why is it that when an alcoholic stops drinking alcohol they become sick even though alcohol is incredibly bad for us, what is happening in our body that makes us sick for not having it?


why is it that when an alcoholic stops drinking alcohol they become sick even though alcohol is incredibly bad for us, what is happening in our body that makes us sick for not having it?

In: Biology


Basically when you get used to a toxic substance being around, your body produces more of the chemicals needed to process it than it’s normal for you to have. This is why people develop a tolerance. Some substances, such as alcohol, also alter the way systems in the body work, such as your digestion and nervous system. So when you stop having alcohol, your body is already not working right and it’s flooded with chemicals that aren’t normally supposed to be there, so it makes you sick. There’s more to it than that, but basically it comes down to that. The body strives to be in balance, and after a certain amount of regulation, it becomes necessary for the alcohol to be there in order for things to stay balanced. Like when you have a really fat kid on the see-saw; if he suddenly jumps off all the kids on the other side are going to come crashing down. That’s what happens inside your body, the alcohol is the fat kid and all your body systems pile up to be able to balance it out, but they’re pulling so hard the opposite direction that if the fat kid disappears, your body falls down in a heap.

Alcohol is a depressant, it literally tamps the activity of nerve cells down. The thing is, we have molecules in our bodies that already do that, but balance that effect with other molecules that excite the nervous system to create a balanced system. But to adjust to all the extra depressant, our bodies start to produce less of the natural ones. When you do that for a while, and then suddenly stop, your brain no longer has enough depressing molecules to keep the system balanced, so the cells end up going into overdrive. This is where you get hallucinations and seizures, which are hallmarks of dangerous levels of withdrawal

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it inhibits or prevents functional or nerve activities.

Think of these activities as water pressure in a house (body). Under the effects of alcohol, the water pressure lowers and it gets difficult to shower or fill the toilet. If this happens all the time with chronic alcoholism, the owner of the house will increase the water pressure to balance the constant depressive effects of alcohol.

Now you remove alcohol cold turkey. The house is left with extremely high water pressure which can burst the pipes and cause other damage. This can ruin the house if not controlled.

Alcohol replaces the water in your body. Your body gets used to depending on alcohol rather than water.

Imagine your brain is running a stadium. There’s two teams playing in it: the red team and the blue team. Those teams have more or less the same amount of fans – let’s say 100 to each side – and the games are pretty evenly matched. As long as things remain that way, you feel pretty good. You don’t mind who wins or who loses, because what you really appreciate is the excitement of the match itself.

One day a blue van (alcohol) comes to town, and it brings another 100 blue fans. When the game starts, the blue crowd is a lot bigger than the red one, and so blue wins. You’re not feeling normal when that happens and your brain sees that, but doesn’t really mind – sometimes there are blue vans and sometimes there are red ones, but as long as the teams are more or less balanced, things are all right.

But you realize you really like it when the blue team wins, so you start sending those vans more often. Now the blue team keeps winning, over and over, and your brain notices that and goes, “Hey, this isn’t fair”. So it starts taking measures to bring more red fans to the stadium: the tickets are more expensive for blue fans. As a result, when the next game happens, the crowds are pretty even: there’s 200 blue and also 200 red. It’s not a loss, but it’s a tie. You feel normal, which is not at all what you wanted – the excitement of the match isn’t enough anymore. You wanted the feeling of a blue victory.

You decide that if one van won’t do the job, then you’ll send two, and if two won’t cut it, then you’ll send a whole bus. You do that. Blue wins. Your brain is getting really frustrated at this, and so it brings more red fans. It starts giving them houses in the city, so they can come to games more often. This escalates more and more. At some point you get 1000 fans to each side, which is much more than what the stadium was meant to handle. It starts to break down. The excess of fans in the city begin to really damage it.

So you decide it’s time to stop. No more blue vans. When the next game comes, you send no one to the stadium. But the chairs won’t just stay empty – two thousand red fans fill them. The red team doesn’t just win, it’s a complete massacre. You hate the feeling of a red victory – you cheer for the other team, damn it! The next game comes. You send no one, but the red fans have cheaper tickets, and so two thousand fans show up again. Another loss. Your brain realizes that things are unbalanced again, but the red fans have houses in the city now and it’s gonna take a while to relocate them. The next game comes. You send no one, but 1800 red fans still show up.

Red wins. You feel pretty miserable when that happens, but red will keep on winning for a long time, until your brain can finally balance the crowds again. Eventually you get back to where you started – a hundred fans to each side. You’re a blue fan. Most games are ties. It’s not a win, but it’s not a loss either.

You’ll probably always get a bit giddy when blue wins, but you can learn to just enjoy the matches again.

