver can lead to hypersplenism, but that this can be treated by abstinence from alcohol and special dietary modifications.)
posted by pracowity at 8:08 AM on March 17, 2006

I used to drink more than you're doing when I was in my thirties and I made a point of taking a month off every year. I suppose I lost a few pounds and avoided maybe a couple of hangovers but I can't honestly say I felt much better. In fact I missed the nice feeling alcohol gives me and eventually I stopped the teetotal periods because I just didn't see the point of denying myself one of life's great pleasures.

But then I'm a big fan of drinking and it generally makes me feel good. I rarely over-indulge, I keep myself reasonably fit, and I think that's the important thing. People fuss about drinking too much in this culture, I think. Enjoy it.
posted by Decani at 11:17 AM on March 17, 2006

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