- How My Life Changed for the Better When I Quit Drinking for a Month
- What Happens To Your Body When You Give Up Alcohol
- You’ll eat much less.
- You’ll have more energy to speed up weight loss.
- You can lower your risk of liver damage and diabetes in just one month.
- You’ll sleep better.
- You’ll experience fewer food cravings.
- You’ll improve digestion.
- You can boost your metabolism.
- You’ll be more hydrated.
- You’ll have better skin.
- You’ll improve your heart health.
- You’ll reduce your risk of stroke and nerve damage.
- You’ll do better at work.
- You can reduce your cholesterol levels.
- You may have better sex.
- You’ll lower your risk of cancer.
- What happens to your body after 1 hour of not drinking? Or 7 days of not drinking?
- What happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol for an hour / week / month?
- What happens when you quit drinking alcohol timeline
- Short term benefits
- The Rules
- WEEK ONE: SMOOTH SAILING, FOR THE MOST PART
- This is What Happened When We Drank More Water
- WEEK TWO: DRY DATING EQUALS MORE DIFFICULT DATING
- How Beer Can Benefit Your Health
- WEEK THREE: THE REAL TEST OF CHARACTER
- WEEK FOUR: LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
- TAKEAWAYS, AND A MUCH-NEEDED GIN AND SODA
- More stories from from our “I Tried It” Series
- How Much Good Does Not Drinking for a Month Actually Do?
How My Life Changed for the Better When I Quit Drinking for a Month
My friendships felt more solid.
One thing I quickly realized: Nearly 100 percent of my social life revolved around food and drinks. Whether it was celebrating a successful month of work at happy hour, embracing heavy pours at book club, or relaxing with a few beers while watching football, there was almost always a drink involved. My month of sobriety made things a bit more complicated because the default options were no longer available. For the most part, though, my friends were totally cool about coming up with alternative plans, or simply letting me hang with my glass of water or club soda without making me feel awkward. (These mocktails will make you feel like you’re a part of the party while sober.)
And I admit, this was one of the biggest concerns I had before I quit drinking for a month. Would people find the whole thing annoying? Would they temporarily stop inviting me to hang out? So it helped me realize one thing: I really like my friends, and we didn’t need alcohol as a crutch to enjoy each other’s company. And that’s becoming more the norm: A recent survey asked 5,000 drinkers between ages 21 and 35 about their habits and found that nearly half of them would spare the teasing remarks and respect a friend’s choice not to drink.
My laziness subsided.
Basically, the “I’ll do that tomorrow” syndrome that I so frequently suffered from disappeared. While I still vegged on the couch when my brain needed a break, more often than not I found myself motivated to get work done. My husband even noticed, as one Friday night I had enough energy to clean our apartment and run a load of laundry instead of collapsing in bed after work. And because we weren’t defaulting to dinner and drinks, we went on a fun date that we never made time to do before. (Next up on our date-night list: These heart-pumping activities.)
My skin needed #nofilter.
When I quit drinking for a month, this was the benefit I was most stoked about. I’ve always struggled with acne and, even though I’ve been able to manage it fairly well the last few years, flare-ups would still pop up way more often than I’d like (read: never—I’d like them to occur never). But after just a week of no booze, there was a noticeable difference. My skin was smoother and less dry, and my tone was more even whereas before it was blotchy red. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, says alcohol can actually lower your skin’s antioxidant levels, increasing your risk of damage from UV light, inflammation, and even premature aging. Once I stopped drinking (and started eating antioxidant-rich foods, like blueberries and artichokes), my levels likely shot back up. “Antioxidants are like fire extinguishers that put out skin inflammation,” says Zeichner. “While more research is needed to be sure, the theory is maintaining high antioxidant levels may help suppress inflammation around your follicles that lead to pimples.” In other words, hello pretty new skin. (And yes, skin hangovers are a thing.)
I had a lot more money in my savings account.
Drinking is expensive—and it sneaks up on you. Whether it’s a beer at the bar or a bottle of wine to take home, it doesn’t seem like much. But as each paycheck came in that month, I realized that I had more cash left in my checking account than I normally did after paying bills. My husband, being the supportive guy that he is, didn’t drink as often as he normally does, either, and our savings really added up. By the time the end of the month rolled around, we had built up a nest egg big enough for us to splurge on a weekend getaway.
Now that I’ve successfully quit drinking for a month, how do I feel? Good. Really good. A month without alcohol helped me hit a reset button physically, mentally, and even socially. While I won’t be continuing into a sober February, I do plan to take some of the lessons with me, like checking in before deciding if I actually want a drink and planning fun outings that don’t revolve around booze.
Aside from sleep, Dry January can also help you drink less.
It sounds weird, but you may not realize how often or how much alcohol your drink until aren’t drinking it.
While drinking in moderation isn’t all bad — and is, in fact, associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and death — taking one month off may help you drink less throughout 2019. In fact, research suggests it will positively affect your future drinking choices.
In another 2016 study of adults who participated in “Dry January,” researchers found that up to six months later, they were drinking on fewer occasions and drank less when they did imbibe.
If you are a chronic heavy drinker going cold turkey, pay attention for symptoms like insomnia, agitation, sweating, and anxiety. This could signal withdrawal, a potentially life-threatening situation that needs medical supervision. In which case, it’s best to talk to your doc before participating in Dry January first.
You may have a drinking problem if you routinely black out or if friends have expressed concern about how much alcohol you consume. Binge drinking in men typically looks like five or more drinks in the span of about two hours. According to the United States dietary guidelines, men should drink no more than two alcoholic drinks per day. A single drink is roughly a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.
Melissa Matthews Health Writer Melissa Matthews is the Health Writer at Men’s Health, covering the latest in food, nutrition, and health.
What Happens To Your Body When You Give Up Alcohol
Did you ever stop to think those happy hours were actually making you less happy? Giving up alcohol—for even just one month—has been linked to significant changes in people’s health. Not only can you make serious progress toward increasing your chances of weight loss after quitting alcohol, but what happens when you stop drinking alcohol also extends beyond losing weight. It can also include lowering your cancer risk, boosting your heart health, and even having better sex.
If you drink alcoholic beverages frequently, you might be interested to know how your body may change if you cut out beer, wine, and liquor for a while. Whether it’s for a day, a week, or even a month, it can make a difference.
To give you an idea of what happens when you stop drinking, we’ve gathered the 14 benefits of not drinking alcohol you can expect to reap below. Use them as inspiration now to quit drinking and revisit them when you need to strengthen your willpower.
You’ll eat much less.
Why does alcohol cause weight gain? The bulk of it can be attributed to excess empty calories, but there are other factors at play, as well. Research shows that drinking alcohol can also increase your appetite for high-calorie foods. According to an Appetite journal study, people who drank only half a shot of alcohol (20 grams worth) ate 11 percent more than those who abstained and experienced more cravings for high-fat foods. That’s right: Just half a drink can make you hungrier. And that can lead to a domino effect. Read on.
You’ll have more energy to speed up weight loss.
Getting better sleep makes you eat better. According to a 2013 study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, drinking alcohol results in shorter, less quality sleep, which caused study subjects to shift from eating carbohydrates to eating fats. And each 30-minute deficit of sleep caused the subjects to eat 83 additional calories, on average! So not only will a Dry January ensure you’re refreshed from additional shut-eye, you’ll be more likely to eat energy-boosting carbs instead of slug-making fatty foods. If you average an additional hour of quality sleep, you can look forward to saving almost 5,000 calories in 30 days—about a pound and a half!
You can lower your risk of liver damage and diabetes in just one month.
In 2013, 14 staffers at New Scientist magazine whose drinking ranged from eight to 64 12-ounce bottles of beer per week took a short-term break from alcohol. Ten people gave up the booze for five weeks. Another four didn’t. Doctors at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London tested their blood before and after, and discovered that the teetotalers’ liver fat—a predictor of liver damage—fell 15 to 20 percent! The abstainers’ blood glucose levels—a key factor in diabetes—also dropped by an average of 16 percent!
You’ll sleep better.
Though booze can make you fall asleep initially, it disrupts shut-eye. That conclusion was reached by a review of 27 studies on the topic. Another recent study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that drinking before bed increases alpha wave patterns in the brain. If you want restorative sleep, those waves don’t help. Once you give up alcohol, however, you’ll get better sleep and start feeling more refreshed and sharp.
You’ll experience fewer food cravings.
A study in the Nature journal found that booze can trigger cravings. How does that work? Agrp neurons, which are usually activated by starvation and result in intense hunger, were found to be triggered by alcohol consumption.
You’ll improve digestion.
Even in relatively small doses, alcohol can negatively affect digestion by altering the stomach’s secretion of gastric acid as well as its gastric motility: the ability of your stomach muscles to break down ingested food. When these functions are impaired, your digestion suffers. Studies have shown that pairing alcohol with a meal can slow down digestion while the overproduction of gastric acid can irritate the stomach.
You can boost your metabolism.
When you consume alcohol, your body uses ethanol for energy, not other sources like fat. Skip the booze and your body will burn carbs, then flubber.
RELATED: Learn how to fire up your metabolism and lose weight the smart way.
You’ll be more hydrated.
If you’re used to having a few brews or glasses of wine at home each night, you might want to stop drinking and replace the ritual with flavored seltzers or detox waters you make yourself. Plus, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it flushes your body of water through urine. Less alcohol means your body can retain the right amount of water for proper hydration and electrolyte balance.
You’ll have better skin.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which leeches fluids from your body. (Translation: It causes you to pee more than you otherwise would.) But unlike tea and coffee, which are also diuretics, alcohol decreases the body’s production of the antidiuretic hormone that helps the body reabsorb water. That’ll show up on your face. After just a few days of abstinence, you’ll notice that your skin looks and feels more hydrated, and skin maladies like dandruff, eczema or rosacea may also improve.
You’ll improve your heart health.
Per the American Heart Association, drinking alcohol can raise the level of triglycerides and harmful fats in the blood. That can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and heart disease. How? According to a study published in the journal Current Opinion in Lipidology, drinking booze is closely related to the ingestion of fat. Consuming one makes your hypothalamus signal that you’re craving the other.
You’ll reduce your risk of stroke and nerve damage.
Excessive drinking and binge drinking can lead to stroke and neuropathy. Why? The American Heart Association says that regular heavy drinking can raise blood pressure and cause irregular heartbeats over time. And according to the National Institute of Health, excessive boozing directly poisons nerves.
You’ll do better at work.
In the New Scientist study, participants who quit booze for 30 days reported an 18 percent increase in concentration and a 17 percent boost in performance at their jobs. Quit raising a glass and you’ll be on your way to getting a raise.
You can reduce your cholesterol levels.
In the New Scientist study, staffers who quit alcohol found their blood cholesterol levels fell by an average of 5 percent in just 30 days! This is because abstaining helped their bodies sweep out those nasty, fatty triglycerides.
You may have better sex.
While a glass or two of wine or a few cocktails may seem to set the mood, it’s actually a depressant, which is the last thing you want in the bedroom. It can play havoc with a man’s ability to get and keep an erection, which can dampen the libido for women as well. And while all alcohol affects the liver’s ability to get rid of excess estrogen, beer contains phytoestrogens—plant-derived estrogens that dampen virility and fertility. Taxing the liver with alcohol can make it less effective at metabolizing hormones, which can convert androgens into estrogens, resulting in a diminished sex drive.
You’ll lower your risk of cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, drinking booze has been linked to an increased risk for cancers of the mouth, liver, breast, colon, and rectum—and the risk increases the more you drink. You can guarantee you’ll lower your cancer risk in just 30 days. How? Replace your post-boozing McDonald’s menu with snacks and meals high in fibrous fruits, veggies and legumes. In a 2015 Nature Communications study, scientists from Imperial College and the University of Pittsburg found that swapping a meat-heavy Western diet for a high-fiber one increased healthy, protective gut bacteria and lowered colon cancer biomarkers—in just two weeks!
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What happens to your body after 1 hour of not drinking? Or 7 days of not drinking?
What happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol for an hour / week / month?
When you stop drinking alcohol for a week or a month you can expect the following benefits:
One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘what happens when you stop drinking?” There are so many benefits of not drinking alcohol, some of those benefits are;
- You start sleeping more deeply and your physical and mental energy to increase as a result.
- Your skin begins to look dewier and more youthful as hydration restores
- Weight loss and improved fitness
- Improved moods and a feeling of contentedness
What happens when you quit drinking alcohol timeline
Quitting drinking timeline – day one to year one
In this blog post we are going to look at what happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol from the very first hour all the way through to a year of giving up alcohol. If you are thinking about giving up alcohol for a month, you may be wondering what the benefits are and what happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol.
If you’re booze free newbie, and have not done a bit of time alcohol-free, you may be wondering what to expect. What will your mind and body be doing during this time? So for the curious and nervous, here are some answers.
The inescapable fact is boozing causes a lot of health issues plus foul moods, crazy sugar cravings, poor sleep, unpleasant toilet habits and poor concentration. Booze also massively contributes to depression and anxiety. Whilst we seek its numbing qualities to ease mood, booze is playing a cruel game. It is medically classed as a depressant, and over time it depresses your natural body chemistry and leads to that gnawing anxiety and heaviness.
Short term benefits
The good news is our bodies LOVE being booze-free and respond really quickly. The lift in mood and depression is one to the key reasons people continue to stay booze free with the help of OYNB – because the natural high feels so damn good!
If you’re giving up alcohol for a month and are wondering what the health benefits will be, One Year No Beer has outlined the positive changes you can expect to see over the first 4 weeks when you stop drinking alcohol. Across the month of not drinking alcohol, your body is likely to have benefitted greatly from giving up alcohol. Better hydration and improved sleep will have increased your productivity and daily wellbeing.
What happens to your body in the first few days?
1 – 12 HOURS
An hour after your last drink, your liver starts working overtime, clearing the alcohol from your bloodstream to prevent alcohol poisoning. Yep! Booze is poison and the liver has to alter its chemical structure so it doesn’t kill us – changing alcohol to acetaldehyde and then acetate.
Acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance and a known carcinogen, so although acetaldehyde exists in the body only for a brief time before it is further broken down into acetate, it has the potential to cause significant damage. You may experience nausea and tremor as your body deals with all this. Arghhh. At the time your pancreas also starts producing extra insulin, which causes intense carb cravings.
Your blood sugar has potentially normalised, if you haven’t created a glycemic roller-coaster by sugar and carb binging. To rebalance, eat healthy foods and drink lots of water.
48 -72 HOURS
For most, the worst is over by now. Although you may still feel groggy and tired depending on how much booze your body had to process. If however, you had a bigger booze problem than you realised then sweating, increased pulse, tremor, anxiety and agitation may continue or kick in a this time. A serious alcohol problem may need medical support from your GP to prevent fits or DTs.
72 HOURS ONWARDS
Any hangover side effects are now officially out of your system, you finally feel back to yourself physically and mentally. And to think this is only 72 hours into your quest to stop drinking alcohol for a month.
Now what? I have given up alcohol for a month. That’s nothing special. Thousands of people do Dry July or Feb Fast or some random month. But it is a big thing. I hadn’t had 30 days off alcohol my entire adult life.
The reason I thought it was a good idea isn’t unique either. It’s boringly familiar. I’m middle aged and, after drinking modestly for decades, it had crept up. One glass of wine a night became two, and then three and – no point in skirting around the facts here – too often it was a bottle, sometimes more. Occasionally, if I was particularly anxious, I’d buy a bottle of wine during the day and drink the lot.
There’s shame in even writing that, but it’s true. Over the past few years, my husband and I had countless discussions and a few raging arguments about cutting back alcohol, and we tried the obligatory “alcohol-free nights”. But in the jargon of the online crowd experimenting with the previously unthinkable, I was “sober curious”.
One of my main worries was what on earth I would do in the evenings. Drinking was what I “did” – preferably alone in my head or watching some Netflix show or offering random opinions on Twitter.
Feeling slow or a little sad in the mornings was so normal I barely noticed it. Work was interesting but I lacked ambition. I avoided people, not especially enjoying everyday things like going for a walk, or a seeing a movie, or meeting friends for lunch. It took me a few years to grasp it, but alcohol was controlling my life to an extent that I found it hard to hide, even to myself. I had watched my father commit the slow suicide of the middle class, slumped drunk in front of the television. I had contempt for him at the time, and I was becoming him.
Every person is different. Jill Stark was a young single woman when she wrote High Sobriety, and her tussle with alcohol was about social binge drinking.
Peter FitzSimons wanted to lose weight and shape up and I envied his blokey pragmatism – “stop being a piss-head” seemed as good advice as any.
I have friends with demanding jobs raising young children alone and they really, really feel like a drink after all-day playdates.
I often quoted Hemingway: “I drink to make other people more interesting.” But it wasn’t true. I drank to pretend that my life was more interesting than it was, to escape from everyday problems, and because I enjoyed it. Or maybe that’s self-justifying crap. Maybe it’s just that alcohol is an addictive substance like all of those illicit drugs we demonise and, over the years, I had become addicted.
So, now what? The problem with giving up alcohol for a month is that it’s ridiculously, unexpectedly good. I had entirely novel experiences. Like meeting friends for a drink before the theatre and not drinking. Like not drinking on a Friday night. Like going to a family lunch and sipping mineral water. Like going to a book launch and standing around for an hour without drinking the warm, cheap white wine.
The month wasn’t entirely alcohol free. I drank one night, on Monday 15 July. It was the day my healthy, vibrant, full-of-life mother, out of the blue, was diagnosed with a very serious illness. My first thought was automatic – “I need a drink” – and I drank a bottle of red wine, feeling overwhelmed by sadness, trawling through the internet to read up on the disease, and expecting the worst about how my family would emotionally cope.
But what happened the next day was, for me, astonishing. I had a slightly hungover thought: “Drinking won’t help. It won’t help me, and it won’t help Mum. Drinking will make things worse.” I had never had such a thought in my life.
There is a sense of achievement in doing something you weren’t quite sure you could do, even something relatively modest as giving up booze for a month. But I wasn’t expecting the scale and scope of its impact. After two weeks or so, I posted on my Facebook page: “Have discovered (a bit of a surprise to be honest), am a better, kinder, more present, more energetic, more productive, happier person when I don’t drink. What a bummer!”
I was only going to give up for one month but these things were hard to dismiss. I was more mentally available for friends and family, a better listener, less swift to judge. I was more productive, and the stir of ambition returned. I ate better, exercised more. I slept like a baby, no longer waking up feeling foggy. I was a happier person.
As an over-researcher, I read countless articles and several books. Alcohol is a toxic, addictive substance that our body works hard to expel. That’s it. I’m not preaching but it’s the truth and we all kind of know it. It’s so ubiquitous, so glamorised in popular culture, so cleverly advertised, we’re in communal denial, although that seems to be slowly changing.
It’s difficult to argue with the largest and most detailed research into the global impact of alcohol, which found that the idea that “moderate drinking” was harmless or even beneficial was a myth (one that the alcohol industry promotes relentlessly).
The more you drink, the worse the risks, but even occasional drinking is bad for you.
Alcohol causes several forms of cancer and increases your risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Its role in violence is undeniable. In Australia, it causes more harm than any other drug.
The evidence is there, but still, what a bummer. If I’m honest, what I missed most is that feeling 30 minutes or so after the first drink. The feeling of bliss, when problems float away. I was indeed invincible, witty, about to do brilliant things any moment now. Short-lived, un-ironic, self-aggrandisement.
Could that feeling, however brief, whatever the price, be worth it? Part of me still thinks yes. Surely I can reduce drinking and still get to feel that euphoria, that numbing of incessant thoughts, that fading of inhibition.
But after one month, the benefits of sobriety outweighed the benefits of alcohol, no matter how hard I tried to spin it. While my husband looks forward to Alcohol August, I am thinking of going another month without booze. I can’t say I won’t drink again – the thought is terrifying – but the ledger leans too far one way to be ignored.