(hope this wasn’t too far fetched)

Imagine driving around in your car with the handbrake on for months. You get used to it. Then one day, someone reaches in and takes the handbrake off without you knowing. You go to take off, jam the pedal down like you always do, and slam uncontrolled at 90mph into the traffic barriers at the other end of the carpark.

I wouldn’t say alcohol is “incredibly bad” for our health
Only in excess.

Certainly doesn’t have any health benefits though ofc.

Something about alcohol being a vasodilatador. When you don’t have it anymore the floodgates are wide open and thats a problem. I think your brain gets used to constantly running on a limited/expected amount of blood flowing through it and when the alcohol stops, your brain gets flooded with blood and side effects of that swelling are what cause real issues. I’m no rocket scientist tho.

There are some wrong answers on here…but it’s incredibly simple. Say to be normal, your Central Nervous System runs at a 5..but alcohol depresses your CNS, so now when you drink, it’s at, say, a 3. Being a 3 for a short time is OK, but if you keep it at a 3 for too long by drinking, your CNS works harder to bring it back up to a 5. So now your CNS is working at a 7, alcohol you’re drinking is a -2, so your body is cruising at the 5 it wants. Then you abruptly stop the alcohol, the -2 goes away, and your CNS is now at the 7, without the alcohol to calm it to a 5. So your central nervous system is in overdrive. You shake, sweat, increased HR, increased BP, insomnia and can have seizures..all symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

When i drank and smoked foe over twenty years I was killing my self. But my body wanted more. I told my self if I wanted to see my kids grow up I had to stop. It took seven weeks taking meds to stop smoking and i stopped drinking the same day because smokes and beer always went together. After stopping it took another two months to get my mind straight, Alcohol can really grab you hard. I just said I have to do this if I want to live and did it. thing is I never went to AA meetings ever.

Alcohol is understood to work mainly on receptors in your brain called GABA receptors. They deal with GABA, which is a chemical called a neurotransmitter. Your brain talks to different parts of itself using these neurotransmitters, different types have different functions.

Your brain produces GABA by itself naturally, and alcohol makes your brain make more than it normally would by telling the GABA receptors to step up production. When you drink alcohol every day and in large enough quantities, your brain figures that it needs to make less GABA by itself naturally because it gets used to having alcohol help with this process. This results in having to increase the dose to get the same effect, which is known as tolerance.

GABA, and neurotransmitters in general, are not particularly well understood by science. We know that it helps regulate our levels of anxiety and it is involved in humans not having seizures. When the brain doesn’t have enough GABA to sustain normal functioning, bad things happen like seizures, anxiety, and other symptoms of withdrawal. The brain needs to get used to making GABA by itself again before those symptoms will go away.

Another example in medicine is benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax and Valium. These medications are used as anti anxiety and anti seizure drugs, among other things. When you have been on them for a long time and then stop taking them suddenly, you can have similar but generally more severe symptoms. As with alcohol, it is recommended that you reduce your dose slowly over a period of weeks or months to avoid these potentially lethal withdrawal symptoms.

Opiate withdrawals eg. Morphine and Heroin have a similar thing happen, but with different receptors and neurotransmitters involved.

If you’re drunk for lot of consecutive days your body/brain floods your bloodstream with adrenaline and cortisol basically to keep you alive because the alcohol is slowing down your heart and other systems. When you stop it takes several days for the brain to realize it can cut back production of adrenaline and cortisol to normal levels. This is major contributor to people shaking, heart racing , sweating and not being able to sleep., high blood pressure.

Other people explained the rest pretty well but I figured I’d mention that.

I get rotten hangovers that put me off drinking for weeks if I go too heavy. Do alcoholics not get the same sort of hangovers or are they just not reaching a comparable point of drunkenness due to becoming used to having alcohol constantly in the bloodstream?

Currently 2 weeks sober, drank about 4 pints every night for the past 12 years. feel much better in myself but good lord the headaches that I’ve had that come with the quitting are intense, I am still getting them, 1 more day of these headaches and I will need to see my doctor

The state of “Sick” is not that bad – it called detoxification. Yes, you feel bad but your body is cleaning out shit. When you continue to put there garbage, like alcohol, it is busy processing this garbage intake and not much time for cleaning.


It’s adaption. You take in enough poison that the lack of poison throws your body chemistry off.

my father was a heavy alcoholic ,

if he stopped drinking for 48hrs he would get a fit, it would las few minutes when ambulance came they give him something and he’d be drowsy for rest of the day, next morning wake up like it was nothing

I drank heavily on a daily basis for about 6 years. I quit without doing any detox program, with no issues. In case there’s anyone here worried about quitting because they always hear about how ‘quitting alcohol can kill you’, be aware that is not the case for everyone, and see a doctor about it anyway.