Giving up alcohol for a month wasn’t something I needed to do. I didn’t have a “problem.” Or, at least, I didn’t think I did.
The idea came to me in late February, when a close friend of mine was visiting. We decided–over glasses of Malbec, appropriately–to call it quits for a while.
“I wish I could just stop drinking for one month,” she said.
“Even wine?” I asked. This seemed impossible as I took a sip.
But I was in need of a detox too. Catching up, we both revealed the leftover fumes lingering in our bodies from the typical holiday overindulgences (aka too much of the sauce.)
“Let’s do it,” I said.
I figured having an accountability partner made these sort of will-power experiments more achievable. Both of us being single and addicted to work, having a drink (or two, or three) was a treat—a reward to relish when life threw us stressful curveballs. We set the terms–one month sans alcohol (which would commence on the next day, a Tuesday), sealing the deal with a clink of our glasses and an iron-clad pinky-swear.
The first four days were, I’m not going to lie, a struggle. I found skipping a glass of wine after a long day almost annoying, and straight-up difficult mid-week. My normal alcohol consumption consisted of, on average, four to seven drinks a week. Of course, this varied, when a spontaneous night out resulted in one too many libations or a glass of wine turned into drinking half a bottle. It happens.
But I don’t need alcohol to function, I reminded myself. And although I take care of myself for the most part (i.e. eat healthy, work out on a regular basis), I’m not one to limit myself when I feel the need to satisfy a craving.
This was tested when the first weekend rolled around, and a friend’s birthday party was on the calendar for Saturday night. I felt the angst of my new normal grow from a tip-toe to a large stomp.
My go-with-the-flow nature hated the thought of being that person. The disciplined vegan or the militant, Gluten-free foodie – the one who draws attention to their special needs when dining out at a restaurant. This no-alcohol thing was going to cramp my style. If I was going to do this, I’d have to announce it to the world. Ugh.
When I arrived at the crowded Manhattan bar, instead of joining in on the array of cocktails being ordered, I confidently asked for a water. Starring down the glistening dirty vodka martini with three plump olives in the glass adjacent to me, I scolded myself, Chill out, It’s only 30 days.
Minus a few moments of peer-pressure and conversing with drunk people who couldn’t understand me because I was sober, I made it through the rest of the evening. When I got home, I had this feeling that I made it through the jungle of temptation! Yay me! I can do this.
That Sunday I called my accountability buddy, who was back in Los Angeles. We both gushed about feeling so lucid, and how not drinking isn’t that big of a deal, both noticing that it made everyone else in our lives more uncomfortable. But we still commiserated about the stress of wanting a drink and feeling like social pariahs.
“I need a drink after all of this no drinking talk,” I said. I couldn’t help but wonder, though–did my unavoidable desire to want a drink mean I might actually have a dependence issue?
As we crossed off the days, our daily check-ins increased.
“I’m sitting in a restaurant waiting for a friend and I really want to order a drink!” she texted me on Day 17.
“Just one, please!?!?”
“NOOOO!!” I furiously wrote back. “Are you sure you haven’t lied to me and had a drink?” she quipped, adding a winky faced emoji.
“I swear on all that is holy to me, I have not. My pinky swear is as solid as oak.” And it was. It almost surprised me how seriously I was taking this challenge. When she texted me at a weak moment, I wanted to be strong for her. Not only because I didn’t want to give up, but also because I wanted to be a supportive friend, which in turn overshadowed my vulnerabilities. Friends don’t let friends break pinky swears.
Over the next few weeks, I battled off any enticements to indulge, instead trying to focus on how good I felt. I was sleeping like a baby, soundly, uninterrupted for almost seven hours a night–a rare feat for me. Getting out of bed was exciting. I was refreshed. My skin, which has a tendency toward dryness, was clear and dewy. Fine lines around my eyes virtually disappeared. And I swear my vision improved. These miraculous side-effects might have all been in my head, but I felt better about myself than I’d had in a long time. The only physical downside was I ate more sweets. Not having a glass of wine or a cocktail with dinner triggered the desire for chocolate, lots of chocolate.
Excluding this need for sugar, I felt physically invincible. Yet my social life suffered. Halfway through my 30-day sentence, I dodged St. Patty’s Day festivities. I declined a few impromptu happy hours with friends, and my dating life flat-lined. My complexion was looking stellar, but coffee dates sounded meh. Not drinking, as it turned out, made me want to stay isolated. My new found clarity forced me to deal with myself without the distraction of drowning in a drink or staying out and socializing based on the silly notion of FOMO. And the extra “me” time resulted in getting more work done at home and catching up on lost reading time.
Not drinking, as it turned out, made me want to stay isolated. My new found clarity forced me to deal with myself without the distraction of drowning in a drink
My friend and I continued talking each other off the ledge when having a drink sounded better than the alternative: not having a drink. If it wasn’t for her reinforcements, I would have caved several times.
By the end of the month, we both made it. I felt victorious and reinvigorated, but the more amazing realization was how much I do depend on alcohol–not necessarily because I’m addicted to the substance, but I’m addicted to the escape. It’s that temporary relief felt when having a nightcap or kicking back a few with friends. The “sure, I’ll have one more” as a release from the monotony.
Drinking is such a touchstone; it’s associated with many parts of not just my lifestyle, but culture in general—taking the edge off to relax, drinking while celebrating, or drinking while dining out. After more reflection, I came to terms with the fact that my issues were more psychological–possibly stemming from some social anxiety that I wasn’t always prepared to deal with when I was younger.
Luckily, alcohol has never taken over my life in a negative way. But there’s no question that I’m a person who has long associated alcohol with socializing. I had no choice but to acknowledge this new revelation and keep it in mind. I didn’t want to hide from myself or cover up my insecurities.
With the 30 days behind me, I felt more in control. I was confident, prepared to find a healthy balance with alcohol, but more importantly with myself.
Dry January, Feb Fast, Dry July, Ocsober, No(booze)vember. Okay, we made that last one up. But during the year it’s likely someone you know will probably have quit alcohol for the month.
If you’ve ever gone 30-days booze-free, you’ll know the benefits of quitting alcohol: clearer skin, brighter eyes and more energy. The relationship between quitting alcohol and weight loss is another benefit.
But if you stick to the recommended alcohol intake guidelines of two standard drinks a day, and never more than four in a single session, is a month off really necessary?
It’s not essential, but you will experience both the physical and mental health benefits of quitting alcohol, according to Dr Nicki Nance from America’s Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida.
“Even for the average drinker, decreasing alcohol will decrease the related health risks,” Dr Nance tells Coach. “A break for the liver is great, and a decrease in calories is nothing but healthy.”
The benefits of alcohol elimination from one’s diet for a period of time, even if not for a month but just a week or fortnight, will reduce the risks of alcohol consumption. It’s also likely to improve our long-term drinking habits, Dr Nance says.
“It gives you the opportunity to do other things, and to evaluate if you have any activities that are not organised around alcohol. You can also take the opportunity to see if any of your drinking buddies will miss you.”
In other words, if a friend promptly stops contacting you when they know you’re not drinking, it might be time to evaluate that friendship.
RELATED: The best and worst alcoholic drinks for your waistline
While many Feb Fast or Ocsober devotees rave about how much better they sleep when they’re not drinking, in reality it takes a lot longer than a month to see the benefits of quitting alcohol, especially in the rapid-eye movement (REM) phase of sleep.
“REM sleep is reduced when people drink, because they fall into a deep sleep or pass out. When a person quits, the dreams rebound in cycles,” said Dr Nance.
“Daily drinkers who quit completely have disturbed REM sleep cycles that can take more than two years to regulate.”
On the flip side, there’s a point of view that an all-or-nothing approach to alcohol is a bad idea; going cold-turkey could make a person feel like going crazy with the booze when the alcohol-free period is over.
Dr Nance says if a person binge drinks after some time off alcohol, they should reflect on their habits.
“The satiation/deprivation pattern is a sign of dependence or addiction to alcohol and food, as well as to process addictions such as gambling and sex. If you have to learn moderation, you may already be too far along the path to alcohol dependence.”
There is a link between alcohol and weight loss. If you’re a regular drinker and trying to drop a few kilos, a month off alcohol is a way to speed up the process and help you reach your goals faster, says Susie Burrell, Australian dietician and founder of the Shape Me programme.
“The issue with drinking alcohol is that it inhibits weight loss, but also impairs our decision-making processes, so we become less focused on getting those results,” says Burrell. If you’ve ever eaten Maccas drunk at 3am, you know how true this is. There is a connection between alcohol and weight loss metabolism, so if you want to lose those extra pounds, avoid the evening beer or glass of wine.
A glass (or half a bottle) of wine with dinner or a few beers on the couch at night can feel like hard habits to break at first, but Burrell says it’s easier than you think.
“All habits can be broken and managed. Change your routine, and keep busy and engaged at times you typically reach for a drink. Get out of the house by going for a walk, going to the gym or doing the grocery shopping.” A new fit you could be one of the best benefits of quitting alcohol.
Burrell recommends sparkling water, especially with a slice of lemon or lime, as a refreshing, thirst-quenching drink to have on hand instead of alcohol.
Plus, you can tell your booze hound friends it’s got vodka or gin in it to escape any peer pressure at the pub.
RELATED: The amazing gains your body makes when you take a break from booze
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I was talking with an athlete earlier this week and our conversation turned to the issue of weight, as it has during nearly every coaching conversation we’ve had in the past year.
The athlete I was talking to is probably not that different from you.
He has worked hard and improved significantly. His power at lactate threshold is up, his weight is down, and he’s climbing faster than he has in 10 years. But his rate of progress has slowed, as it naturally does for any athlete, and he’s looking for ways to continue improving his power-to-weight ratio. His training is gradually increasing the power side of the equation, but the weight side of the equation is stalled.
Every time we talk he asks about another fad diet and I explain why it won’t work and how important it is for his nutrition strategy to optimally support his activity level and recovery needs. And his diet – like so many athletes we work with – is generally quite good. Athletes have gotten the message about eating whole food, minimizing processed food and fast food, incorporating lean protein and adequate fat, avoiding added sugar, and managing portions (although this is still a big challenge for a lot of athletes). The elephant in the room, though, is alcohol.
In a nutshell, here’s my advice: If you are struggling to lose the last 5-10 pounds on the way to a goal weight, stop drinking alcohol. If you want to keep drinking, that’s fine, but then stop complaining that you’re carrying extra weight when you ride or run.
I, for one, have decided I like a great glass of wine. Even better, I love sharing a great bottle of wine with friends. I also accept the consequences of being an athlete who consumes a moderate amount of alcohol. It’s important that you also understand those consequences so you can make an informed choice for yourself:
- Alcohol Has Zero Benefit for Performance
- Alcohol Is Non-Nutritive
- Alcohol Cannot Be Converted To Fuel
- Alcohol Is a Powerful Diuretic
- Alcohol Disturbs Sleep
- Alcohol Messes With Glycogen Replenishment
- Alcohol Messes With Muscle Protein Synthesis
- A ‘Sober September’ May Be Just What You Need for a Healthy Fall Season
- Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Treatment, and Timeline
- Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
- Alcohol Withdrawal Side Effects
- Alcohol Detox Timeline
- Managing Symptoms in a Detox Center
- Quit drinking and lose weight // 8 top tips to lose the alcohol bloat
- Is alcohol bad for losing weight?
- Consider the number of calories in popular alcoholic drinks:
- Colin’s top tips on losing the alcohol bloat
- Top Tip #1 – Without a deep personal motivation, you wont stick to achieving your goals
- Top Tip #2 – Learn to live without alcohol
- Top Tip #3 – Drink plenty of water
- Top Tip #4 – Get into your fitness
- Top Tip #5 – Accept there will be good days and bad days
- Top Tip #6 – Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night
- Top Tip #7 – Plan your meals in advance
- Top Tip #8 – Have a positive attitude
- I fell off the wagon!
- Here’s What Can Happen to Your Body When You Cut Out Alcohol
- Alcohol Withdrawal
- What Is It?
- Why You Should Quit Drinking for One Month
- What Happens To Your Body When You Give Up Alcohol
- 1. You’ll eat much less.
- 2. You’ll have more energy to speed up weight loss.
- 3. You can lower your risk of liver damage and diabetes in just one month.
- 4. You’ll sleep better.
- 5. You’ll experience fewer food cravings.
- 6. You’ll improve digestion.
- 7. You can boost your metabolism.
- 8. You’ll be more hydrated.
- 9. You’ll have better skin.
- 10. You’ll improve your heart health.
- 11. You’ll reduce your risk of stroke and nerve damage.
- 12. You’ll do better at work.
- 13. You can reduce your cholesterol levels.
- 14. You may have better sex.
- 15. You’ll lower your risk of cancer.
Alcohol Has Zero Benefit for Performance
There is evidence that moderate alcohol intake, including spirits, beer, and wine, may help people live longer (Paganini-Hill, 2007). That’s great news, but doesn’t mean alcohol improves athletic performance. As with other areas of sports science and nutrition (like sugar, fat, and sodium intakes) it is important to separate health-oriented from performance-oriented benefits.
Alcohol Is Non-Nutritive
There is no part of your body that needs alcohol. By itself alcohol provides no nutrition. It does, however, provide calories. A gram of alcohol provides 7 calories, almost twice as many as carbohydrate or protein (4 calories/gram) and nearly as many as fat (9 calories/gram).
You could look at that and say, “Alcohol provides energy, so it’s good!” But alcohol can’t even do that on its own, as you’ll see next. And high-calorie, fat-rich foods like avocados can deliver additional vitamins, minerals, and positive nutrients. Alcohol just delivers the calories without the nutrition.
Alcohol Cannot Be Converted To Fuel
Your body is great at making the fuel it needs from other substances. For instance, you can make new glucose from protein via gluconeogenesis! In certain circumstances, you can make ketones from fat to fuel muscles and the brain when carbohydrate is unavailable. The sugar in alcoholic beverages can be used as fuel, but there are far better ways to ingest sugar or carbohydrate for fuel.
Alcohol Is a Powerful Diuretic
Your hydration status is directly linked to your post-workout recovery and the quality of your next training session. Alcohol is a diuretic, and even though your drinks are not entirely ethanol, it doesn’t take much for the diuretic effect of alcohol to overwhelm the amount of fluid in the drink and lead to an overall negative fluid balance. To consume alcohol after training is like purposely obstructing or counteracting the positive adaptations you were working to achieve.
How does this relate to weight loss? Training builds fitness and greater fitness gives you the tools to do more work per unit time (higher power output, more kilojoules per hour), which thereby increases the caloric expenditure you can achieve per hour and per training session. Hindering training adaptation or the quality of tomorrow’s workout slows or halts your training and weight management progress.
Alcohol Disturbs Sleep
Sleep is restorative and crucial for recovering from and adapting to training stress. While alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, you end up taking longer to reach REM sleep and spend less overall time in REM sleep cycles.
The biggest benefits to restfulness and training adaptation happen during REM sleep, so anything that reduces sleep quality ends up hurting your training. Being less rested also influences all of your decision making the next day, making it less likely that you will stick with a thoughtful nutrition strategy.
Alcohol Messes With Glycogen Replenishment
A post-workout beer is probably the worst thing you can do after any exercise you intend to benefit from. Yes, beer and wine have carbohydrate in them. When you consume carbohydrates with the alcohol (pretzels and beer), glycogen replenishment is delayed by the presence of alcohol (Burke, 2003).
Note, I specifically used the phrase “exercise you intend to benefit from” in the paragraph above. When you roll across the finish line of the Dirty Kanza 200 or finished up an epic weekend ride with your friends, that post-ride beer may be part of the experience you’re looking for, and if that’s the case enjoy the beer! It’s important to realize there’s a difference between optimizing your training and creating the experience you want to have with the fitness you’ve worked hard for.
Alcohol Messes With Muscle Protein Synthesis
Alcohol lowers testosterone production and increases cortisol levels. Together these effects conspire to hinder muscle protein synthesis. Remember, muscle synthesis isn’t just necessary for building bigger muscles; it is also necessary for repairing and maintaining the muscle mass you have right now.
Again, you might wonder what this has to do with weight loss. Athletes tell me all the time that they are getting fat because metabolism slows as we get older. Not exactly. Metabolism is driven by muscle mass, and muscle mass tends to decline as we age because we have less combined activity in our lifestyle and training. If you further hinder your ability to maintain or build muscle by consuming alcohol, you are effectively cancelling out one of the biggest opportunities you have to keep your metabolism from falling.
In the face of everything written above, I will continue to consume and enjoy wine, beer, and whiskey. When my athletic goals were much loftier I didn’t drink alcohol. In later years as a more casual competitor, whenever I made a concerted effort to lose weight I eliminated alcohol for a period of time.
What I tell athletes is that your decision about alcohol depends on your performance and weight management goals. Alcohol won’t help you achieve either one. If you are struggling to reach valuable performance or weight management goals, eliminating alcohol needs to be part of the solution. If you’re not willing to do that, that’s fine, but then don’t say you’ve done everything you can to perform at your best and don’t complain about being heavier than you want to be.
CEO/Head Coach of CTS
Burke, Louise M., Greg R. Collier, Elizabeth M. Broad, Peter G. Davis, David T. Martin, Andrew J. Sanigorski, and Mark Hargreaves. “Effect of Alcohol Intake on Muscle Glycogen Storage after Prolonged Exercise.” Journal of Applied Physiology J Appl Physiol 95.3 (2003): 983-90.
A ‘Sober September’ May Be Just What You Need for a Healthy Fall Season
Several informal studies have looked specifically at the benefits of Dry January.
The results can be expected at any month you decide to take on the challenge, of course. January holds no magical drying-out powers.
In 2013, a team of magazine journalists tagged up with researchers at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at the University College London Medical School.
A total of 14 staff members from the magazine all underwent basic health exams and screenings. Then, 10 of the members were sober for 5 weeks. The remaining four drank as they normally would.
At the end of the study, the medical school’s researchers found that the 10 who had been sober had lower levels of fat on their livers (a precursor for liver damage), lower cholesterol, and improved blood sugar levels. They also reported better sleep and improved concentration.
The four who kept up their boozy habits did not report any benefits.
Another study from England found that participants in Dry January experienced benefits that went beyond the purely physical.
In the study from the University of Sussex, 82 percent of Dry January participants felt a sense of accomplishment, and 79 percent reported saving money.
Plus, 72 percent of participants sustained reduced drinking levels — they didn’t drink over recommended limits — 6 months after their initial sober period.
That’s because, according to the 2016 study, people were better — or more practiced — at turning down drinks and resisting the urge to return to their old beer-guzzling or wine-sipping ways.
This drink refusal self-efficacy (DRSE) skill, as the study called it, helped individuals have a healthier relationship with alcohol and also helped prevent a “rebound” effect after the challenge was wrapped.
Of course, sobriety might not come as easily for some individuals as it does for others. While the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that women drink no more than one drink per day, and men have no more than two per day, research shows not everyone adheres to this advice.
In fact, the National Institutes of Health reported that nearly 27 percent of people over 18 engaged in binge drinking in the month before the survey. Another 7 percent reported that they had consumed alcohol heavily in the previous month.
“People who drink on a daily basis may be at risk for alcohol withdrawal symptoms,” says Stephen Odom, PhD, an addiction treatment professional with more than 25 years of expertise in the behavioral health field, and chief executive officer and chief clinical officer of New Vista Behavioral Health, the parent company of Center for Professional Recovery, Avalon Malibu, and Avalon Integrative Wellness and Simple Recovery. “Sweating, increased heart rate, mild tremors, and nausea are some of the common indications that you should seek medical attention to determine the best plan to safely abstain from alcohol.”
For Richard Storm, a New York City-based photographer, a month of sobriety opened his eyes to another element of alcohol use he had not seen.
“It made me realize I use alcohol not only as a social lubricant, but as a way to self-medicate,” he told Healthline. “I drink when I’m happy, sad, or to kill time.”
Storm did a sober June and is back for another round in September.
“That may honestly spill over into sober for a good long while,” he says. “I think from here on out, since I stayed away from booze for a month or so, I’ll make a decision to either stay dry or try and curb my appetites. So far, the pluses far outweigh the effects.”
For most of my adult life, alcohol was part of my routine: some wine after work to relax, a few drinks to celebrate special events, wild weekend nights with friends. It was social. Fun.
But as the years passed, I started to notice in photographs taken only a few years before that my face was less puffy and weathered, and there were no lines around my eyes or bags beneath them.
I also noticed that I wasn’t sleeping well and felt constantly tired, sluggish, and irritated. I liked my job but didn’t love it. My relationships were okay but not amazing. At 34, I was surviving, not thriving.
On March 10, 2010, I woke up with a hangover in a hotel room in Austin, Texas. Angry at how I felt, I made a personal vow that morning: quit alcohol for 30 days. Not only did I make it through that month — I’ve not had a drink since.
Today, life is simply better without alcohol: I’m 20 pounds lighter, my skin is clearer, and my relationships are transformed.
If you’re also looking to reduce or quit drinking, here are the life changes I made that can help you on your own journey:
1. Adjust your social life.
We tend to be influenced by the people we’re around the most. So in order to cut alcohol from my life, I reduced the time spent with people who drank a lot.
You don’t have to fire all your friends — I didn’t. But I did learn that spending more time around moderate drinkers or non-drinkers did make quitting alcohol a whole lot easier.
2. Change your home environment.
Remove alcohol from your personal space. If your spouse keeps it at home, hide it from plain view in the back of your fridge, a different room, or wrap it in tin foil. Eliminate the eye-level visual cues that invite you to drink — and replace them with healthier ones.
These days, I keep a bookshelf at eye level instead. I used to read maybe two books a year; now I read four a week.
3. Find better ways to manage your stress.
Feeling like you “need” a drink is usually a response to stress, boredom, or loneliness. So when I started feeling that “need,” I decided to hold my breath for 10 seconds and exhale for 10 seconds instead. I also reminded myself of my “why”: I was choosing not to drink to stop feeling sick and tired.
Other times, I’d walk around the block, jump up and down, or drink a tall glass of cold water. I also built resilience through meditation. For example, I attended Vipassana — ten days of silence in the Joshua Tree toughened me up!
Want to learn more? 7 Breathing Exercises To Help You Reduce Stress
4. Replace drinking with a new healthy habit.
Instead of drinking alcohol, I now work out at least five times a week. How? I decided to create a new habit with visual cues.
Each night before I go to sleep, I carefully lay out my gym clothes at the foot of my bed. When I wake up, I immediately see the shirt, shorts, shoes, socks, water bottle, headphones, and towel. Instinctively, I put my gym clothes on. My chances of going to the gym are now greatly increased, and this healthy habit helps make me feel great.
5. Help out others.
In Freedom from Fear, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi wrote, “If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.”
So as I cut alcohol out of my life, I started to contribute to others. I offered to take people’s dogs for a walk or play with their kids and had wonderful conversations in old folks’ homes.
6. Create your new go-to drink order.
On a night out, I now walk confidently to the bar and say, “I’ll take an iced water with a piece of lime, please.” That’s it. Water, ice, and piece of lime. It costs nothing, leaves me feeling hydrated and clear-headed, and I never need to hesitate or question what to order while I’m out.
7. Come up with a confident response.
People used to encourage me to drink all the time. “Go on, just have one,” they’d say. But over time I learned to smile and simply say, “No, thanks. I’m not drinking at the moment.” Or, “No, thank you. I’ve got to get up early in the morning.”
Whatever I said, I owned it. When people asked why I quit drinking, I’d say, “For health reasons. I had a break from alcohol and felt terrific, so I kept going.” It now occupies about five seconds of the conversation when meeting someone new. It’s never an issue when they see my confidence and conviction.
8. Make early plans for the next morning.
I’m less likely to stay out late and be tempted to drink when I know I have a commitment the following morning. When I quit alcohol, I made yoga dates for 7 a.m., arranged to meet someone for a run, or made coffee plans. Anything that started early.
9. Take a break from alcohol with a buddy.
You can’t rely on brute willpower alone. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that people only change when “embedded in social groups that change easier.” And since I stopped drinking, I’ve had many others join me in quitting alcohol. Having the support of others will help you keep going — and you’ll all love how you feel as a result.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Treatment, and Timeline
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
Alcohol withdrawal side effects and symptoms can be broken down into three stages:
- Stage 1: Anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and abdominal pain characterize this stage, which begins 8 hours after the last drink.
- Stage 2: High blood pressure, increased body temperature, unusual heart rate, and confusion come with this stage, which begins 24-72 hours after the last drink.
- Stage 3: Hallucinations, fever, seizures, and agitation come with this stage, which tends to begin 2-4 days after the last drink.
All symptoms tend to decrease within 5-7 days.
Unlike many other addictive substances, alcohol is legal to those over age 21 and readily available. Many people drink alcohol on a regular basis without any issues. In fact, Mayo Clinic publishes that drinking in moderation (no more than one drink a day for a woman and two for a man) may even have some health benefits. Patterns of binge or heavy drinking, (drinking more than four drinks for a woman or five for a man in a span of two hours, or more than seven drinks a week for a woman and 14 per week for a man) can contribute to a problem with alcohol, according to NIAAA.
Almost all American adults over the age of 18 have consumed alcohol at some point. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates close to 87 percent of the adult population has had at least one drink in their lifetime.
Stats on alcohol abuse and its effects include:
- An estimated 16.6 million American adults in 2013 had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), according to the NIAAA.
- One out of every three visits to the emergency room is related to the consumption of alcohol, per the International Business Times.
- Alcohol consumed in excess was responsible for one out of every 10 deaths in working age adults (ages 20-64) from 2006-2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) publishes.
- Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in America according to NIAAA, as 88,000 people each year die from an alcohol-related cause.
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As someone drinks, levels of dopamine are elevated in the brain, resulting in a flood of pleasant feelings. Alcohol can elevate mood, increase self-confidence, and lower inhibitions. As alcohol leaves the bloodstream, these feelings and dissipate.
Repetitive alteration of the dopamine levels in the brain can cause it to expect the presence of alcohol and therefore discontinue its production at previous levels without the substance.
The more a person drinks, the more tolerant to alcohol the body becomes and the more dependent the brain may be on its interference. When alcohol’s effects wear off, someone who is dependent on it may suffer from withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to life-threatening.
Alcohol Withdrawal Side Effects
Alcohol withdrawal is likely to start between six hours and a day after the last drink, as reported in American Family Physician. Withdrawal can be broken down into three stages of severity:
- Stage 1 (mild): anxiety, insomnia, nausea, abdominal pain and/or vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, tremors, depression, foggy thinking, mood swings, and heart palpitations
- Stage 2 (moderate): increased blood pressure, body temperature and respiration, irregular heart rate, mental confusion, sweating, irritability, and heightened mood disturbances
- Stage 3 (severe/delirium tremens): hallucinations, fever, seizures, severe confusion, and agitation
Alcohol withdrawal is highly variable, and it is influenced by several factors, such as length of time drinking, the amount consumed each time, medical history, presence of a co-occurring mental health disorder, family history of addiction, childhood trauma, and stress levels. The use of other drugs in conjunction with alcohol can also influence withdrawal and increase the potential dangers and side effects. The more dependent on alcohol a person is, the more likely the person is to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. Each person may not go through every stage of withdrawal, therefore.
The most serious form of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (DTs), which occurs in 3-5 percent of individuals in alcohol withdrawal, according to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and it can be fatal without treatment.
DTs may not start for a day or two after alcohol leaves the bloodstream, and it can occur without warning. It is primarily for this reason that alcohol withdrawal should be closely supervised by a medical professional who can continually monitor vital symptoms and ensure the individual’s safety during detox. Stopping drinking “cold turkey”is never recommended without medical supervision. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, as the brain and central nervous system experience a rebound after being suppressed by alcohol repetitively for an extended period of time. Sudden removal of the central nervous system depressant can be life-threatening.
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Alcohol Detox Timeline
There is no specific and concrete timeline for alcohol withdrawal; however, it is typically held that withdrawal will follow the following general timeline, as detailed by the National Library of Medicine (NLM):
- Roughly 8 hours after first drink: The first stage withdrawal symptoms may begin.
- After 24-72 hours: Symptoms generally peak in this time period, and stage 2 and 3 symptoms can rapidly manifest.
- 5-7 days later: Symptoms may start to taper off and decrease in intensity.
- Beyond the first week: Some side effects, particularly the psychological ones, may continue for several weeks without treatment.
During detox, the first step is usually to monitor and control the physical symptoms and reach a stable point. This is often accomplished via medical detox, which may use medications to treat symptoms like nausea, dehydration, seizures, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines are commonly used during alcohol detox to reduce some of the potential over-activity the central nervous system may undergo as it attempts to restore its natural order. Blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature should all be closely monitored in a medical detox center, and steps can be taken to ensure that they remain at safe levels.
At times, alcohol usage may be slowly reduced over a period of time through a detailed tapering schedule that should be set up and supervised by a medical professional. In this way, alcohol can be weaned out of the system in a controlled manner in order to avoid more dangerous withdrawal side effects. Someone dependent on alcohol may also suffer from malnutrition. Supplements and the implementation of a healthy diet and regular sleep schedule may improve withdrawal side effects and help the body heal faster.
Managing Symptoms in a Detox Center
After the physical symptoms have been controlled, mental health professionals can help reduce some of the more powerful emotional side effects of withdrawal.
Anxiety, depression, and potential suicidal ideation can be managed by medications coupled with therapy and counseling sessions. Preventing relapse is an important part of any alcohol detox center, and 12-step groups and individual therapy can offer continued support through detox and beyond. Alcohol detox centers use three medications, which are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to help with alcohol-related cravings in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal and dependency: disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate. These medications work to manage withdrawal symptoms and discourage individuals from drinking again. Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors in the brain, thereby reducing cravings and the potential rewards that may come from drinking, while acamprosate is believed to work on long-term withdrawal symptoms. Disulfiram can make people sick if they drink, thereby making drinking undesirable. A fourth medication, topiramate, also shows promise for the treatment of alcohol use disorders by also potentially interfering with the way alcohol “rewards” drinkers, as reported in the journal Addiction Science and Clinical Practice. Alcohol withdrawal should not be attempted without the professional help of a detox center, as symptoms can pop up and magnify very quickly. Even after the physical effects of alcohol withdrawal are under control, protracted withdrawal, or the continuation of emotional symptoms and cravings, can continue and may lead to relapse without the right level of support and treatment.
A medical detox program can provide the most comprehensive and supportive environment during all stages of alcohol withdrawal and detox.
You’ll lose weight
It’s probably not a surprise, but all those extra calories in that cheeky glass of red after work add up very quickly. When you reduce or cut out alcohol, your overall calorie intake will reduce, as long as you don’t replace alcohol with another high calorie substitute. Drinking just two cans of beer each day means chugging down an extra 8100 kilojoules each week. That’s the equivalent of eating a whole extra days’ worth of food!
Your insides will love you
Alcohol has a big impact not only on the outside of your body, but also the inside. Over indulging in booze can result in many unseen issues, from high blood pressure, to cardio-vascular disease and liver disease. Reducing, or cutting out alcohol, gives your body time to recover and over time your risk of alcohol related illnesses will reduce significantly.
Your mental health will improve
It’s no surprise that with every ‘up’ there comes a ‘down’. Alcohol may seem like a mood elevator whilst you’re dancing and having a great time with your friends, but it is actually a depressant that can have serious negative effects on your overall mental wellbeing. Low moods can be exacerbated and low energy levels make situations feel worse. Taking some time off allows your brain to level out and you’ll be able to think with more clarity, dealing with any mental health issues in a more positive way.
Your skin will start to thank you
Within just a couple of days alcohol-free, you will start to notice your skin looking and feeling more hydrated. As a diuretic, alcohol dehydrates the body tissues and skin, which therefore can lead to wrinkles and premature aging. If you suffer from skin conditions such as dandruff, eczema, or rosacea you may also notice a difference.
You will get a better night’s sleep
Drinking alcohol before bed is linked with more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity. This is the kind of deep sleep that allows for learning and memory formation. At the same time, drinking before bed increases alpha wave patterns in the brain—a kind of cerebral activity that usually occurs when you’re resting but still awake. The result of this occurring is disrupted sleep and is usually why we toss and turn after a big night out. Giving up alcohol will likely leave you feeling more refreshed and sharp the next day.
You’ll have more energy
A less than restful sleep can mean waking up groggy and finding it harder to concentrate throughout the day. When you stop drinking you might find that your energy levels increase, you’ll be able to go harder at the gym and you’ll feel sharper at work.
You’ll take a big step towards reducing your risk of cancer
Drinking booze increases your risk of at least six different cancers including bowel, liver, mouth and throat. This increased risk is seen with all types of alcohol, even red wine. Quitting alcohol or reducing the amount you drink will go a long way towards cutting your cancer risk.
I encourage everyone thinking about doing Dry July to give it a shot – it’s an awesome way to start making good health changes to your life and contribute to a good cause, and there will always be another opportunity to drink. Head to www.dryjuly.com/register to get involved.
Quit drinking and lose weight // 8 top tips to lose the alcohol bloat
Is alcohol bad for losing weight?
We can all be eating organically, running weekend 10k’s, cooking with coconut oil and choosing avocado on toast over carcinogenic fry-ups. But could all of this be in vain, for the sake of a glass of wine after work, or those Saturday night G&T’s?
One of the questions we are asked most often is ‘if I stop drinking, will I lose weight?’ The answer is alcohol may well be hindering your weight loss goals. With around 150 calories in a glass of white wine or pint of beer, 120 calories in a double spirit, and a whopping 215 in a pint of cider, just one or two drinks could be impacting your weight loss. Drinking three bottles of cold cider on ice over a sunny afternoon was the same as eating three Krispy Crème doughnuts!
So if you are looking to shift a few, reducing or removing alcohol from your diet could be the key to dropping the weight.
Consider the number of calories in popular alcoholic drinks:
- There are usually 220 calories in a large glass of wine
- They can be around 180 calories in a pint of beer
- There are roughly 100 calories in vodka
- There are 65-70 calories in a shot of tequila
- There are around 120 calories in a gin and tonic
In the UK, the average Briton consumes 21 units of booze a week, with a unit being an average of 85 calories. This adds up to an extra 1,750 calories a week. By cutting out alcohol entirely, the average person could limit their calorie intake by 91,000 a year.
So how quickly could you lose weight after you stop drinking?
If as stated above, you are drinking 21 units of alcohol per week, at 85 calories per unit, that means you could be cutting out 1,785 calories each week. That combined with regular exercise for example running for half an hour, burns 270–400 calories per session. If you stop drinking alcohol, and exercise 3 times per week you could expect to lose 1-2 pounds a week.
Alcohol and weight loss
Alcohol has no nutritional value and so solely comprises of ‘empty calories’, research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that when we drink, alcohol is actually used as the bodies primary source of fuel. This means whether we’re running, cross training, doing Pilates or playing tennis, these useless alcoholic calories are used to power our bodies before we ever even touch the energy stores from the carbohydrates (glucose), or fats (lipids) in our food.
These two fuel sources are healthy and essential, but too much of them (say after one too many chocolate bourbons) and these will store as adipose tissue or excess body fat. And if we’re active and moving each day, a bit of indulgence here and there is no problem. But drink more alcohol than we can burn off while wearing our trainers or on the yoga mat, and we’ll never touch the excess bodyweight were carrying around from that Saturday night takeaway whether we go to the gym the next day or not.
OYNB success stories
Colin gave up drinking back in 2013 and it changed his life, ditching the booze, cutting down on takeaways and focusing on his fitness all lead to Colin losing the alcohol bloat.
“In my case, that motivation came from one final week night in the pub on the booze with an empty stomach. I left the pub and craved takeaway pizza (which I duly got) and scoffed the lot. The next day I felt lethargic, tired and bloated. I was disgusted with how I looked. Even under a relatively loose t-shirt, I could see a bloated belly in side profile hanging over my trousers. I hated how I looked.”
“Before, even though I wanted to get trim, I didn’t think I was that bad. I could suck my belly in or hide it with some clever choice of clothing so the desire to really make a change and make a commitment to that change wasn’t there. That day though, seeing myself in the mirror, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. No more excuses, no more denial. I was ready to confront this head on. Once that decision was made, the idea of giving up alcohol and sticking to it was not a difficult one. I wanted a trim body more than I wanted beer or bad food.”
Colin’s top tips on losing the alcohol bloat
Here are are the 8 steps Colin took to get rid of his alcohol bloat, losing weight and feeling great! These top tips can help you to lose the beer belly and puffy face.
- Top Tip #1 – Establish a deep personal motivation, you wont stick to achieving your goal
- Top Tip #2 – Learn to live without alcohol
- Top Tip #3 – Drink plenty of water
- Top Tip #4 – Get into your fitness
- Top Tip #5 – Accept there will be good days and bad days
- Top Tip #6 – Get 7-8 sleep per night
- Top Tip #7 – Plan your meals in advance
- Top Tip #8 – Have a positive attitude
Top Tip #1 – Without a deep personal motivation, you wont stick to achieving your goals
“The first thing I learnt is that its not possible to stick to something you wouldn’t normally do (in my case, stop drinking) if you don’t truly have a reason and therefore the motivation to do it and make that sacrifice.
Top Tip #2 – Learn to live without alcohol
“For years, the idea of going even just a couple of nights without alcohol was just an impossible achievement. Alcohol was too en-grained in my life. Like a lot of people in the UK, its a part of your culture. A ‘good time’ involves going out in a social environment and drinking.”
“For me however, I was having a beer or two every night at home when I got in from work. This was part of my routine and the idea of that routine being broken was very scary, it was a crutch that I needed. However, once I’d found the motivation to lose weight by giving up alcohol, I was able to overcome that fear.”
“Pretty soon, with this motivation underpinning my abstinence, I found it possible to do things I would never have contemplated before. For example, going out for a nice meal and drinking orange juice, or buying a round of drinks for people and ordering a water for myself. It sounds crazy but trust me, once I could see myself losing weight from not drinking and feeling better physically, those kind of decisions became easier. Pretty soon, my routine became no alcohol, that became normal.”
Top Tip #3 – Drink plenty of water
By drinking plenty of water, your body will begin to restore the sodium balance which will help to relieve any bloating and reduce water retention. Water helps to flush out your system which improves daily bodily functions, meaning your body can process what you eat more easily.
“When you drink every day, the lethargic feeling it gives you begins to feel normal to the point where you think that that groggy feeling in the morning is just because its the morning and you aren’t ready to get out of bed. Well, that’s totally wrong, that’s the booze doing that. When I quit drinking, within two days I had so much more energy, getting out of bed in the morning was a lot easier, I felt more positive about the day and even the stress of work was easier to cope with because I felt so much more capable with a fresh, alert and energetic head.
“More energy meant I was able to and wanted to do things like run half marathons. It’s only when you stop drinking for a sustained period of time that you realise what a disabling affect it has on your physical and mental being without you even knowing it because that feeling has become ‘normal’.”
“The alert and energetic feeling I get from staying off the booze is probably the single biggest reason I will continue to drink only infrequently and by that I mean no more than twice a month.”
Top Tip #4 – Get into your fitness
“As I could see the weight dropping off me and my energy levels increasing with each day, I came to embrace the feeling of being fit. I craved it. The more capable I became physically, the more I wanted to do. Being able to wear slim fitting clothes and treat myself to new clothes made me want to get even fitter, get the body I’d always wanted. Not only did I look good but I felt good, I felt confident.
“With more energy, I wanted to exercise more which made me feel good about myself. Once I’d lost the beer belly, I wanted more, I wanted to attain the next step which for me, was getting toned so I signed up for Freeletics which was a 15 week bodyweight training program I could do at home without any need for gym equipment. I guarantee you that when you give up drinking, you will soon crave exercise to burn off those new found energy levels
Top Tip #5 – Accept there will be good days and bad days
“I am the first to admit that I became quite obsessive in my desire to lose weight. I was weighing myself everyday which most people advise against as weight does fluctuate up and down daily of its own accord.”
“There were a couple of occasions where my weight seemed to randomly go up over night, the second time, it stayed up for about three days. This was a crushing, demoralising thing for me, particularly given how religious I was being with my diet, exercise and alcohol abstinence. My initial feeling was to go out and get a pizza and some beer but once I was able to rationalise it, I was able to use the knock back to knuckle down and try even harder. These setbacks motivated me. As long as you keep up what you are doing, the fluctuations will be just that, fluctuations, your long term weight will continue to fall.”
“There were also a couple of times (in December) when I had takeaway pizza after a night drinking (after my initial alcohol abstinence was over) where the next day I was livid with myself. I couldn’t get the guilt out of my head and it dominated conversation with my girlfriend. This is not a good thing and is a sign of how obsessed I got.”
“This was compounded when I got on the scales the next day and could clearly see the effect it had had. The one thing I did learn from these occasions is that most of what you put on the next day from 1 night of indulgence does seem to disappear over the next three or so days. I suppose if you knock back a load of beer and pizza the night before, a lot of that will physically still be sitting in the bottom of your belly the next day. Weigh yourself three days after the night out and you’ll probably find your weight hasn’t taken too much of a dent at all (from my experience anyway).”
Top Tip #6 – Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night
Getting a good nights sleep requires a combination of factors aligning in your favour, but there are things you can do to ensure you get a good nights sleep.
- Avoid blue lights for 1-2 hours before bed, try reading instead.
- Eat high potassium foods as your late night snacks, for example nuts or bananas.
- Establish a routine, go to bed and get up in the morning at the same time each day.
- Drink ginger tea before bed, no caffeine!
Top Tip #7 – Plan your meals in advance
“You’ve just consumed a load of additional calories through the alcohol you’ve consumed. The beer has lead to a craving for fatty food such as pizza, chips, Kebab or curry (so even more calories than normal consumed). You’ve eaten the fatty food late and night than gone to bed meaning you aren’t being active and naturally working it all off. The body is choosing to store this highly fatty food as fat as it need to prioritise getting the alcohol out of the body.”
“Also, the next day, you are tired so you have no energy for the gym and you crave a bacon sandwich meaning all of the above is compounded further. Ouch!”
“So in my case, removing alcohol from the equation also removed all of the above weight causing contributors.”
“For me, I never used to have any food in the house. What tended to happen was I would wait until I was hungry and then decide it was time to cook. Because there was nothing in, I would have to go the corner shop (limited choice, lots of convenience foods) meaning I was choosing what I wanted to eat whilst being hungry – This is not a good place to be because when you are hungry, you are drawn to the ‘quick fix’ or ‘gratification’ foods which for me was pasta with cheese or a ready meal.”
“I quickly learnt that to eat well, I needed to plan in advance and know what I was going to be eating on any given day the day before. I picked 4 or 5 meals from a low fat cookbook that I actually found tasty and ensured that I had a weeks worth of those ingredients in so I was never in a position where I had to go to the corner shop hungry and pick my meal there.”
“So for example, I ate a lot of salmon and chicken. This I could buy lots of and then store in the freezer frozen until I needed it. Always having the right food in the house in advance of when I needed it meant that every night, my diet choice was good.”
“They say that losing weight is 80% diet and 20% exercise. I never believed this and over the years, have always tried to lose weight from hardcore exercise. However, it was only when I gave up booze that I really understood that the 80/20 thing is true. Dominos Texas BBQ, mmm so good! It’s ok to eat this sort of thing every once in a while, but if you do, don’t do it when you’ve been drinking alcohol as the negative effect it will have on your waistline is massively amplified.”
“When I drunk alcohol, my diet choice was bad. A night out would end with some sort of take away food and I’d eat loads of it. In addition to this, I’d go to bed soon after meaning that the food wasn’t being worked off.”
“Finally, alcohol is a toxin. Your body prioritises its removal from your system at the expense of digesting the food you’ve eaten meaning a take away pizza eaten after a night on the beers is put on the ‘back burner’ by your body and is stored as fat whilst your body works on processing the alcohol out.”
Top Tip #8 – Have a positive attitude
“Lessons 1 – 7 have meant that my attitude to alcohol has completely changed. I no longer need it and most of the time, no longer want it either. The short term ‘fun’ it brings is negligible in comparison to the drawbacks.”
“I enjoy feeling fit, I enjoy wearing nice slim fitting clothes and I enjoy getting so much more done with my day than I used to. Because of all of that, alcohol just isn’t the crutch it used to be for me.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I still like beer. I don’t think that will ever go. And there are time’s when I do want one. Because of that, I won’t give up alcohol forever. I will however severely moderate my consumption of it and limit it to just once or twice a month when I can really savour it and enjoy the social occasion that it comes with.”
“Moderating it in this way will still allow me to feel fresh and alert 95% of the time and keep my physique in check (I hope).”
I fell off the wagon!
“Having quit booze for three months and discovering all the positive effects that came from it, I decided that although I would not give up drinking completely, I would limit it going forwards to once a week max, but often go longer.”
“Initially this worked well and I had a good balance. However, a change in working circumstances ramped up the stress levels and I began to find the booze creeping back into my life on a more regular basis.”
“After two or three months, drinking had become as regular as it used to be and for the same (wrong) reasons – To relax, cope with stress etc. With that, all of the negatives have returned – No time or motivation to exercise, a negative, pessimistic view on life – Things became impossible hurdles rather than exciting challenges to overcome. With even just a low amount of alcohol rattling around my system from the night before, confidence wained, self-esteem plummeted and life just became ‘harder’.”
“Everything I learned and wrote about in my 8 Lessons learnt from giving up alcohol post had been forgotten and I have found myself back in the relentless cycle of hangovers and low productivity.”
“People have told me its all about moderation but I know from first hand experience that I am happier when I don’t drink. However, the fear of having no social outlet and being seen as anti-social has always sucked me back in.”
“However, I don’t see that as an excuse anymore, I know what is best for me and what is best for me is no alcohol. I function better, am happier, fitter and more positive.”
“So, having recognised that I am back on the slippery slope to somewhere I don’t want to be and knowing that I am happier without alcohol, this time, I have decided to challenge myself by going even longer and that’s how I found oneyearnobeer.com.”
“Whereas before, not drinking was a temporary measure, this time, I want it to be permanent. I know most people I know wont get that – They will tell me its just moderation and try and get me to come out and that’s why I want to do this through oneyearnobeer.com – It is so refreshing and exciting to learn and realise that there are like minded people out there who feel exactly the same way I do. It’s great to read everyone’s stories and give each other encouragement and know that there isn’t something wrong with me. No, its just that I am making a decision that will benefit my well being.”
“Good luck to you all!”
Take the Challenge!
The conclusion from the most recent such studies: While heavy drinkers risked gaining weight, “light to moderate alcohol intake is not associated with weight gain or changes in waist circumference.”
The studies Dr. Chaput ranked as “most reliable” and “providing the strongest evidence” were controlled experiments in which people were randomly assigned to consume given amounts of alcohol under monitored conditions. One such study found that drinking two glasses of red wine with dinner daily for six weeks did not result in weight gain or a greater percentage of body fat in 14 men, when compared with the same diet and exercise regimen without alcohol. A similar study among 20 overweight, sedentary women found no meaningful change in weight after 10 weeks of consuming a glass of wine five times a week.