Cheers to that.
• Gay Alcorn is a Guardian Australia columnist
• Comments on this piece will be premoderated
The holidays are a great time of year, stuffed full of fun, family, friends, and food, and—if you are anything like me—washed down with an abundance of beer, wine, and the occasional cocktail.
When the season is done, I often feel bloated and like I need to do something. I’ve thought about taking January off from drinking and never done it. I have my reasons/excuses (No beer when I’m cooped up inside? During the NFL playoffs?).
So I did a test run this fall. I took a month’s break from drinking (for the most part, qualifier to come). It wasn’t that difficult, and I wanted to share my experience and what I learned with you as an encouragement if you had similar thoughts and resistances. Consider this pre-gaming on abstinence.
Off and Running
I did it after Labor Day. The first couple nights were weird, but I soon settled into a routine, substituting green tea or sparkling lemon water for the beer and occasional wine while watching TV, talking with my family or a friend, or tapping away at a keyboard. I thought weekends would be difficult, but they weren’t really, though I did break with my intentions twice—both times for wine tastings at previously-scheduled social events. Each time I drank about one full glass of wine.
So here were my takeaways from this 30-day experiment:
1. I slept better. I knew this from a slew of studies, and from my own experiences when reviewing an activity tracker from Jawbone, but the month proved it again: alcohol, even a comparatively small amount, messes with my sleep. It tends to wake me in the early morning (between 2 and 4 a.m.) and I don’t sleep deeply again till just before dawn. It doesn’t seem like much of a disruption, but once I was aware of it, I could feel it in the morning and see it in my tracker’s overnight report.
2. I didn’t feel that much better. Maybe my expectations were too high. I thought that I’d feel a big increase in energy and function substantially better. That didn’t happen, which was disappointing. On the other hand, it confirmed that my drinking wasn’t a real impediment to my health. And it did make me sharper at both ends of the day: I woke up feeling ready to go (credit #1 above), and it kept me sharper later at night, so I was more engaged socially and able to get more reading, writing, and thinking done in the hour-plus before bedtime. Bonus!
3. I gained weight (at first). This shocked me. I expected that jettisoning 6,000 calories over the course of a month would have me swimming in my pants. No such luck. In fact, after two weeks, I had GAINED 3 pounds! The good thing is once I noticed it, I was able to adjust and ended the month back at 186 pounds.
I spoke to Mike Roussell, a Men’s Health nutrition advisor, and he told me that I might have been making more of the weight gain than I needed to. He pointed out that a normal person’s weight can fluctuate as much as 4 pounds in the course of a day, depending on how one’s kidneys regulate body fluid balance.
And some of it could have more to do with my noble intentions than my stomach. It has to do with what Rousell calls The Good Samaritan Effect.
“When people think about doing good things, they reward themselves,” Roussell said, “even before they do something.”
So I might have been sneaking a few extra calories here and there, basically spending my caloric savings as quickly as I collected them. And the fact I couldn’t remember doing this? No surprise, he said.
“We’re terrible as humans at remembering all the caloric high-5s we give ourselves,” Roussell said.
“If you look at research for rewarding effort vs. outcome, it’s better to reward effort. Encourage the behavior rather than the outcome. It matters what you’re rewarding yourself for: If you didn’t have a drink, don’t reward yourself calorically.”
4. I thought about drinking pretty much every day. It wasn’t an overbearing compulsion or an urge, but it was a consistent daily feature, a tug on my consciousness, and it made me think about the nature of habit. In their book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir talk about “tunneling,” which they write is what the mind does when confronted with scarcity.
An example: As World War II ended, the U.S. Army sent psychologists into German POW camps where Americans had been held. The U.S. soldiers had basically been starved toward the end of the war when there wasn’t enough food for German soldiers and their captives. The psychologists were shocked by the level to which food dominated the American POWs’ thoughts and even their behavior. They could do very little except think about food, and it affected their ability to think about anything else. They were also willing to do almost anything to get food.
This isn’t a new idea. Many people are captives to their own reactions to scarcity. Tunneling and cravings are powerful roadblocks for people in all sorts of paths to recovery.
And a 2012 study showed that some people’s brains are more likely to respond to alcohol with feelings of pleasure and reward. That can lead them to chase the sensation more frequently than those who don’t have that disposition. It’s not hard to see how this would make moderating drinking difficult for people wired this way.
For me, the thoughts were most prevalent on weekends, in the late morning and early afternoon, when I had a little free time and tasks that didn’t require a lot of concentration. I thought about what kind of beer I’d like, or I would swallow and be reminded of the feelings of a beer in the back of my throat, of a bottle in my hand. What’s weird is that I didn’t have these thoughts at night, only in the day, and I never came close to acting upon them except for the already-mentioned wine tastings.
That said, I was surprised by the persistence of these cravings; I thought they’d subside by the end of the second week or so., but that wasn’t true.
The other surprising thought, though, was an equally stubborn one that settled in during the third week—that I should continue this for another month. Alas, I broke my beer fast on Day 1 of the new month.
5. I have never been so hydrated. Between tea, water, fizzy water, coffee, and soda (my true guilty pleasure, and part of the weight issue, I’m sure), I drank way more fluids than I did previously. I spent roughly one-third of the month, zipper down, dick in hand, peeing into one basin or another, including one overnight trip to the bathroom each night on average. That might have some effect on my weight as I often felt like a large, slightly distended, pink balloon. (Looking to hydrate? Consider these 10 alternatives to water.)
6. It brought me closer to my wife. I didn’t ask her to join me in this little experiment, but she did, on weeknights. I know some people who have done similar experiments say one of the negatives was the loss of “happy hour” time to survey the day or the week. We didn’t experience that; talking over tea worked just fine. And not being quite as dulled at bedtime had other benefits.
So, all in all, it was a positive. After I finished, I committed to maintaining the weeknight ban and holding myself to two beers on (most) weekend nights. I get a passing-though-not-perfect grade on that.
Mostly, I am pleased that a habit that I felt was developing a life of its own felt firmly back in check. I know it can be controlled.
And you can do it. Maybe it’s not a full month off. Roussell says that one of the first things he recommends to people who want to lose weight is to curtail their drinking. “I’ll try to get clients down to 4 drinks a week,” he says. “14 to 4 makes a big difference calorically.”
A couple other helpful tips:
- Stay active.
- Don’t skip social functions to avoid alcohol. That kind of isolation isn’t going to help.
- Reward behaviors, not outcomes.
- Believe you can do it. “There’s a great quote,” Roussell told me. “People are reluctant to make a change unless they think it’s possible.”
It’s possible, and the benefits that come from developing this mental discipline are at least as powerful as those that come from avoiding a couple hundred calories at night. You can do it. Imagine the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel. What a great way to start a new year.
And now, back to the Santa Swap.
Kevin Donahue Kevin is the Senior Managing Editor for Online at Men’s Health.
January is the time of the year to shed old habits and start new ones — it’s a clean slate, and often, we make resolutions that are meant to last an entire year. This year, I embarked on a short-term, but clear and fast change: four weeks, sans booze. Dry January, as the phenomenon is known, is a much-needed break from alcohol after the crazy social calendars that come with the few weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Even as a mere social drinker, I was a little intimidated by documenting this challenge — truth be told, I’ve tried it before, with only moderate success. With a fresh mindset, I wanted to give Dry January my best shot.
With the help of NBC News health and nutrition Editor Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, I set some ground rules for myself to navigate 31 days without my favorite social lubricant.
My first rule, of course, was that I’d cut out alcohol for the month of January, and for the true month — from the 1st to the 31st (meaning no hair of the dog on New Year’s Day). I needed to call on Dr. Fernstrom to not only navigate the health rules of this challenge, but the social ones as well. She recommended to always have a glass in hand, regardless of its contents.
“You should have something that looks like what everyone else is drinking, but without alcohol. It can be you know a virgin mary, seltzer and lime,” she says. “Just something that you’re blending with the people.”
Another hard and fast rule (and perhaps the toughest one): Keep my experiment more or less to myself.
“The main thing is not to announce it … you’re only doing this for yourself,” Dr. Fernstrom reminded me. “Tell a trusted friend, or relative, saying, you know, I’m a social drinker, but when we go out, I’m gonna try this for a month … and tell one or two people but don’t make this big announcement.”
Dr. Fernstrom also kept my health expectations for the month in check. I might lose a few pounds, but since I wouldn’t be replacing my alcohol calories with food, there wouldn’t be any huge health benefits or noticeable changes to my physiology. And when it might came down to social situations with new people, she recommended a little white lie along the lines of taking an antibiotic or finishing up a project for work as a go-to excuse.
Additionally, Dr. Fernstrom assured me that not all hope was lost when it came to social situations: “Is it withholding something if I don’t say, well I can’t have an alcoholic beverage? The answer is no. You’re the same social person if you drink with people or not.”
With these tips, I set out for a month of no booze, fewer Saturday morning headaches, and hopefully the same amount of fun.
You’re the same social person if you drink with people or not.
WEEK ONE: SMOOTH SAILING, FOR THE MOST PART
My first day of Dry January got off to a rough start. Although I worked New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I did indulge in a glass or two of Prosecco on the 31st since I knew I’d be going dry for the month. Lo and behold, I completely forgot to set my alarm clock and overslept. No motivation quite like a panic to get to work on time to make you stick to your booze-free guns.
On Friday, my first weekend of the challenge, I hosted a game night at home, and I was curious to see if I could actually keep this experiment to myself in a room full of people and their cocktails. Although I was bummed to be the only person not drinking (I had prepared by splurging financially on fancy seltzer and calorically by having a slice of pizza for dinner), no one seemed to notice or care, which was a nice surprise in an intimate space. That being said, my roommates were some of the few people aware of my dry month, and since the group was fairly small, no one else pointed it out.
Another perk: I got right out of bed on Sunday, perhaps due to my abstinence from drinking.
After too many holiday cocktails throughout December, I was off to a good start, mentally and physically — no hangovers to impede weekend workouts and only a minimal impact on my social interactions thus far.
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WEEK TWO: DRY DATING EQUALS MORE DIFFICULT DATING
Week two sans alcohol led to a few challenges, starting with a first date, with someone from an app … in a bar. As Dr. Fernstrom recommended, I told a little white lie about “finishing up some antibiotics,” the logic of which my date jokingly disputed. I ordered a club soda, and he dropped it. He mentioned that he had started Dry January, and had already given up, and I resisted the urge to blurt out that I was doing it too to ease my own social anxiety. He had three beers, I sipped a few club sodas, and lined up a second date —relative success.
Second, I spent an afternoon with a friend from out of town, and she suggested we get a drink. In a moment of mild panic over not being able to adequately explain myself, I went to the restroom to collect my thoughts and game plan. As we were looking up bars, I mentioned I wouldn’t be drinking, and she suggested a manicure instead — a much more worthy use of $12. Crisis averted.
Finally, I was feeling a little stir crazy on Sunday evening, and usually, I’d just run around the corner to grab a drink. It felt silly to go to the closest spot (a slightly fancy wine bar), alone, to have a club soda. I stayed home, and used the booze calories on dessert.
At this stage in the game, I was getting a little tired of going to social events and not drinking. I didn’t really miss the sensation of alcohol, more the social aspect of going to the watering hole. It would be a further experiment for me to see how the final two weeks would go — would I decide to give up booze for good, or perhaps take a turn for the worse?
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WEEK THREE: THE REAL TEST OF CHARACTER
After two weeks of a fairly full social calendar, I was not so hot on the idea of continuing to go out without alcohol. By the end of week three, I’d gone on another date and had another cozy night in at a friend’s place.
My date didn’t really buy my little white lie about antibiotics (perhaps he’s a hypochondriac?), and started asking how long I’d been sick. He dryly brought up that he couldn’t have a second drink if I wasn’t joining him. I assured him I wasn’t bothered if he got another round, yet he declined all the same — this was my first encounter with my choices making someone else uncomfortable.
A night in with my friend was super casual — we’ve known each other for years, and I don’t think she gave much thought to the fact that I wasn’t joining her for a glass of wine. And, as a fun bonus, I got to drink overpriced seltzer out of a coupé glass, like the fancy person I occasionally pretend to be.
And yet — this experiment still feeling old. I didn’t miss the sensation of drinking so much; the dates and outings themselves were totally fine. It was, once again, the social aspect of participation. Who knew I’d have a major case of overpriced cocktail and crappy beer FOMO?
WEEK FOUR: LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
For my final (hurrah!) week of “Dry, Mildly Tortuous, January,” I had two dates, a birthday party and plans for a February 1st happy hour with an alumni organization from college.
A second date with the guy from week one was a little weird without alcohol, and more so without an adequate explanation. My date did ask if I was still on the meds and needed to skip — I offered that although I’d completed my fake round of antibiotics, I had gotten only a few hours of sleep the night before, and wouldn’t be my usual charming self with alcohol (I’d get too sleepy, and therefore way less engaged). Definitely not a lie, but not entirely sure if he bought it. I also technically cheated a little bit when he offered me a sip of his beer. I figured he’d been drinking alone on two dates with me, the least I could do was indulge his request. We mutually decided there wouldn’t be a third date, but I was curious if it had anything to do with the alcohol.
For another upcoming first date, I was able to suggest a mid-morning coffee and sidestep the issue altogether, which felt like a little victory. I even treated myself and ordered one with real milk in it (a luxury for me).
In week four, I was met with my greatest challenge yet — an afternoon birthday party at a bar. I was suddenly angry that I wasn’t able to fully participate in the social outing — it was my Saturday afternoon, goshdarnit, and I wanted to be holding a beer, not a soda. After complaining aggressively to my roommate on the train ride downtown (she’s a trooper, to say the least), I barely took comfort in the fact that there was another person at the still-small 5:30 pm crowd who wasn’t imbibing. I left the bar feeling annoyed by my surroundings of loud, intoxicated people so early in the evening. It didn’t feel worth it to be jostled around for 10 minutes trying to flag down a bartender for a club soda.
At this stage in the Dry January game, with only a few days left to go, I was feeling exasperated with my social experiment, even if I was still crushing those weekend workouts now that I was headache-free.
Now I can confidently say I can survive dates, parties, intimate get-togethers, dinners out — you name it — without any booze.
TAKEAWAYS, AND A MUCH-NEEDED GIN AND SODA
On February 1, I attended a happy hour event with alumni from my university — finally, an excuse to rejoin the drinking majority. That first sip of my drink wasn’t as liberating as I thought it’d be, but I was glad to be back with a real glass in hand. It was freeing to not have to make an excuse as to why I wasn’t drinking, and to not feel edgy that people might notice my substitute beverage.
Although I didn’t miss the sensation of alcohol itself, I definitely missed the social inclusion — that part of the experiment surprised me the most. I had no idea how important drinking was to feeling at ease — not a realization that gives me great comfort, but something to work on for myself. In the future, I may not limit the number of events where I’ll indulge, so much as the servings of alcohol. Now I can confidently say I can survive dates, parties, intimate get-togethers, dinners out — you name it — without any booze. I certainly don’t think I need to start drinking more at each event to compensate — one or two will ease any social tension, but keep me from going overboard.
