April is Alcohol Awareness Month. April is also for many of us, the start of the fourth month, since we first learned about COVID-19 or coronavirus. It is also the start of the second or even third month of quarantine and stay at home orders that have become the new normal for so many people across the United States. COVID-19 has introduced us to the idea of social distancing. In short, this means staying at least six feet away from those around you when you are outside of your home. It has also led to the closure of many businesses, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and gyms. This virus has impacted the world in ways many of us have never seen and will likely have a lasting impact even after it is no longer the first thing you hear about when you log on to social media or turn on the television in the morning.
Interestingly something that has not closed during the COVID-19 pandemic is liquor stores. Since many are attached to service stations or grocery stores, which are considered essential businesses, alcohol suppliers have remained open for businesses, as many other businesses have been forced to shutter their doors temporarily.
This is not necessarily a positive. COVID-19 is a virus that brings with it a lot that is unknown, and with the unknown comes fear, anxiety, and other triggering emotions, which can lead those who struggle with addiction to self-medicate or to relapse.
At the moment, stay at home orders have restricted movement and travel for many and reduced income for most citizens as well. It has also forced many to develop a new normal as they have been isolated from their social circles. As you are faced with developing a new normal, might now be a good time also to reconsider your relationship with alcohol amid the coronavirus pandemic? Below we have discussed what happens to your body when you stop drinking. We have even talked about a few things you can do to start the process of working towards sobriety.
What Happens When You Quit Drinking?
Alcohol can be harmful to every system in the human body. It can also have a negative impact on how well you sleep and how your skin looks. Alcohol is expensive and can have significant detrimental effects on your personal relationships and your performance at your job. So what happens to your body when you stop drinking?
- Your liver will thank you- Cirrhosis of the liver is an eventual result of chronic excessive drinking. Over time, alcohol causes fatty changes in the liver, which inhibits the ability of the liver to do its job correctly. The liver is a tolerant organ, so when you stop drinking, those changes begin to reverse, and the liver can eventually become healthy again, provided you quit before the liver has already started to fail altogether. These positive changes can occur within just a few weeks of quitting drinking and will allow the liver to focus on other life-sustaining and essential tasks such as breaking down and filtering toxins produced by the body.
- Your heart will also appreciate it- The liver and other body enzymes metabolize alcohol. When you drink in excess, alcohol is metabolized differently, and it results in the oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol), which ends up being deposited on the carotid arteries.
- Cancer risk is reduced- Alcohol is a known human carcinogen and can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. The more a person drinks, the more elevated their risk. There are links shown between cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast, rectum, and colon (Colorectal). Data released in 2009 by the American Journal of Public Health estimated approximately 3.5 percent of cancer deaths in the united states were alcohol-related.
- Weight loss-Alcohol is high in calories. Also, wine, beer, and mixed drinks add sugar to one’s diet. If you are a heavy drinker and cut alcohol consumption out of your diet, you are likely to see weight loss, improvement in body composition, less stomach fat, and improvement in your triglyceride counts.
Quitting…The First Few Months
The first few months of any drastic change one chooses to undergo are often the hardest. When it comes to quitting alcohol, this is most certainly the case. The first few days and weeks after taking your last drink will indeed be some of the most challenging you will experience. It is essential to remember to begin this process with some form of medical supervision and with a strong support circle in place. This can be challenging, but not impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can maintain communication with social support circles and support groups through virtual interfaces such as FaceTime or Skype. In addition, many medical providers have also made this time of therapy an option. Although these may be challenging times to choose sobriety, they may be beneficial as well. Chronic and excessive drinking has a profound impact on your immune system and can make you susceptible to a host of illnesses. COVID-19 is highly transmissible, and having a weakened immune system can make you even more vulnerable to this illness. As a result, some people have considered this a great time to give up addictive habits such as alcohol, which have a known impact on the ability of the body to ward off infection and illness.
If you have been addicted to alcohol and consuming excessively for several years, it is highly suggested you take your first steps towards sobriety under medical supervision at a facility such as The Hills where your safety and medical health can be monitored during the early stages of withdrawal.
Acute Withdrawal-the first few hours and days:
When someone decides to give up alcohol, the first seventy-two hours are the most critical. These are the most painful and unpleasant hours in the treatment and recovery process as your body works to flush all the alcohol from your system. You will likely experience a host of unpleasant symptoms associated with acute withdrawal. The severity of these will vary depending on your relationship with alcohol. The most severe of these symptoms and the ones that make medical supervision highly suggested are seizures, high blood pressure, and increased heart rate. You may also experience shaking, headaches, sweating, nausea, and vomiting, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Some people also experience delirium tremens or DTs. These initial symptoms can develop as soon as six hours after your last drink and continue for up to two weeks. Again, the severity and duration of these symptoms will depend on the duration and intensity of your alcohol consumption. With proper medical assistance, many of these symptoms can be managed and remain at a tolerable level.
