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Addiction Biology: “Harm reduction — a systematic review on effects of alcohol reduction on physical and mental symptoms.”
Alcohol Rehab Guide: “What Is Alcohol Withdrawal.”
Alcohol Research Current Reviews: “Alcohol and the Immune System.”
American Family Physician: “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.”
American Heart Association: “Alcohol and Heart Health.”
Appalachian State University: “Alcohol and Sex.”
Appetite: “The effects of a priming dose of alcohol and drinking environment on snack food intake.”
Association for Psychological Science: “Moderate Doses of Alcohol Increase Social Bonding in Groups.”
British Journal of Community Nursing: “Does alcohol stimulate appetite and energy intake?”
British Medical Journal: “Short-term abstinence from alcohol and changes in cardiovascular risk factors, liver function tests and cancer-related growth factors: a prospective observational study.”
CDC: “Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions.”
Cell Division: “To divide or not to divide: revisiting liver regeneration.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Care of the Patient Undergoing Alcohol Withdrawal,” “6 Surprising Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health — Not Just Your Liver.”
Handbook of Clinical Neurology: “Profiles of Impaired, Spared, and Recovered Neuropsychological Processes in Alcoholism.”
Harvard School of Public Health: “Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits.”
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Butler Center for Research: “Cognitive Improvement
and Alcohol Recovery.”
Hypertension: “Effect of Alcohol Abstinence on Blood Pressure.”
Journal of Sexual Medicine: “Regular moderate intake of red wine is linked to a better women’s sexual health,” “Alcohol Consumption and Male Erectile Dysfunction: An Unfounded Reputation for Risk?”
Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine: “Insomnia,” “Liver Regeneration.”
Merck Manuals: “Cirrhosis of the Liver.”
National Cancer Institute: “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.”
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Alcohol Use Disorder,” “Rethinking Drinking.”
National Sleep Foundation: “Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep,” “How Alcohol Affects The Quality — and Quantity — of Sleep.”
Recovery Research Institute: “One Glass a Day? The Impact of Low Volume Drinking on Mortality Risk.”
The Drinkaware Trust: “Is alcohol affecting your sex life?”
American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Alcohol Linked to Cancer According to Major Oncology Organization: ASCO Cites Evidence and Calls for Reduced Alcohol Consumption.”
- Giving up alcohol for just 1 month has lasting benefits
- 1 alcohol-free month boosts long-term health
- A long list of benefits
- Here’s What Happens When You Quit Drinking Alcohol for a Month
- The Study
- What Are the Benefits of Not Drinking Alcohol?
- What to expect when you stop drinking
- Short term benefits
- Long term benefits
- The benefits of giving up alcohol for a month
- Week One
- Week Two
- Week Three
- Week Four
- I got a clear picture of my drinking
- My drinking felt like a problem — so now what?
- I found people to talk to
- Sustaining change in my day-to-day life
- The rewards for my efforts so far
- The Benefits of Not Drinking
- 1. You Look Better
- 2. You Feel Better
- 3. You Have More Control Over Your Emotions
- 4. Your Mental Health Improves
- 5. You Can Lose Weight and Get in Better Shape
- 6. You Sleep Better
- 7. You Have a Lower Risk of Developing Certain Types of Cancer
- 8. More Time to Focus on Things That Matter
- 9. You’ll Have a Better Sex Life
- 10. You’ll Have Fewer Mood Swings
- 11. Your Brain Performance Will Improve
- 12. You’ll Save More Money
- How to Reduce Drinking
- Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Recovery Options
Giving up alcohol for just 1 month has lasting benefits
Many of us will have enjoyed numerous glasses of wine, beer, champagne, or other alcoholic beverages over the winter holidays. Thus, in January, we may feel the need to take a break from alcohol. An alcohol-free month is the best choice we could possibly make for our health, British researchers conclude.
Share on PinterestGoing without alcohol for just 1 month will really boost your well-being throughout the year, researchers find.
Dry January is an initiative of the charity organization Alcohol Change United Kingdom, which encourages people to try giving up alcohol for 1 month at the start of the year.
Although the charity that promotes this effort is UK-based, thousands of people around the world pledge to take part in this campaign each year.
