5 Reasons You Are Feeling Emotional After Quitting Drinking

Let’s talk about quitting drinking. You’ve decided to ditch the booze, that’s fantastic! But here’s the thing – you might be feeling a bit…off. Moody, anxious, even down right weepy. Don’t worry, this is all normal. Feeling emotional after quitting drinking is par for the course. But it’s still unpleasant.

When you stop drinking, your body is essentially going through a break-up. Alcohol disrupts your brain chemistry, and when you take it away, your system needs time to adjust. This can lead to a whole range of emotional ups and downs, and it’s important to understand why this happens and how to cope with it.

This post answers all your questions about the emotional rollercoaster that can come with quitting drinking, and offers some tips to help you navigate this bumpy ride.

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Why Do I Feel So Emotional After Quitting Drinking?

Remember how happy you felt after a few drinks? That wasn’t just your imagination. Alcohol affects the brain’s reward system, releasing feel-good chemicals like dopamine. When you stop drinking, your brain has to re-learn how to produce these chemicals naturally. This can lead to feelings of low mood, irritability, and even cravings.

There’s also the science of hormones to consider. Alcohol disrupts the production of important hormones like cortisol and sex hormones. This hormonal imbalance can contribute to mood swings, fatigue, and trouble sleeping – all of which can make you feel pretty rotten. (We’ll talk more about hormones in a bit).

This Naked Mind, a fantastic resource by Annie Grace, explains it perfectly: quitting drinking is like hitting the reset button on your brain chemistry. It takes time for everything to settle back down.

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But Alcohol Robs You of Your Natural Ability to Manage Your Emotions

In This Naked Mind, Annie Grace writes that alcohol disrupts your brain’s natural ability to manage emotions. This is why alcohol can cause unhappiness and irritability, and why some drinkers describe their binges as either crying jags or fits of rage.

Think about it. When you rely on alcohol to feel good, you’re not developing healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult emotions. Alcohol becomes a temporary fix, masking the underlying issues.

Understanding Your Emotions: The 3 Layers

The good news is that you can learn to manage your emotions in a healthy way, even after quitting drinking. This Naked Mind’s course, The PATH, dives deep into understanding emotions through a three-layer model developed by Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett.

This model is key to living a more “Alive” life, according to Annie Grace. By understanding how emotions arise, you can begin to take control of them. Let’s explore these three layers:


The first layer is affect, which Dr. Barrett describes as “basic feelings.” These are the physical sensations you experience in your body, like agitation, excitement, comfort, or tiredness. You can think of affect as the foundation of your emotions.

For instance, you might feel a tightness in your chest and a churning in your stomach (affect).


The second layer is meaning. Once you’re aware of your physical feelings (affect), you start to create a meaning around them. This meaning is derived from your past experiences.

Continuing the example above, you might interpret the tightness in your chest and churning stomach (affect) as anxiety (meaning). You might think, “I’m anxious because something bad is going to happen” (meaning).

This process of assigning meaning is influenced by your past experiences.


The final layer is judgment. This is where you judge the meaning you’ve created, labeling it as good, bad, helpful, or unhelpful.

In our example, you might judge your anxiety (meaning) as something negative (“I shouldn’t feel this way”). This judgment can actually intensify your physical feelings (affect), creating a cycle of negativity.

The Power of Awareness

The beauty of this model is that it highlights the power of awareness. By becoming aware of each layer (affect, meaning, judgment), you can start to interrupt the negative cycle and choose healthier responses.

The good news is that you can learn to identify and change the unhelpful ingredients (meanings and judgments) that contribute to negative emotions.

By understanding your emotions and developing healthy coping mechanisms, you can navigate the emotional rollercoaster that comes with quitting drinking and move towards a happier, more fulfilling life.

Emotional After Quitting Drinking: It’s Not Just You

Here’s the good news: feeling emotional after quitting drinking is absolutely normal. In fact, a study published in the National Institutes of Health (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397877/) found that people who quit drinking often experience a range of emotional responses, including anxiety, depression, and irritability.

You’re not alone in this! Many people going alcohol-free experience similar feelings.

How Long After Quitting Drinking Do Hormones Return to Normal?

This is a great question, and the truth is, it depends on a few factors like how much you were drinking and for how long. Generally speaking, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months for your hormones to level out after quitting drinking.

There’s some interesting research out there on this. A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (https://www.cmaj.ca/content/195/40/E1364/tab-e-letters) found that cortisol levels (the stress hormone) can start to return to normal within a few weeks of quitting drinking. Other hormones may take longer.

The key takeaway? Be patient! Your body is doing some amazing work rebalancing itself, and it takes time.

