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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Alcohol abuse

11/16/2007

Question:

I heard that when you drink consistanly (basically, when your an alocholic) it causes imbalances and stuff in your body that cause effects on not only your psychical health but your MENTAL health..even when you`re not drinking. It seems like my friends who have drinking problems, even when they don`t drink for 2 days, theyre still in that same state of emotional wrecklessness. But when they`ve quit for a month or more, they become completely different...a lot more emotionally stable. It`s like they return to their old selves.If you want to become sober and quit drinking, about how long does it take for your body and mental health to return to it`s complete normal state?

Answer:

You ask a very good question which I will answer in several parts. There is a lot we have come to understand about alcohol use, abuse and dependence in the past years, and what alcohol does to our body. You have made some interesting observations about the effect of alcohol on individuals.

First, what makes one alcohol-dependent (alcoholic) is not so much the consistency with which they drink, but the amount they drink per drinking occasion. What we do know is that if individuals limit their drinking to 2 alcoholic drinks per day for a man or 1 a day for a woman, even though they drink consistently, they do not become alcohol dependent. If individuals do not drink daily, and they drink more than 4 drinks for a man or three for a woman on any drinking occasion, they are at risk for health related problems such as:

to name a few. So once an individual drinks beyond the recommended drinking limits, they are at risk for multiple health problems.

One thing about alcohol is that we develop a tolerance to it, and so what once made us feel good or relaxed is not sufficient, and we need to drink more to achieve the same "good feeling" which over time can lead to alcohol dependence.

So what happens to your friends who still seem to have the "same state of emotional recklessness" even after they stop drinking for a day or two, depending upon how much they drink on an occasion, is that they are experiencing some alcohol withdrawal where they feel irritable, have sleep disturbances, and maybe the shakes. This may go away, as you observed in 1-2 days. If they have become alcohol dependent it may take longer to withdraw and for the body to clear all the alcohol and for all the body systems to "calm down". How long it takes the body to return to "normal" depends on how long they have been drinking and how much they consume at each drinking occasion. Usually this should clear in about 2 weeks.

You mention "for your body to return to normal or their old selves". The body is an amazing organ and can withstand many challenges, but at some point if drinking continues and/or is very heavy ( 6-8+ drinks per occasion) the body will begin to experience damage to a variety of organ systems, and the body will not return to normal. Changes are slow and not always evident, but damage is occurring.

You ask if you want to become sober and quit drinking how long will it take to return to "normal". Again, depending on how long and how much one drinks, the time will vary. In general, one can expect to return to "normal" in 2-4 weeks. During the 2-4 weeks the body will go through withdrawal and the person will experience a variety of symptoms depending on how long and how much they drank. Symptom start within a few hours after the last drink, starting with tremulousness and usually peaks within 48-72 hours and symptoms can persist for days and include agitation, tremulousness, increased blood pressure and pulse, sweats and insomnia. Chronic alcohol users may experience agitation, anxiety, depression and impulsive behavior. Withdrawal can be more serious with the onset of hallucinations in 12-24 hours and possible convulsions (seizures) within 2-3 days.

It is best to consult your family doctor or a physician before you stop drinking to insure that you are able to manage the symptoms. Once you have stopped drinking and worked through the withdrawal, it is wise to seek a support group who will help in resisting the temptation to return to drinking.

Several valuable websites would be:

For a self assessment of your drinking pattern -alcoholscreening.org or niaaa.nih.gov

For the niaaa.nih.gov site click on publications and then go to patient education.

For more information:

Go to the Addiction and Substance Abuse health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Janice Dyehouse, PhD, RN
Adjunct Professor
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati