Some of these effects are immediate and others are long-term benefits to overall health. If someone is considering lowering their alcohol intake or quitting a drinking habit, there are seven overall health benefits that they can expect to see.
1. A Healthier Brain
Alcohol slows communication between neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain, which are the command pathways for all major functions of the body such as breathing, thinking, speaking and moving. The cerebellum, cerebral cortex, brain tissue, and limbic system can each be severely damaged by alcohol consumption. This damage can lead to multiple issues, such as decreased brain cells, depression, mood changes, poor sleep, and alcohol dependence.
2. A Stronger Immune System
Alcohol weakens the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off illness and disease. Alcohol makes white blood cells less effective at fighting off bad bacteria. Heavy drinkers are more susceptible to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis or pneumonia. However, even one instance of heavy drinking can expose the body to infection up to 24 hours after the drinking episode. Stopping drinking can immediately improve the body’s ability to fight infections.
3. A Healthier Liver
The liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol, which dispenses of horrible toxins. Over time, alcohol use can cause the liver to become overloaded with toxins and a build-up of fat, which leads to steatosis, or “fatty liver,” which is an early sign of liver disease.
A fatty liver can lead to hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. A study done by Merck Manuals shows that liver damage can be reversed under certain conditions, with even fatty liver showing complete resolvement within six weeks. Some effects, such as fibrosis and cirrhosis, cannot be reversed. Avoiding alcohol can improve overall liver health and improve the removal of toxins in the body.
4. A Stronger Heart
Drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly or even on a single occasion can damage the heart and weaken its muscles. This damage can lead to strokes, hypertension, heart arrhythmias, and heart disease. By avoiding heavy alcohol use, people can improve the health of their cardiovascular systems, and prevent alcohol-related heart damage, including heart attacks.
5. Decreased Risk of Cancer
Alcohol harms antibodies that ward off tumor cells, which puts a person at a much higher risk for cancer than they normally would face.
According to the American Journal of Public Health, alcohol causes 3.5% of cancer deaths in America, or about 20,000 cancer-related deaths each year. They also state, “Reducing alcohol consumption is an important and underemphasized cancer prevention strategy.”
Drinking alcohol is associated with many cancers, such as head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer, liver, and colorectal cancer. Quitting drinking now can greatly decrease a person’s risk of developing these cancers.
6. Improved Digestion
Regular consumption of alcohol can damage the pancreas, which is vital to proper digestion. Alcohol inhibits vitamin and nutrient absorption in the small intestines and can cause chronic diarrhea, nausea and anorexia in people who drink alcohol heavily. The transport of toxins through intestinal walls is increased with alcohol consumption. All of these negative digestive effects can be improved when drinking is stopped.
7. Improved Memory and Cognitive Function
Moderate to heavy alcohol use is linked with brain shrinkage, especially the parts associated with cognition and learning. Memory impairments are seen with even a few drinks, and these lapses in memory are increased with the amount of alcohol consumed.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, abstaining from alcohol for several months or longer may allow for the partial correction of structural brain changes due to drinking, including the reversal of negative effects on thinking skills, problem-solving, memory and attention.
Your Health Is In Your Hands
The benefits of ceasing alcohol use, especially binge drinking, aren’t limited to these seven listed. While some damage may be irreversible, everyone’s body is different and can repair itself to a certain degree. The main goal in abstaining from alcohol is to prevent any further damage from occurring.
If you are trying to quit alcohol, keep these positive benefits in mind:
- Improved cognition and problem solving
- Increased mental focus and improved memory function
- Improved digestion and removal of harmful toxins
- Increased absorption of vitamins and minerals
- Weight loss due to less caloric intake
- Reduced sugar intake (as long as alcohol is not replaced with sugar-heavy foods)
- Reduced risk of heart disease and alcohol-related cancers
- Better immune system
- Improved heart function
If you are a heavy drinker, when you suddenly stop ingesting alcohol, the body at first can go into shock, causing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This withdrawal period occurs because the body has become dependent on the chemicals from alcohol, and over time has made adjustments to the processes of the body to accommodate the added alcohol intake. It is not recommended to detox from alcohol at home, as alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be deadly.
If you or a loved one is trying to quit drinking and would like assistance, please contact The Recovery Village today and we would be happy to go over the alcohol withdrawal timeline with you, as well as explore treatment options and programs available for chronic alcohol use.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” (n.d.) Accessed May 14, 2019.
Orfanidis, Nicholas. “Alcoholic Liver Disease.” Merck Manual Consumer Version, November 2017. Accessed May 14, 2019.
Nelson DE, et al. “Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost In The United States.” American Journal of Public Health, March 2013. Accessed May 14, 2019.
Bode C, Bode JC. “Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders.” Alcohol Health and Research World, 1997. Accessed May 14, 2019.
Topiwala A, et al. “Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study.” BMJ, 2017. Accessed May 14, 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain.” October 2004. Accessed May 14, 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Hangovers.” March 2019. Accessed May 14, 2019.