What Hormone Does Alcohol Turn Off?

This is another interesting question. Alcohol can actually disrupt the production of several hormones, but one of the most important is GABA. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that helps us relax and sleep. When you drink, alcohol mimics GABA, which is why you might feel chilled out after a few drinks.

The problem is, when you stop drinking, your GABA system needs to adjust. This can lead to anxiety, trouble sleeping, and feeling on edge.

Luckily, your body will naturally start producing more GABA over time. There are also things you can do to support this process, like relaxation techniques and getting enough sleep.

Does Quitting Alcohol Make You Grumpy?

Yep, it can! As we’ve discussed, quitting drinking can lead to hormonal imbalances and changes in brain chemistry. These changes can manifest as irritability, frustration, and yes, even grumpiness.

Here’s the thing to remember: these feelings are temporary. They’re a sign that your body is adjusting to a new normal, and they will eventually pass.

Understanding Anger: A Former Friend?

The PATH by This Naked Mind dives deep into the concept of anger, an emotion many people (including you!) might be grappling with after quitting drinking.

In the course, they talk about how anger can be a powerful motivator, but it often comes with hidden costs. Let’s explore this concept further:

Anger as a Pressure Release Valve

We’ve all experienced the urge to lash out when angry. While this outburst might offer temporary relief, it can damage relationships and create negativity.

Imagine a pressure cooker – anger builds up inside, and releasing it feels good in the moment. But that pressure doesn’t disappear – it transfers to those around you, potentially causing resentment and hurt.

The PATH by This Naked Mind uses the example of a mom who snaps at her son before a trip to the amusement park. His anxiety about the rides manifested as anger towards her. This anger can easily be transferred to others, impacting relationships.

Anger for Control

Another benefit of anger, according to The PATH, is that it can get results. Think about a situation where you need someone to do something, and anger gets the job done.

However, using anger for control often leads to regret later. The person you manipulated might feel bad, and the relationship might suffer. Interestingly, anger can also create distance and negativity.

Anger as Protection

Anger can also act as a shield, protecting us from confronting uncomfortable emotions like fear, insecurity, or hurt. It’s easier to be angry at someone or something than to delve into these deeper emotions.

One of the examples used in The PATH is of a man who was angry at his ex-wife after their separation. His anger stemmed from fear and a desire to avoid taking responsibility for his role in the situation.

Understanding Your Anger Triggers

The PATH by This Naked Mind offers a powerful reflection exercise:

Pause and Reflect: What would happen in your life if anger was a fuel that you never used?

By considering this question, you can gain valuable insight into your relationship with anger.

It’s important to remember that feeling angry after quitting drinking is normal. Your body is adjusting, and you might not have healthy coping mechanisms in place yet.

The silver lining is that you can learn to manage your anger and other difficult emotions. The PATH and other resources from This Naked Mind provide tools and techniques to help you navigate this process.

Tips for Managing Your Emotions After Quitting Drinking

So, you’re feeling a bit emotional after quitting drinking. What can you do? Here are a few tips:

  • Be patient: Remember, this is temporary. Your body is doing some amazing work, and it takes time to adjust.
  • Practice self-care: Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly. These things will help you feel your best both physically and emotionally.
  • Find healthy coping mechanisms: Here are some ideas how to cope without alcohol when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed emotionally:
    • Exercise: Physical activity is a great way to release endorphins, those feel-good chemicals we talked about earlier.
    • Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can all help to calm your mind and body.
    • Talk to someone: Sharing how you’re feeling with a trusted friend, therapist, or counselor can be a huge weight off your shoulders.
    • Find a support group: There are many online and in-person support groups for people who are quitting drinking. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can be incredibly helpful.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Quitting drinking can be challenging, and there’s no shame in asking for help. There are many resources available to support you, including therapists, doctors, and addiction specialists.
  • Celebrate your progress: Quitting drinking is a huge accomplishment! Take the time to celebrate your victories, no matter how small they may seem.

Remember, You’re Not Alone in Feeling Emotional After Quitting Drinking

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this. Many people experience emotional ups and downs after quitting drinking. There is help and support available, and you don’t have to go through this journey alone.

The Alcohol Experiment, a free program offered by This Naked Mind, offers support, resources, and practices in showing yourself self-compassion during this time. Be kind to yourself, acknowledge your feelings, and celebrate your progress.

Quitting drinking is an investment in your health and well-being. It’s a journey, and there will be bumps along the way. But by understanding what’s happening to your body and mind, and by having the right support in place, you can navigate these emotional challenges and come out stronger on the other side.