9 Healthy Things That Happen to Your Body When You Stop Drinking for 30 Days (or More)

Here are some science-backed perks of taking a break from alcohol.

Whether you're challenging yourself to a no-drink stint (hello, Dry January) or considering cutting back on alcohol in general, your body can experience some real changes when you stop drinking. Since the start of a new year sees many people rethinking their drinking habits, there's no better time than now to dig into the science and ask experts what really happens when you take alcohol out of the equation for a month (or longer). Here are some significant ways not drinking for 30 days or more can impact your body, mind, and overall health.

01 of 09

Increased Mental Clarity

Alcohol and heavy drinking can cause long-term, negative impacts on the brain, including poor memory and slower reflexes. Over time, the brain can actually get used to the effects of alcohol, causing it to work harder and cause unpleasant or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms like tremors and heart palpitations. This can lead to burnout, which can make you feel foggy.

After cutting out alcohol for one month or more, Michael J. McGrath, MD, licensed psychiatrist and medical director of The Ohana Addiction Treatment Center in Hawaii, says people might feel significantly more clear-headed. "You may notice an increase in mental clarity and memory, [since] alcohol use can impact concentration and memory," he explains.

02 of 09

Better Sleep

The notion that alcohol can help you sleep better is a myth. It may make you feel drowsy and fall asleep quickly—but later in the night it messes with your sleep patterns as it works through your system. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can throw your sleep cycle off balance by slowing down your nervous system. As your nervous system speeds back up once the alcohol exits your system, you may experience sleep disruption and wake up more throughout the night. This can lead to poor function and sleepiness the following day. "Insomnia is pretty common among people who abuse alcohol," Dr. McGrath says. "Additionally, alcohol impacts the quality of your sleep."

Therefore, not drinking, especially for extended periods of time, can lead to significant improvements in sleep and sleep quality. "Because you may sleep more deeply when not drinking, you may notice waking up feeling sharper and more refreshed the next day," he adds.

RELATED: 12 Healthy Habits That Can Actually Help You Sleep Better

03 of 09

Improved Mood

Although we often turn to a glass of wine or a stiff martini to feel better, the irony is that drinking can have both short- and long-term negative effects on mood. Since alcohol floods the brain with dopamine, which influences how we feel pleasure, the "rush" of this feel-good chemical can cause anxiety to flare up as soon the levels begin to drop. Over time, this can turn into a detrimental cycle of drinking, feeling anxious, and then drinking more to reinstate a feeling of calm. That's why alcohol consumption can lead to reduced mood, increased anxiety, and even depression. "There's a high correlation between alcohol use disorder and other mental disorders, including depression and anxiety," Dr. McGrath explains. "When you stop using alcohol, it really benefits your overall mental health."

04 of 09

Stronger Immune System

Did you know alcohol use can actually make you more prone to getting sick by undermining the immune system? That's because alcohol use disrupts communication in our immune system, the body's way of safeguarding against viruses and bacteria. Alcohol causes a "steady depletion of the vitamins and minerals that our body needs to feel our best," explains Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, doctor of clinical nutrition. In fact, alcohol use can make you more susceptible to pneumonia, for example, and predispose chronic drinkers to things like infections and even poor wound healing.

05 of 09

Hormonal Balance

Drinking can send your hormones into a frenzy—it impacts our endocrine system, which allows our body to respond appropriately and cope with changes in our environments. Severe alcohol-induced hormone dysregulations can sometimes cause serious issues like reproductive deficits, thyroid problems, and behavioral disorders over time.

Hangovers, or alcohol withdrawal, cause hormonal changes, too, which explains why we might feel so crummy after drinking. Alcohol has quite deleterious effects, as ethanol, an organic compound in alcohol, is a toxin to our body, Scheller explains. "The processes used to break [ethanol] down in our system creates byproducts that induce the feelings of a 'hangover.' These symptoms are the result of the body clearing out the compounds produced in the breakdown of alcohol," she says.

RELATED: What Does It Mean to Be 'California Sober'? The Lowdown on This Buzzy Lifestyle Choice

06 of 09

Decreased Inflammation

Heavy alcohol use can lead to systemic inflammation, or prolonged inflammation throughout your entire body. Cutting out alcohol for 30 days or more can lead to a "reduction in things like joint pain, headaches, and body aches," Scheller says. In fact, alcohol use can actually cause arthritis by increasing inflammation in your joints. Plus, alcohol can dehydrate you, contributing to the headaches. Since alcohol is often made with inflammatory ingredients such as sugar and wheat—and mixed drinks often include added sugars—a sober stretch helps you avoid these additional inflammation triggers, too.

07 of 09

Better Digestion

Alcohol use can alter your gut microbiome, which is responsible for key bodily functions like digestion. Your gut microbiome is full of bacteria, both good and bad, that, when properly balanced, help regulate different processes in the body. When your gut microbiome is thrown out of whack, you may experience more direct digestive woes (stomach aches, bloating, gas, pain) and/or less obvious side effects of a disrupted microbiome like fatigue, sugar cravings, and inflammatory skin conditions.

RELATED: This Is What Happens to Your Skin When You Drink Alcohol

08 of 09

Healthier Liver Function

It's no secret that alcohol plays a significant role in your liver health. Chronic and excessive alcohol consumption can destroy liver cells, which are necessary for filtering out harmful substances in our body (the liver is our built-in detoxifier). "Fatty liver is a common phenomenon in individuals who drink heavily and regularly, leading to cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease," says Mary Wirtz, MS, RDN, CSSD. Steering clear of alcohol, however, gives the liver a chance to regenerate. "Cutting out and abstaining from alcohol can recover a substantial portion of liver function," Wirtz says. "When we stop drinking, we can begin to repair some of the long-term effects of alcohol use."

09 of 09

Reduced Risk of Certain Cancers

Since alcohol can damage your cells, it may lead to DNA changes that increase your risk for certain cancers, particularly liver, colon, and rectal cancer. In fact, alcohol use accounts for 6 percent of all cancers and 4 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. While it's not a guaranteed magic bullet for cancer prevention, "when an individual abstains from alcohol for an extended time the risk of developing these certain cancers is markedly lower in the long-term," Wirtz says.

RELATED: A Non-Alcoholic Wine Guide to Prepare for Dry January and Beyond

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