It is fairly logical to assume that giving up alcohol for 31 days can only benefit health, since drinking regularly is a major risk factor for cancer, liver disease, and cardiovascular diseases, among other issues.
Now, a study by researchers from the University of Sussex in Falmer, UK, shows just how much skipping alcohol for 1 month can improve your life and concludes that these benefits are long-lasting.
The research, which Dr. Richard de Visser from the University of Sussex led, found that people who took part in Dry January in 2018 reported higher energy levels and healthier body weight. They also felt less need to drink alcohol, even several months after participating in this initiative.
1 alcohol-free month boosts long-term health
Dr. de Visser and team analyzed data that they collected from Dry January participants in three online surveys. A total of 2,821 people filled in a survey upon registering for the campaign at the beginning of January. In the first week of February, 1,715 participants completed a survey, and 816 participants submitted additional data in August 2018.
The researchers found that giving up alcohol for a month helped the participants reduce their number of drinking days later in the year. The number decreased from an average of 4.3 days per week before taking part in Dry January to an average of 3.3 days per week afterward.
Moreover, people who went teetotal for a month also got drunk a lot less frequently later on in the year. Rates of excessive drinking fell from an average of 3.4 times per month at baseline to 2.1 times per month on average.
In fact, Dry January participants also learned to drink less. They went from consuming an average of 8.6 units of alcohol per drinking day at baseline to 7.1 units of alcohol per drinking day later on.
“The simple act of taking a month off alcohol helps people drink less in the long term; by August, people are reporting one extra dry day per week,” notes Dr. de Visser.
“There are also considerable immediate benefits: nine in 10 people save money, seven in 10 sleep better, and three in five lose weight,” he adds.
Important benefits, however, are also available to those who give up alcohol for shorter periods. An alcohol-free month would be better, but even less than that can still boost a person’s health, Dr. de Visser says.
“Interestingly, these changes in alcohol consumption have also been seen in the participants who didn’t manage to stay alcohol-free for the whole month — although they are a bit smaller. This shows that there are real benefits to just trying to complete Dry January,” the researcher emphasizes.
A long list of benefits
The people who took part in Dry January last year noted numerous mental and physical health benefits as well as a “healthier” bank account. More specifically:
- 93 percent of participants reported experiencing a sense of achievement at the end of the alcohol-free month
- 88 percent had saved the money that they would otherwise have spent on drinks
- 82 percent of participants reported an enhanced awareness of their relationship with alcohol
- 80 percent felt more in control of their drinking habits
- 76 percent understood when they felt more tempted to drink and why
- 71 percent of participants learned that they did not need alcohol to have fun
- 71 percent said that they enjoyed a better quality of sleep
- 70 percent reported better overall health
- 67 percent had higher energy levels
- 58 percent of participants lost weight
- 57 percent reported improved concentration
- 54 percent said that they noticed better skin health
“The brilliant thing about Dry January is that it’s not really about January. Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, to socialize,” says Dr. Richard Piper, the CEO of Alcohol Change UK.
“That means that for the rest of the year, we are better able to make decisions about our drinking and to avoid slipping into drinking more than we really want to,” Dr. Piper notes.
“Many of us know about the health risks of alcohol — seven forms of cancer, liver disease, mental health problems — but we are often unaware that drinking less has more immediate benefits too. Sleeping better, feeling more energetic, saving money, better skin, losing weight… The list goes on.”
Dr. Richard Piper
So, be it this January or later in the year, you may want to try swapping alcohol for tea, juice, or water for a month or even a few weeks. It could make you happier and healthier, and your bank account will thank you too.
Here’s What Happens When You Quit Drinking Alcohol for a Month
If drinking less is your New Year’s resolution, you aren’t alone. A Greek (as in fraternity, not Athens) guy in college once swore to me on January 2nd that he’d go sober for 365 days. Incredulous, I asked how that was possible, and he answered: “Well, not in a row.”
Americans like to drink. Not as much as Canadians and Russians, but still a lot. The good news: A recent study published in Preventing Chronic Diseasefound that most Americans who drink “excessively” (15 or more drinks a week for men; 8 or more drinks a week for women) aren’t alcohol dependent. Meaning they aren’t alcoholics. Meaning if you wanted to stay sober for one month, odds are it wouldn’t lead to withdrawal. Sure, you might suffer from fear of missing out (FOMO), but you shouldn’t lose control of your bodily functions.
But how good is one month of sobriety for your health anyway? The staff of the New Scientistattempted to answer that question, and found that avoiding alcohol for a few weeks may actually do wonders for your body.
First: 14 staff members gave blood samples and had ultrasounds done to measure the amount of fat in their livers. Next, 10 of them abstained from alcohol for five weeks, while four continued to drink normally. At the end of five weeks, they all went back to the hospital to repeat the blood work and ultrasounds.
Here’s how it played out:
Giving up alcohol for one month may significantly improve your health, though more research is required. The only real downside: Those involved in the study felt less social. So if you’re looking for an excuse to binge watch Netflix while possibly losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, and sleeping better, try going dry. Then share your results in the comments section below.
What Are the Benefits of Not Drinking Alcohol?
Better Health Overall
“Not only does alcohol contain a lot of empty calories, but when people drink too much they tend to make other unhealthy nutritional choices, so giving up alcohol can have a far-reaching impact on weight and overall cardiovascular health,” says Carlene MacMillan, M.D., a psychiatrist and a member of the Alma mental health co-practice community in NYC. Proof: After giving up alcohol for just one month, 58 percent of participants in the University of Essex’s Dry January study reported losing weight.
“Being hungover also gets in the way of things like going for a morning run or to the gym. By giving it up, people are better able to stick to exercise routines,” she says. “There are, of course, long-term benefits with respect to reducing the risk of many cancers, improving heart health, helping the immune system, and not damaging the liver.” (For example, just one serving of alcohol a day can increase your breast cancer risk.) You can find a full breakdown of alcohol-associated disease risks on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website.
“As a psychiatrist, I have so many of my patients reporting difficulty sleeping,” says Dr. MacMillan. “Alcohol is like pouring salt on a wound when it comes to poor sleep. It decreases REM sleep (the most restorative phase of sleep) and wreaks havoc on circadian rhythms. When people give up alcohol, their sleep can benefit tremendously which, in turn, helps their overall mental health.” (Here’s more on how alcohol messes with your sleep.) By the end of Dry January, more than 70 percent of participants in the University of Sussex study reported having slept better when they ditched alcohol.
More Energy and Better Moods
If you’re sleeping better, you’re probably going to feel more energized-but that’s not the only reason that quitting alcohol can boost your energy. “Taking a break from booze can elevate your energy levels,” says Kristin Koskinen, R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist. Drinking depletes your supply of B vitamins (which are crucial for sustained energy). “Like most nutrients, the B vitamins don’t only have one purpose, so you may notice an impact on both your energy and mood with alcohol consumption,” she says. That’s likely one reason why 67 percent of Dry January participants in the University of Sussex study reported having more energy.
“Removing alcohol from your diet can improve the way you look,” notes Koskinen. “We’ve all heard that alcohol is dehydrating, which causes skin cells to lose their plumpness, and that leads to tired, older-looking skin.” Indeed, the University of Sussex study found that 54 percent of Dry January participants reported having better skin. (Proof: J.Lo doesn’t drink alcohol and looks half her age.)
Better Fitness Performance and Faster Recovery
“From an athletic performance standpoint, alcohol can impact hydration status, motor skills, and muscle recovery,” notes Angie Asche, R.D., a sports dietitian and clinical exercise physiologist. “Research has shown that consuming alcohol after strenuous workouts can actually magnify delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by slowing the recovery process and increasing soreness. Alcohol can make it challenging for athletes to see the progress they’d like in their training with such negative impacts on both body composition and muscle recovery.” (This is exactly how alcohol affects your fitness performance.)
Better Chances of Dealing with Your ~Issues~
“Turning to alcohol to cope with difficult or painful emotions means people do not learn healthier coping strategies or take steps to process those emotions,” says Dr. MacMillan. “When alcohol is removed as an option, people can take the reins back on their own mental health and learn more adaptive ways to get through their days.” (And when you start binge drinking at a young age, it can further damage your ability to deal with emotions in a healthy way.)
Even ditching alcohol for a short period of time can shed some light on how you may use alcohol to cope: the University of Sussex research found that, after Dry January, 82 percent of participants think more deeply about their relationship with drinking and 76 percent reported learning more about when and why they drink.