However, the experimental studies were small and the “intervention periods” were short. Dr. Chaput noted that even a very small weight gain over the course of 10 weeks can add up to a lot of extra pounds in five years unless there is a compensating reduction in food intake or increase in physical activity.
Unlike protein, fats and carbohydrates, alcohol is a toxic substance that is not stored in the body. Alcohol calories are used for fuel, thus decreasing the body’s use of other sources of calories. That means people who drink must eat less or exercise more to maintain their weight.
Dr. Chaput said he is able to keep from gaining weight and body fat despite consuming “about 15 drinks a week” by eating a healthy diet, exercising daily and monitoring his weight regularly.
Big differences in drinking patterns between men and women influence the findings of alcohol’s effects on weight, he said. “Men are more likely to binge drink and to drink beer and spirits, whereas women mostly drink wine and are more likely than men to compensate for extra calories consumed as alcohol.”
Genetics are also a factor, Dr. Chaput said, suggesting that alcohol can be more of a problem among people genetically prone to excessive weight gain. “People who are overweight to begin with are more likely to gain weight if they increase their alcohol intake,” he said.
Here’s What Can Happen to Your Body When You Cut Out Alcohol
The latest New Year’s trend has nothing to do with alcohol—literally. For millions of people, January 1 marks the first day of not just a new year, but a “dry” January, or month-long break with booze. Started by the UK’s Alcohol Concern organization in 2013, the movement’s main goal is to help people “reset their relationship with alcohol.” But what happens to your body when you become a temporary teetotaler?
“Nothing bad,” Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, a hepatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, tells Health. “ is only going to be beneficial.” (One caveat: heavy drinkers should only quit with medical assistance, since they can experience a life-threatening form of withdrawal.)
Thirty-one days of sobriety might even help you cut back long-term: A 2016 study published in Health Psychology found that six months after the end of Dry January, people who had participated in the movement (even those who didn’t abstain for the entire month) reported having fewer drinks per day, drinking fewer days a week, and getting drunk less often.
RELATED: Casual Alcohol Use Has Been Linked to Several Major Cancers—So Where’s the Campaign?
In general less booze is a good thing: “The effects of alcohol are cumulative,” says Dr. Wakim-Fleming (who was not involved in the study). “If people drink one glass a day starting in their teens, they may be fine after 10 or 20 years—but after 40 or 50 years, they might start to experience liver problems.”
And while it’s true that moderate drinking (that’s one drink a day for women, two for men) might improve your heart health, research suggests not everyone may experience these benefits. What’s more, our relationship with alcohol may not be as healthy as we’d like to think. Case in point: According to recent government statistics, about 1 in 4 Americans over 18 said that they had binged at least once in the past month.
Inspired to give Dry January a go? Here’s what you can expect during your month off the sauce.
RELATED: The Reason Why Women Are Drinking More Than They Ever Have
You may lose weight
It’s no secret that alcohol is loaded with calories. At 7 calories per gram, a standard glass of wine (5 ounces) can contain about 130 calories, and a serving of beer (12 ounces) nearly 330 calories. And there’s some evidence that the boozing catches up with us: A 2017 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who binged on alcohol at least once a month over the course of one year were 41% more likely to become overweight after a 5-year period. (Bingeing, for women, is more than four glasses of alcohol in one sitting.)
You’ll get deeper sleep
It’s true that a nightcap can help you doze off faster, but according to a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, alcohol disrupts the most restorative phase of sleep that occurs later in the night.
You could kick a cold faster
Alcohol can suppress your immune system, which might hinder your ability to fight off an illness. Even one night of too much drinking—in this case, drinking until you’re drunk—can interfere with your body’s ability to produce cytokines, or chemicals that help fight off infections, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
RELATED: How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? We Asked an Expert
Your skin might look younger
Alcohol can act as a diuretic, which can increase fluid loss and lead to dehydration, possibly damaging the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Plus, adds Dr. Wakim-Fleming, when people stop drinking, they get more calories from foods; this tends to improve their vitamin intake, which can also make their skin appear healthier. (One small study in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that twins who abstained from alcohol were perceived to be younger than their identical imbibing siblings.)
You’ll get better at resisting peer pressure
The participants in the 2016 Dry January study not only drank less later in the year, they also felt more confident turning down drinks. “Dry January was associated with healthier drinking habits overall,” says Dr. Wakim-Fleming. “Even though they didn’t stop drinking alcohol completely, they were more likely to say no when they didn’t want to drink anymore.”
Cheers to that.
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What Is It?
Published: April, 2019
Alcohol withdrawal is the changes the body goes through when a person suddenly stops drinking after prolonged and heavy alcohol use. Symptoms include trembling (shakes), insomnia, anxiety, and other physical and mental symptoms.
Alcohol has a slowing effect (also called a sedating effect or depressant effect) on the brain. In a heavy, long-term drinker, the brain is almost continually exposed to the depressant effect of alcohol. Over time, the brain adjusts its own chemistry to compensate for the effect of the alcohol. It does this by producing naturally stimulating chemicals (such as serotonin or norepinephrine, which is a relative of adrenaline) in larger quantities than normal.
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Why You Should Quit Drinking for One Month
It’s as good for your outside as it is for your inside. “People always forget the number of calories in alcohol, so if you take a month off, and you usually consume 20 , you’re going to lose weight and fat. It’s a massive reduction in calories,” Ferguson added. And the participants said it also bettered their lives by improving their sleep quality and ability to concentrate at work. (And this is just the beginning of the health benefits of giving up alcohol.)
Kevin Moore, a liver health expert who supervised the experiment, called the results staggering, saying, “What you have is a pretty average group of people who would not consider themselves heavy drinkers, yet stopping drinking for a month altered liver fat, cholesterol, and blood sugar, and helped them lose weight. If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they would be raking it in.”
This news also supports recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to their 2015 report on drinking in the U.S, six Americans die every day from alcohol abuse and it’s a leading killer of people in the prime of their lives. Not to mention the fact that alcohol affects women’s bodies differently from men’s, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Women become intoxicated faster and process alcohol differently. Plus, heavy drinking (that means eight or more drinks per week, according to the CDC) can potentially increase the risk for certain diseases, notably breast cancer and brain disease. And the kicker: Alcohol use disorder and alcohol-related liver disease are increasing in young women. If that’s not enough to make you rethink grabbing drinks after work tonight, we don’t know what is.
Looking for some help on how to pull off a Dry January? Check out these tips from one nightlife writer and other tips from experts on how to stop drinking alcohol so you can stick to your Dry January resolution. (Also try whipping up these 10 Tasty Mocktails for Dry January.)
- By Charlotte Hilton Andersen @CharlotteGFE
For most of us, drinking goes hand in hand with socializing. Whether we’re at an after-work happy hour, a wedding, or a birthday party, alcohol is usually involved. But what if that marg (or three) is the reason you can’t shed those last few pounds? As it turns out, alcohol and weight loss do go hand in hand.
© woman gesturing no with hand over wine glass
We asked a nutritionist about the connection between alcohol and weight control, plus how you can hit the bar and still reach your health goals. And for more inspiration, be sure to check out these 200 Best Weight Loss Tips.
Does the body treat calories from alcohol the same as calories from food?
Actually, no. Because the body recognizes alcohol as a toxin, it pauses its metabolism of other foods and instead focuses on getting the alcohol out of our system stat. The result? The liver has to work extra hard, and calories from the nachos that you ate with your beer are more likely to get stored as fat instead of burned for fuel. Womp womp.
How many calories are in alcohol?
Alcohol is the second most caloric macronutrient, says Sydney Greene, RD, a New York City-based nutritionist. One gram of alcohol contains 7 calories (for reference, one gram of fat contains 9 calories, while proteins and carbs contain 4 calories per gram). “Alcohol also contains zero nutrition for our body, so 100 calories from alcohol is not the same as 100 calories from broccoli,” says Greene. “We can burn the broccoli for fuel and utilize it for hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body; alcohol not so much.”
So essentially, one 5-ounce glass of wine contains about 120 calories, while the average 12-ounce beer serves up around 150 calories. Mixed drinks can contain anywhere from 100 calories (think: a vodka soda) to more than 500 calories (hi, frozen margs), plus a full day’s worth of sugar.
Does drinking always lead to weight gain?
Binge drinking—aka drinking five or more drinks in one sitting—and heavy drinking (more than four drinks per day for men and more than three drinks per day for women) have both been linked to a greater risk of obesity. Even drinking in moderation may be associated with a higher percentage of body fat, per a 2015 review published in the journal Current Obesity Reports.
Higher intakes of alcohol are also associated with increased risks of chronic diseases, including fatty liver disease, heart disease, ulcers, and type 2 diabetes, says Greene. Current guidelines recommend no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men to keep risk factors in check. And no, that’s not the same as staying dry during the work week and having five drinks on Saturday night (sorry).
RELATED:Your guide to the anti-inflammatory diet that heals your gut, slows the signs of aging, and helps you lose weight.
How else might alcohol influence my weight?
Alcohol dehydrates you—and that can have a serious impact on your diet.
“The combination of alcohol’s diuretic properties and the lack of water consumed during drinking episodes is the perfect storm for dehydration,” says Greene. “When someone is dehydrated, they will likely feel more fatigued, which can lead to increased consumption of high-sugar and high-carbohydrate foods for a pick-me-up.” What’s more is that it’s easy to confuse dehydration and hunger, so plenty of people reach for food instead of fluids after a night out.
Contrary to popular belief, those late-night fries you suddenly start craving won’t help your hangover (or your waistline).
“There is zero scientific evidence to support greasy Thai food or McDonald’s cheeseburgers ,” Greene tells us. “If anything, opt for eggs the next morning, as they contain the amino acid cysteine, which breaks down acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol.”
Drinking can also mess with our sleep schedules and mood, both of which have profound effects on food choices.
“The body’s efforts to metabolize alcohol throughout the night affects our ability to enter a REM state, leading to an overall poorer night’s sleep,” says Greene. “Studies show that even a one-hour reduction in sleep can increase our calorie consumption in a day by about 500 calories.”
Because alcohol is a depressant, it can also alter your mood not only while you’re at the bar, but also for 6-48 hours after drinks, says Greene. “It’s common to feel anxious, sad, overwhelmed, or alone after drinking episodes, and for some, this ignites a desire to eat as a way to cope.”
I’m not ready to ban booze entirely, but do want to shed a few pounds. How much—and what—should I drink?
Well, that all depends on how much you currently drink. “I recommend anywhere from 6-10 drinks per week, with 4 drinks per week being the ultimate goal,” says Greene. “Treat fruity or creamy cocktails as desserts and keep beer to a minimum, about two per week.”
Opt for clear liquors and order them on the rocks with lime. If you’re adding a mixer, choose soda water over tonic water. “Most people aren’t aware that tonic water can contain the same amount of sugar as a can of soda,” says Greene.
Also smart: stick to a 1:1 ratio of alcohol to water, meaning you won’t order another glass of wine until you finish a glass of water. You’ll thank us in the morning. If you’re in need of some more hangover-helping foods, we have 23 of the best things you can eat to combat those cravings!
Gallery: What happens to your body when you give up alcohol
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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. And then maybe take a peek at these 40 Drinks You Should Never Drink After 40 to see what else you can give up to improve your health.
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1. 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 where you end up indulging in some of the 100 Foods So Unhealthy They’re Evil.
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2. 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! To sleep better, consider ditching The 17 Foods That Sabotage Your Sleep.
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3. 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! To improve your health even more, ditch booze and then cut out the 21 Foods to Toss Out of Your Kitchen For Good.
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4. 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.
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5. 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. So, too, do the 25 Foods That Make You Hungrier.
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6. 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.
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7. 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. Just like these 40 Best-Ever Fat-Burning Foods.
RELATED: Learn how to fire up your metabolism and lose weight the smart way.
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8. 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.
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9. 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. Did you know that alcohol is one of the 20 Foods That Age You 20 Years?
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10. 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.
Read more: 30 Worst Foods For Your Heart
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11. 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.
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12. 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.
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13. 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.
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14. 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.
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15. 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! That’s also why we encourage you to lay off these meat-heavy #1 Worst Menu Option at 76 Popular Restaurants.
This weekend at the Emmys, we did a double take when 47-year-old Zach Galifianakis hit the red carpet. The Hangover actor showed up with a slim face and physique, squashing his “funny fat guy” persona. While he has yet to publicly confirm how much weight he’s dropped, the ongoing transformation has been evident.
So, how’d he do it? As Cosmopolitan points out, Galifiankis was already dropping pounds back in 2013. After Conan O’Brien nudged him to reveal his secret during an interview on his show, Galifiankis revealed that cutting out booze played a huge role in his weight loss. “I stopped drinking and I just, kind of, put the weight off,” he said. “I was having a lot of vodka with sausage. Delicious, but bad for you.”
He’s not the only one to credit the diet change to his weight loss success. Celebrities like Jonah Hill and Ed Sheeran say drinking fewer beers helped them drop pounds, too.
But is it really that simple?
Well, it certainly can help: Booze is loaded with empty calories—an average 12-ounce can packs in roughly 150 calories.
So say you drink two beers a day, the recommended limit for men. That’s an extra 300 calories a day, or 2,100 calories a week—the equivalent of nearly a whole extra day’s worth of eating.
What’s more, a lot of guys don’t stick to that limit. In reality, about 23 percent of adult men report binge drinking five times a month, downing eight drinks per binge, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If we’re still talking beer, that’s pounding an extra 1,200 calories each go, or an extra 6,000 calories per month.
Food Swap: Light Beer:
Then you need to look at how booze affects your body beyond the calories from the alcohol alone. Where there’s booze, there tends to be junk food, too. “Some folks have a pronounced hunger response to alcohol consumption, and getting the munchies in a state of inebriation can be a bad thing when your judgment is on the far side of hazy,” says Men’s Health nutrition advisor Alan Aragon. So not only are you taking in the extra calories from the booze, but you’re also packing in even more from the junk you’re downing with it.(Here’s the science behind why you eat when you’re drunk.)
Plus, research suggests that booze screws with your sleep, and that can be bad news for your waistline. People who average only 3 to 5.5 hours of sleep eat an extra 385 calories the next day compared to people who clock in 7 to 12 hours, according to U.K. research.
Going heavy on the drinks can also zap your metabolism. That’s because your body treats alcohol like a toxin, so it works extra hard to get it out of your system, Angelo Tremblay, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Laval University in Quebec explained to us in the past. The result? Your body stops burning your stored carbs and devotes its resources to burning off the alcohol instead.
Of course, if you only drink a couple beers on special occasions, or just imbibe sporadically, cutting the alochol isn’t going to have the same effect it would if you drank more frequently. But if you do booze it up on the regular? Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink is certainly an effective way to drop some pounds, especially if you’re just starting to tweak your diet—it’s one of the simplest ways to strip unnecessary calories.
Even if you don’t want to cut booze out for good, whittling down your imbibing to one to two drinks per day max won’t completely derail your progress if you’re making generally healthy eating choices otherwise, says Aragon.
But that won’t always be enough to sustain your weight loss on its own, especially if you hit a weight loss plateau. Galifiankis came back to Conan in 2016, and admitted that booze wasn’t the only thing he eliminated from his diet. “I tend not to eat food advertised on television,” he says. “Fast food you can’t do. You have to eat whole grains, and that kind of stuff. And you have to cut out whipped cream pizzas.”
Pair it with a intense workout program, like Anarchy Abs from Men’s Health, and the pounds will melt right off.
Additional reporting by Page Greenfield and Ben Court
Alisa Hrustic Senior Editor, Prevention.com Alisa Hrustic has spent her entire career interviewing top medical experts, interpreting peer-reviewed studies, and reporting on health, nutrition, weight loss, and fitness trends for outlets like Women’s Health and Men’s Health, where she both interned and worked full-time.Weight loss stop drinking