The hardest part of this experiment, though, was keeping my dry month to myself. It was definitely a challenge not to just fall back on my excuse, but a worthwhile one to see how it affected my social interactions. If there’s one thing I learned from my Dry January, it’s that my next drink might mean more than I think it does.
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How Much Good Does Not Drinking for a Month Actually Do?
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
The realisation that you’ve spent a year making a toxic wasteland of your body came on January 2nd, when you stumbled out of some house party coughing up mucky bits that could very well once have been part of your lungs or other vital organs. The next day, drenched in hangover sweats, scrolling past articles about body cleanses and Dry January on your timeline, you decided it was time to lay off the booze for a month.
Wonderful. Now, let’s not make more of not drinking alcohol for a while than it is – pregnant women do it all the time, often for nine months or longer – but still, it can be a struggle. You won’t want to be out of the house as much as you used to, you’ll have to be hard on yourself at difficult moments and your friends will stop liking you for a bit.
So why, then, deny yourself the taste of sweet, sweet alcohol this month? What’s the use, besides momentarily knowing to be true what you’ve always suspected – that you are a better person than your alcoholic friends? I did some reading and spoke to a clinical psychologist and the spokesperson of the Jellinek institute for drug and addiction prevention in Amsterdam, to see whether or not it makes sense for you to stop drinking for a month.
All images from Raymond van Mil and Sabine Rovers’ photo series Drinken, dutten en een punt drukken on VICE Netherlands.
In 2013, 14 editors of New Scientist didn’t drink for a month, after which they had themselves medically examined. At the end of the month it turned out that the editors on average had 15 percent less fat in their liver – and fat can lead to liver damage – and 16 percent less glucose in their blood. Aside from having less fatty livers and lower glucose levels, the team also on average lost three pounds without having changed their diet.
That’s all making a lovely factual case for not drinking for a while, but unsurprisingly, the editors also reported that their social lives were negatively impacted by the experiment. Floor van Bakkum of the Jellinek clinic told me: “For many people, it’s not quitting drinking that’s the hardest, it’s dealing with comments from other people. You’re bound to hear: ‘One drink won’t hurt you!’ or ‘Are you pregnant or something?'”
On top of the fact that everyone else wants to see you fail, it seems that even your own body will want you to return to the bottle. Clinical psychologist Bart Vemer tells me that when your body is used to having a beer at 5 PM, your brain will start preparing for that beer at 4PM – getting your body ready to process an alcoholic beverage. “Your liver goes into a different state, the part of your brain that thinks of alcohol activates and starts asking: ‘Are we there yet?’ Those impulses are chemical at first – your body responds in a certain way, and that releases feelings and thoughts. When you stop drinking, those needs don’t go away. You’ll be grumpy and tired – or you’ll channel that activity into something else that’s bad for you. Those symptoms will lessen after a while, when your body starts to realise that it’s not getting a drink.”
But there’s something you can give back to your body to make it stop whining – rest. “After three weeks of not drinking, the quality of people’s sleep is generally greatly improved,” van Bakkum tells me. “People who drink a few beers before bed tend to fall asleep easily, but end up sleeping lightly. On alcohol, your body doesn’t rest as well as it should.” Getting more and better sleep is important if you want to keep your resolutions, because a shortage of sleep is disastrous for your willpower, says psychologist Kelly McGonigal, who teaches the science of willpower at Stanford University. Not getting enough sleep disrupts the part of the brain responsible for taking decisions and controlling impulses.
Generally, your mental wellbeing improves after a month of abstinence – you’ll feel healthier, more focused and your memory will be better. But both van Bakkum and Vemer say that depends on what kind of drinker you are – if you drink to forget, quitting will obviously make you have to deal with whatever issues are upsetting you. Doing that won’t improve your mental wellbeing in a month, but it’s healthier nonetheless.
I finally asked if there is anything you can do to make not drinking in January easier. Van Bakkum says that by not drinking, you’ll start to realise that there’s alcohol involved in way more situations than you think. She advises to think about those situations in advance and prepare for them. “It’s smart to think ahead about what you’re going to drink instead, or how you’re going to decline when someone offers you one. Or consider whether it would be too hard to even go at all.” It’s obviously also a good move to drag others into your arid abyss. “When you do it together, you don’t have to justify your actions constantly. Some people have WhatsApp groups to talk to each other when they’re having a tough time of it.”
Giving up booze for a month will get you into a better physical and mental state but the real question is what good it’ll do, if you’re only going to get back on it as soon as the clock hits midnight on January 31st. The one thing no one will be able to take away from you after Dry January though, is that moral higher ground. You will have exhibited enough discipline and therefore be officially better than everyone else. Bar pregnant women.
More on VICE:
How Giving Up Drink and Drugs in Your Twenties Can Change Your Life
I Have a Drink Almost Every Day – Am I a Problem Drinker?
I Spent a Night Getting Wasted to Find Out Why Women Are Now Drinking as Much as Men