More Confidence In Social Situations
Yes, really. Many people lean on alcohol to help them get through social situations that make them uncomfortable. (Holler if you’re one of the many who suffer from social anxiety.) “When alcohol is no longer there as a crutch, it can be difficult to adjust at first. But in the long run, people can gain skills and confidence that they can, in fact, connect with others in meaningful and enjoyable ways without it,” says Dr. MacMillan. “That can feel very empowering and lead to more authentic connections with others without so-called ‘beer goggles’ in place to distort interactions.” Trust: In the University of Sussex study, 71 percent of Dry January participants reported realizing they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves.
What to expect
when you stop drinking
Drinkaware is an independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK. We’re here to help people make better choices about drinking.
There are many benefits to your health of cutting out alcohol completely. This guide takes you through what you can expect in the short and long-term.
Whether you’re stopping for good, or just having some time off, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the changes you may see.
If you think you have a serious drinking problem and are experiencing any of the associated symptoms of alcohol dependence, you should consult your doctor or another medical professional about it as soon as possible.
There are also a number of national alcohol support services that you can go to for advice.
Short term benefits
If you stop drinking completely one of the first things you notice should be improved energy levels.
Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish. This is because drinking disrupts your sleep cycle.1
When you drink alcohol before bed you may fall into deep sleep quicker. This is why some people find drinking alcohol helps them drop-off to sleep. But as the night goes on you spend less time in this deep sleep and more time than usual in the less restful, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep2.
This can leave you feeling tired the next day no matter how long you stay in bed.
But having alcohol-free days can help. You should be sleeping better and find it easier to wake up in the morning.
Drinking less alcohol can also have a positive impact on your appearance.
Alcohol is a diuretic meaning it can make you urinate more causing you to be dehydrated.3 This can cause your skin and eyes to look dull and lifeless. If you reduce the amount of alcohol you drink your skin and eyes should look brighter.
Alcoholic drinks are also full of calories so not drinking at all is likely to make it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Find out how your drinking could be stopping you from losing weight
Long term benefits
Alcohol and cancer
Alcohol is linked to seven different types of cancer including breast cancer and mouth cancer.4 Cutting alcohol out lowers your risk of getting cancer.
Giving up drinking will have a big impact on your liver and should reduce the chances of developing liver disease.
Regularly drinking more than the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines of 14 units a week for both men and women can lead to fatty liver.
The liver turns glucose into fat and sends it around the body to store when we need it. Alcohol affects the way the liver can handle fat so that it gets stuffed with fat and becomes swollen.
At the early stages, fatty liver doesn’t often cause any obvious symptoms, so you might not know that your liver has been damaged. 3
However, as the damage to the liver increases, you may feel uncomfortable and you may lose your appetite.4 A blood test can confirm you have fatty liver.
Take our self-assessment to find out if your drinking is putting your health at risk
The good news is that if the liver is not too damaged after four to six weeks of not drinking the liver will usually return to normal.5
However, if there is too much damage the liver will not be able to recover and cirrhosis of the liver, or liver disease is likely to develop. If that happens, you must stop drinking and seek medical help.
Lowered health risk
The more you drink the higher the overall risk of developing health problems including:
- Liver cirrhosis6
- Mouth cancer8
- Breast cancer9
- Heart disease and high blood pressure10
- Sexual dysfunction11
But if you reduce your alcohol intake it can make a real difference. The less you drink the less risk there is to your long term health.
The Low Risk Drinking Guidelines advise that people should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week to keep long term health risks from alcohol to a low level.
There are different types of alcohol dependency and there is a sliding scale of how serious that dependency on alcohol can be.
Someone who is drinking alcohol regularly may find it hard change their pattern and cut back.
This can be the need to ‘break the habit’ of their usual behaviour. Breaking the drinking cycle is an important way to test for – and tackle this kind of behaviour.
Symptoms of dependency
The symptoms of alcohol dependency can be physical and/or psychological. And you don’t always have to be drinking alcohol to extreme levels to become dependent on drinking.
More serious alcohol dependency can lead to alcohol affecting every aspect of life including relationships, family, mental health, work and health.
If you’re dependant on alcohol, you must seek medical help before you stop drinking as you can experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop.
Take our Alcohol Self-Assessment test
If you’re concerned you may be alcohol dependant take our confidential Alcohol-Self Assessment test. It can tell you if you should make changes to your drinking.
Also your local GP can also offer you help and advice.
Ready to stop drinking?
If you want to experience the positive benefits of drinking less, a good way to ease into it is to try having alcohol free days.
Just a few days off a week could be enough to help you see the positive benefits so you’ll be more likely to reduce your intake over a longer period of time.
If you’re worried not drinking will make you stand out at parties or in bars, mocktails are great way to blend into the crowd and get all the taste without the alcohol. If you’re hosting the party, we’ve got some great mocktail recipes for alternatives to classic cocktails.
We offer lots more useful hints and tips in our How to reduce your drinking section.
The benefits of giving up alcohol for a month
If you’re giving up alcohol for a month and are wondering what the benefits will be, Priory has outlined the positive changes you can expect to see over the weeks.
After one week away from alcohol, you may notice that you are sleeping better. When you drink, you typically fall straight into a deep sleep, missing the important rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. While you are supposed to have between six and seven cycles of REM sleep a night, you typically only have one or two when you’ve been drinking.
Better sleep comes with many benefits. You will be more productive, where you can learn and problem solve better. Your ability to control your emotions and behaviour will also improve.
You’ll also have more opportunity to manage your food and drink intake. Sleep helps to balance the hormones that make you feel hungry or full. After drinking, your ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes you feel hungry) go up and leptin (the hormones that make you feel full) go down.
When you drink alcohol, you lose around four times as much liquid as what you actually drank.
Dehydration can cause headaches, as your organs take water from the brain due to their own water loss. Salt and potassium levels also reduce, which can impact nerve and proper muscle function while also causing headaches, fatigue and nausea.
Therefore, giving up alcohol can help you keep well hydrated, which is in turn beneficial for your brain. Your mood and concentration will be more stable, and the frequency of headaches is likely to decrease. You also won’t suffer from the effects of dehydration such as lack of motivation and increased fatigue, so will have more energy throughout the day.
If you were to give up drinking six 175 ml glasses of wine a week, you would save around 960 calories, which is the equivalent to three burgers or five and a half bags of crisps.
And if you were to stop consuming six pints of average strength lager a week, you would save 1080 calories, which is similar to six bags of crisps or five chocolate bars.
After two weeks off alcohol, you will continue to reap the benefits of better sleep and hydration.
As alcohol is an irritant to the stomach lining, after a fortnight you will also see a reduction in symptoms such as reflux where the stomach acid burns your throat.
After a fortnight, you are also likely to start losing weight as a result of giving up alcohol’s empty calories. If you were to stop drinking six 175ml glasses of wine per week, you would have saved 1920 calories at this point, and 2160 if you’d stopped drinking around six pints of lager.
Drinking too much alcohol can cause your blood pressure to rise over time. After 3-4 weeks of not drinking, your blood pressure will start to reduce. Reducing your blood pressure can be crucial as it can help to lessen the risk of health problems occurring in the future.
As the calories in alcohol can cause you to gain weight, giving up alcohol can also help you to reduce your blood pressure as a result of the weight you can potentially lose. By this point, if you’d previously been drinking six 175ml glasses of wine a week, you would have lost 2880 calories over three weeks. And if you’d been drinking six pints of lager a week, you would have lost 3240 calories.
Giving up alcohol will have a positive impact on your skin due to you having better levels of hydration. As more water will have been absorbed rather than wasted, you are likely to have more hydrated-looking skin, as well as reduced dandruff and eczema.
Removing alcohol from your diet for four weeks can also help to improve your liver function as your liver will start to shed excess fat. If your liver function is not too badly affected by alcohol, it can recover within 4-8 weeks.
With the liver playing a part in over 500 vital processes, you also give your body a better chance of removing contaminants, converting food nutrients, storing minerals and vitamins.
Across the month, 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. Your liver, stomach and skin will also have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol. You will also have reduced your calorie intake by 3840 for the month, if you used to drink six glasses of 175ml wine a week, or 4320 calories over the month if you used to drink six pints of lager a week.
If you are struggling with alcohol and are finding it hard to quit, you may want to think about getting support. We understand that embarking on recovery from alcohol addiction can be an emotionally difficult time.