Post-Acute Withdrawal-two weeks and beyond:
The most well known and most talked about phase of recovery is the initial withdrawal stage. This is the one you hear most people describe and the one you see represented on television most of the time. As previously mentioned, full detox can take up to two weeks for most people. As your body is getting rid of the alcohol in your system, there will be a mix of positive and negative effects.
- The good-as you enter the third week of recovery, the worst of the physical symptoms are likely behind you. For many, these first few weeks have been a perfect time to redefine personal and interpersonal relationships, develop coping mechanisms, and learn healthy habits.
- The bad-the post-acute period is also a time of emotional highs and lows. While not as urgent as those experienced in the first few days, they can take a toll on your fragile, newfound emotional state. Some of the emotional and physical symptoms include anxiety, decreased energy and metabolism, sleep disruption, and feelings of aggression or hostility. The worst of these, which was not previously mentioned, is an intense craving for alcohol. Even after removing all traces of alcohol from your system, your brain will still what to return to the chemical state it had grown accustomed to. The challenge is knowing how to deal with these cravings and their associated triggers appropriately.
One month and Beyond:
There have been several studies that have followed people during the initial stages of detox and through the early stages of sobriety. Within the first few months to a year after quitting drinking, there are several profound effects on the body. These include
- Fatty deposits in the liver decreased by fifteen to twenty percent.
- Blood glucose levels decreased by fifteen percent or more.
- Total bad cholesterol decreased by five percent.
- Sleep quality improved
- Increased ability to concentrate and focus
Is It Time to Quit?
If you previously decided to give up alcohol and COVID-19 has moved you further down the path, there are several things you can do to start your journey to recovery. Below we have listed a few strategies you can employ to help quit drinking. If you think you are dependent on alcohol and have decided to quit altogether, it is not suggested you do so alone. Sudden withdrawal from heavy drinking can be detrimental to your health or even life-threatening. It is essential to plan for a safe recovery. Contact us here at The Hills, and we can help you work through the process even in the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Find Alternatives
If drinking generally occupies a lot of your time, you will need to find ways to fill your free time with new, healthy activities or hobbies. You will also have time to rekindle relationships you may have lost to alcohol or to develop new and healthy relationships with people who are not related to your previous drinking. If you count on alcohol to be more comfortable in social situations, manage anxiety, or cope with stressful situations, it is time to seek alternate ways to work through those situations.
In relation to finding alternative things to do is finding new ways to socialize. If you generally go out on the weekends (or other times) to visit bars or breweries to socialize, you will want to break those habits. Consider joining an adult sports team or a club that takes you away from settings that will be triggering for you. Virtually any activity that you can do while drinking alcohol can also be done without alcohol, you just need to find the right group to do so with.
2. Avoid “triggers.”
What events, places, people, or experiences trigger your need to drink. Once you determine who or what your triggers are, you will want to try to avoid them. If certain activities or times of day are your triggers, try scheduling things during those times, so you are busy and less likely to think about drinking. If drinking at home is an issue, clean out your cupboards, and remove the temptation.
3. Plan to Handle Urges
Unfortunately, it can be nearly impossible to avoid all potential triggering events or people. There will inevitably be a trigger or an urge to drink at some time during your detox and recovery period. There will also likely be many after and throughout your continued years of sobriety. When a trigger or urge feels overwhelming, remind yourself of your reasons for changing or talk thinks through with someone you trust, such as a loved one or member of your recovery support system. You can also get involved in a healthy and distracting activity such as exercise or a hobby that doesn’t involve drinking (for yourself or those around you).
4. Know your ‘no.”
Inevitably, somewhere along the line, someone will offer you a drink. Sometimes this will be pressure from “friends” who don’t understand that “just one won’t hurt anything” isn’t always accurate. Others, it may be an innocent offer from someone who doesn’t understand all you have been through to reach where you are now. Plan ahead for the unavoidable. When you are going to a place or event where alcohol is likely to be served practice saying a polite but convincing “no, thanks.” If the pressure becomes overwhelming or you feel as though your decisions are not being respected, remember the final refusal option is to choose to leave the situation. There are also many online tutorials on building your drink refusal skills that you can check out if you are looking for alternate methods.
COVID-19 has changed a lot of things for many people and put a wrinkle into what we considered “normal.” There is also a significant amount of fear and anxiety associated with this pandemic. People fear getting sick or having their loved ones get sick. They also fear losing their jobs and what their financial future may bring. Finally, and most unfortunate, is the fear of losing loved ones or our own lives to a virus that currently seems out of control.
It is not surprising that people may turn to alcohol or other substances as a form of self-medication during these times, especially if these coping methods have worked before. But as noted above, alcohol may be one of the worst coping mechanisms in the face of this virus. It is essential, for the sake of your health, to do whatever necessary to help strengthen your immune system while maintaining physical and emotional health.
If you have decided now is an excellent time to reconsider your alcohol addiction and move towards sobriety, contact us at The Hills. Even during these challenging times, we would be happy to help you achieve your goals in the safest and healthiest manner possible.