Even if you’ve never been addicted to alcohol, you probably already know that feeling of waking up tired, dehydrated and a little nauseous from too much to drink the night before. Tiredness is normal as part of a hangover, but if you’ve ever tried to get sober, you know that extreme fatigue is a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal. So why does fatigue after quitting alcohol happen? We’re taking an in-depth look at how stopping drinking affects your body and causes fatigue, along with providing some tips on how to manage this symptom and get help if your alcohol use is out of control.
How Quitting Alcohol Affects the Body
When you’re addicted to a substance, your body has come to rely on that substance being present for normal operating procedures. For example, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows your heart rate, respiratory rate and brain activity, and it can also lower your blood pressure. This is why some people who drink alcohol experience feelings of calmness, relaxation or sleepiness.
In the case of ongoing alcohol use, your body gets accustomed to operating at this level, and when you stop drinking alcohol, whether overnight, for a day at work or as part of trying to get sober, your body starts to experience withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the severity of the drinking and your overall health, unmanaged, cold turkey alcohol withdrawal can be very unpleasant. Some common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Shaking hands (note this is different than delirium tremens, discussed below)
- Extreme fatigue
In severe cases, those who are addicted to alcohol and try to stop drinking may experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome and delirium tremens. This is a very serious condition that can cause seizures, dangerous spikes in blood pressure and heart rate and even hallucinations. If you think you’re experiencing signs of delirium tremens, it’s important to seek medical care immediately.
Fatigue as a Symptom of Alcohol Withdrawal
Fatigue after quitting alcohol can be caused by a variety of influencing factors. Here are some of the most common reasons why you may feel excessively tired when you’re trying to get sober.
Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on your body, which is why you have a hangover when you drink too much. Because the human body can be up to 60% water, and water is a vital ingredient to keep all of your body’s processes running smoothly, not having enough can cause serious problems. Headaches, nausea, body aches and feeling light-headed are all signs of dehydration, and fatigue is as well.
Disrupted Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is how your body knows when to be awake and when to be asleep, and it’s one reason why so many experts recommend going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Having a sleep routine helps keep your circadian rhythm working well and keeps sleep issues at bay. However, one of the major effects that alcohol has on the body is disrupting that rhythm. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but once you move to sobriety, you start to feel the effects of that interrupted circadian rhythm. This can lead to difficulties falling and staying asleep and may cause insomnia, which can leave you dealing with extreme fatigue during the day.
Heavy, long-term alcohol use takes a toll on the liver, and liver damage is one of the most common long-term effects of alcoholism. Liver damage can make it harder for your body to get on regular sleep-wake cycles and can leave you with the same insomnia and fatigue issues as stated above.
If you’ve been using alcohol to cope with life stressors, you may find getting sober and having to deal with issues and daily struggles overwhelming. Even though it’s a negative coping technique, alcohol use for stress is still a coping technique, and any time you’re trying to make a big life change, it’s going to be challenging. Stress can make it harder for the body to keep up its energy levels and make it difficult to sleep, both of which can lead to fatigue.
Tips for Managing Fatigue After Quitting Alcohol
It’s clear that fatigue after quitting alcohol is common and that there are very specific reasons why the body deals with this tiredness as you get sober. The good news is that fatigue caused by dehydration, stress, circadian rhythm issues and even liver damage can all be remedied with time as the body relearns how to operate and deal with life sober. However, that doesn’t mean you just have to endure the tiredness in the meantime.
You can take some steps to manage fatigue by:
- Focusing on good nutrition so your body has the vitamins and proteins it needs to repair and recover
- Staying hydrated by drinking water, herbal teas and sports drinks — keep in mind that soda and black tea can have dehydrating effects, and energy drinks and juice can have too much sugar, which can further stress your system
- Resetting your circadian rhythm by trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time
- Finding ways to cope with stress, such as journaling, meditation or therapy
- Engaging in light exercise, such as walking or biking
FHE Health Can Help
Any attempt to get sober should be applauded. It’s difficult to admit that your alcohol use has gotten out of control and that you need to make changes to your life, but trying to quit alcohol on your own can be challenging and even dangerous for your health. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to detox from because of its withdrawal effects on the body, and a medically supervised detox, such as the program we offer at FHE Health, is a much safer and more comfortable alternative.
When you seek treatment through a medically supervised detox program, you may also have the option of ongoing inpatient or outpatient rehab and support services. Taking advantage of these services can help you better understand the underlying factors behind your addiction and give you the tools you need to make lasting change.
Find out more about FHE Health’s medically supervised alcohol detox program and how we can help you take the first step toward a healthier, sober lifestyle when you contact us today.