I found the idea of being accountable to so many people quite appealing — and the fact all services were bulk-billable or offered rebates made it doubly so.
After a thorough initial assessment, including blood tests and other baseline measurements, Dr Davis sent me on my way with instructions to keep a diary of my drinking habits over the next week or so.
He also gave me recommendations for a bunch of reading, podcasts and TED Talks.
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I got a clear picture of my drinking
Being honest about your alcohol consumption is a confronting exercise.
Over the next 11 days, during the festive season, I was alarmed to discover the booze I consumed amounted to 70 units, equalling hundreds of dollars and 4,337 extra calories.
The free app I used to tally up drinks really held me to account. It showed that the two sparkling wines and two large glasses of red I consumed over the course of one afternoon and evening actually amounted to seven units of alcohol, not four, as I would have usually vastly underestimated.
On my second appointment, Dr Davis assessed me as somewhere along the lower end of a spectrum of “alcohol use disorder” behaviours.
So I’m not “an alcoholic” (you may be surprised to learn that it’s not even a medical diagnosis anymore); but what does that even mean?
It’s answering yes to questions like: have you had times when you ended up drinking more, or for longer than you intended?
Spent a lot of time drinking and been sick getting over the after-effects?
And experienced cravings for alcohol — a strong urge to drink?
Er… yes, OK. Sounds familiar. Sounds like me.
My drinking felt like a problem — so now what?
Browsing through my pile of resources, I discovered American author and alcohol coach Annie Grace was about to launch a 30-day “alcohol-free experiment”.
It’s one of a growing plethora of online alcohol reduction programs delivered via emails, live videos and social networking groups.
Sensing serendipitous timing, I signed up, paying a small fee to access the version offering live daily interactive videos (pre-recorded materials are also available on the website or via email for free).
Instead of using the sheer force of willpower to resist alcohol or trying to ignore it, the program asks you to think deeply about it every day: to reflect on why you drink and your beliefs about how alcohol enhances your life — and then interrogate whether those beliefs hold true.
But does it really?
When drinking leads to hangovers and waking up flooded with pain and regret and shame and anxiety, it actually creates significant stress.
So maybe the truth is… alcohol stresses me out.
Flip’s lunch dates are no longer “boozy”.(Pexels: rawpixel)
Another belief I challenged was that alcohol makes nights out more memorable and fun. Yeah… nah.
In reality, after a few drinks I forget conversations and experiences I would otherwise have a sharp, pleasant memory of.
How can I be sure I had fun when blackouts scrub the memory clean?
We were encouraged to unpick and examine all the emotional triggers behind cravings — to understand better what actual needs we might be trying to fulfil when thinking “I need a drink”.
And we drilled daily into the negative effects of alcohol on the body and brain: dehydration, anxiety, weight gain, sleep interruption, cancer risks and dulled senses.
And the cold, unpopular truth that research has found is there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
I found people to talk to
Giving up drinking and exploring its many negatives can be a lonely experience, especially during a Sydney summer, when wine and cocktails flow freely as conversation at almost every social event.
I wanted to surround myself with other people who understood what it felt like, to help me keep on track while navigating potentially significant personal and social life changes.
In the end, I was more quiet observer than active participant in conversations between the more than 2,000 people — including a surprising number of Australians — in the online group.
A few of us even met for lunch in real life.
It was comforting to witness the empathetic support system that developed; at any time of day or night as people shared stories or struggles, others were around to lend a bit of virtual support.
In real life, it can be hard to find others willing to discuss openly their relationships with alcohol, even close partners and friends, as the subject is surprisingly taboo.
Having encouraging friends willing to sit and talk over glasses of sparkling water or even go with you to the gym is enormously helpful and provides extra motivation to keep going.
Sustaining change in my day-to-day life
When I returned to work mid-month, my capacity to give the program daily attention fell away and there were moments I felt snowed under by it — in fact, I didn’t even get through all the material.
But even though it was repetitive and time-consuming, it was a genuinely insightful exercise to undertake.
I kept the accumulated information in the back of my mind as my lifestyle continued apace; I attended music festivals and gigs, pubs, restaurants, birthday parties, an engagement party, and a TV program launch.
All heavy on the (mostly free) alcohol. All without consuming a drop.
However, the program taught us to live with that momentary discomfort, knowing it was an emotional — and not a physiological — trigger and that it would soon pass.
Learning to “surf the wave” when cravings strike is helpful: taking a few deep breaths and pausing to let them build and crash before automatically reaching for a drink.
The rewards for my efforts so far
So far, I’ve been packing far more into my weekends than usual because I have a hell of a lot more energy thanks to sleeping soundly every night and undertaking regular exercise.
My mood has also been far sunnier, with no bouts of anxiety that wake me in the dead of night. And (sorry, boss) my focus and productivity has also improved.
Of course, this is where the hard work really starts.
While physical cravings for alcohol ceased after a couple of days, it’s now all about tackling longstanding emotional triggers and habits difficult to break.
A month of modified behaviour and encouraging early signs of success, knocking up against a bad habit of more than half a lifetime, is only the beginning of a long process of change.
In the interests of complete transparency, strategies, programs or approaches that help one person to quit drinking won’t necessarily work for another; anything I write about my experiences with them is a personal reflection and should not be regarded as an endorsement or recommendation.
Flip Prior is an ABC journalist. She is documenting her year without alcohol and sharing her experiences in a monthly ABC Life column.
If you’re considering cutting alcohol out of your life, we’re here to offer a few reasons why it might be worth it. A lot happens to our bodies and brains when we drink, and you may have heard about the benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation. But even the mild advantages you can receive from light drinking don’t cancel out the effects of alcohol we all experience over time. Here are 12 changes you can expect to see if you decide to stop drinking alcohol:
The Benefits of Not Drinking
1. You Look Better
One of the first things people who quit drinking notice is how different they look. The liver breaks down alcohol and releases a toxic by-product called acetaldehyde that dries out your skin and dehydrates other body tissues. Red skin and a flushed face after a couple of drinks isn’t the only setback, though. Alcohol also causes inflammation, so your enlarged blood capillaries can give way to more blackheads, whiteheads, and general breakouts.
If alcohol causes your skin to develop more clogged pores, untreated acne can turn into cysts or lesions that result in permanent scarring. You may already struggle with your skin. If so, quitting drinking may have some unexpected wonders. Your brighter complexion will probably surprise you and those around you within the first week of not drinking.
2. You Feel Better
Imagine no more hangover headaches, dry mouth, and dark circles under your eyes. People who quit drinking report lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, more energy throughout the day, and better concentration and work performance.
Even if you aren’t a daily drinker, a weekend at the pub or a couple of glasses of wine every night can still have negative impacts on your health and mental abilities. Abstaining gives you an opportunity to see just how much alcohol impedes your day-to-day performance and how much better you can feel without it.
3. You Have More Control Over Your Emotions
Despite the fact that people turn to liquor to take their minds off their struggles, alcohol can worsen depression and anxiety. A study by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine revealed that drinking can rewire the brain’s neural pathways and leave people more susceptible to anxiety problems.
Alcoholism and mental health issues tend to go hand in hand. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, the initial calming effects of alcohol are easy to get addicted to. Unfortunately, drinking builds up a tolerance over time, and eventually weakens your brain’s reward system. You need more and more alcohol to feel good, though you can never quite feel as good as you used to when you first started drinking.
A big part of recovery for alcoholics is realizing that there are other ways to cope with mental issues. Developing affirming and healthy outlets for stress and negative emotions enable people to become more resilient and live more productive lives without drinking.
4. Your Mental Health Improves
Alcohol is a depressant that upsets our brain’s chemistry and can leave us emotionally imbalanced. For people who already have a mental health problem linked to brain chemistry, such as Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the effects of drinking can be devastating.
It’s natural to feel more relaxed and less worried after a few drinks, but self-medicating with alcohol can cause us to feel worse every time our buzz wears off. Lowered serotonin levels post-drinking worsen depression, and the mood swings associated with alcohol can cause us to experience painful memories and unresolved feelings while intoxicated. These feelings only make us want to drink more.
People with mental health problems are more likely to suffer from addiction. Quitting drinking puts you on the right path toward better mental health and greater self-awareness.
5. You Can Lose Weight and Get in Better Shape
People who drink daily can consume hundreds if not thousands of extra calories every week. Alcohol has no nutritional value, so the “empty calories” you always hear about really are empty. In fact, your body wants to expel alcohol, so it’s more likely to focus on that rather than reducing fats or carbohydrates and sugars.
Cutting back on drinking or quitting entirely can significantly reduce your caloric intake and help you get in better shape. It is also a great time to take up a daily exercise routine, so you’ll be able to channel your thoughts and energy into something healthy while slimming down.
6. You Sleep Better
Alcohol helps a lot of people fall asleep, but it doesn’t contribute to better sleep. Increased sleep disturbances cause drinkers to suffer from poorer sleep quality than non-drinkers. Less time spent in the REM stage of sleep means our bodies are not as restored and refreshed as they could be every morning. Lack of proper sleep can also contribute to memory problems, concentration issues, reduced cognitive performance, and greater fatigue throughout the day.
7. You Have a Lower Risk of Developing Certain Types of Cancer
You’ve probably heard that drinking small amounts of alcohol can help prevent heart problems and cancer, but stopping drinking can do the same. Alcohol has been linked to several different types of cancer including liver cancer, bowel cancer, and head and neck cancer.
Alcohol isn’t cancer-causing (carcinogenic) in itself. However, a study by the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge showed how alcohol and acetaldehyde can cause the breakdown of white blood cells and alter DNA sequences that increase the likelihood of cancer.
8. More Time to Focus on Things That Matter
You won’t have to waste mornings sleeping off a hangover or lose your evenings to another drinking session at the pub. Instead of structuring your social calendar around alcohol, you can invest your energy into spending quality time with family and friends, pursuing a new hobby, and developing yourself as a person.
9. You’ll Have a Better Sex Life
The idea that alcohol is an aphrodisiac is a myth. In fact, alcohol may actually be harming your sexual performance. Alcohol has been linked to erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and reduced sensitivity. Without booze in the mix, you’re less likely to make impulsive decisions as well. This means you’ll be less likely to end up having sex with someone you don’t know.
10. You’ll Have Fewer Mood Swings
As we explained earlier, alcohol alters our brain chemistry and can cause us to react in extreme ways. Alcohol’s link to aggressive behavior also contributes to greater conflict, which damages our relationships. When you’re sober, you are able to enjoy a more stable mindset and focus on acting out of reason versus pure emotional response.
11. Your Brain Performance Will Improve
Drinking takes a toll on our cognitive performance, so going without can lead to better concentration, productivity, and an all-around more active life. The frontal lobe is most likely to be impacted by alcohol addiction, and brain cell recovery when you quit drinking can continue for years. As your brain boosts back and you rewire important neural pathways alcohol-free, you’ll enjoy a better memory, greater behavioral control, emotional regulation, and problem-solving abilities.
12. You’ll Save More Money
With many people spending over £50,000 on alcohol over the course of a lifetime, it’s safe to say that quitting drinking will do wonders for your wallet. Consider putting the money you save toward a good cause or into a special savings account that can go toward a dream vacation.
How to Reduce Drinking
A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to stop drinking until they try. It’s not even that far-fetched to realize you have a drinking problem until you have to go without alcohol for a while. Luckily, there are some great tips out there on how to reduce drinking and cut back on alcohol. Here are a few of our top recommendations:
- Start with one alcohol-free night and add on a day each week.
- Limit your alcohol consumption to only one drink at dinnertime.
- Learn recipes for mocktails so that you can still enjoy a tasty drink without alcohol.
- Drink slowly and make every second drink non-alcoholic.
- Avoid salty foods that make you thirstier, and only satisfy thirst with water.
- Be aware of standard drink sizes.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Recovery Options
You don’t need drinks to have a good time, and you can live an active and fulfilling life toasting with water instead of champagne.
It may seem hard to imagine your life without drinking, but if you believe you have a drinking problem and want to get help, there are professionals ready and willing to talk to you about your options. Not everyone needs to go to rehab for their alcohol problem, but learning about the various treatment options and recovery process for alcohol addiction can inspire and encourage you to take the next step.
Alcohol abuse recovery starts with the decision to learn more. Reach out to those you trust and talk to them about your drinking problem and desire to get better. While it may take some time to reach a point where you are able to live entirely without alcohol, your choice to sober up for the month and reduce your drinking can set you on the path toward a happier, healthier, and, most importantly, sober existence.