Most of us know that drinking alcohol in excess puts us at risk of a long list of serious health problems besides wrapping our car around a telephone pole. As a reminder, here’s a checklist of just some of them: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, diabetes, digestive problems, and cancers of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, bladder, colon and rectum. Alcohol weakens the immune system, increasing the chances of getting a cold and worse. Oh, and let’s not forget poor school and work performance and learning and memory disorders, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sorry if we’re bumming you out, but a discussion about alcohol is important if you are concerned about extending your healthspan. Drinking in excess is a growing problem because the opportunity to drink is everywhere. Alcohol consumption has become acceptable. In the United States, about 70% of people over 18 report drinking within the last year, and 54.9% say they drank within the last month. In the United Kingdom, 58% of people 18 and up report drinking at least one time per week. We use alcohol to celebrate momentous occasions or just because it’s Thirsty Thursday.
Maybe you thought you drank too much during the holidays and decided to take part in that popular campaign called Dry January, which challenges people to give up alcohol for the first month of the year. Maybe you’re considering continuing the “detox” into February, March and beyond. Good for you. Rumer Willis, the eldest daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, did just that – and celebrated six years sober earlier this year. And she’s not alone – celebrities including Bradley Cooper, Blake Lively, Jade Pinkett-Smith and Jack Osborne are all proud members of the booze-free club.
If not, and if fear of too much booze taking a toll on your health doesn’t motivate you to stop or even dial back your drinking habits, maybe these potential positive impacts will.
7 Surprising Benefits of Stopping Drinking
1. You’ll Have More Energy
A British study in 2018 found that 93% of 800 people who took part in Dry January experienced a sense of accomplishment. Researchers also discovered that 71% of participants reported sleeping better and 67% said they had more energy. This makes sense since alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle, causing disruptive sleep, fatigue, and brain fog.
2. You Will Lose Weight
Alcohol is often linked to weight gain for a variety of reasons – in fact, one study shows that heavy drinking comes with a shocking 70% chance of obesity. Alcohol is high in calories but has no nutritional content. It can trigger overeating and impair your decision making, so you’re likely to reach for greasy or salty foods when drinking. Alcohol also slows your metabolism. Your body prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol, which it considers a poison, over burning fat.
3. Your Wallet Will Get Fatter
Alcohol isn’t cheap. For example, a mid-tier bottle of wine at the grocery store costs $10 to $15 and provides four servings. If you go through a bottle a week, that’s at least $520 a year. If you imbibe at restaurants and bars, you’ll likely save much more by sticking to water due to the large markup on alcoholic beverages. Rack up those savings over the year, and reward yourself with something that doesn’t give you a hangover.
4. Your Brain Will Work Better
As you’ve likely experienced, alcohol can impair your decision-making and ability to focus. However, it can also have long-term effects on memory and concentration when used in excess, with one study stating that “excessive alcohol use over the lifespan can increase the risk for alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) and cognitive decline – including an increased risk for the development of dementia.” Scary stuff. The good news is, when you stop drinking for an extended period, the brain can recover and cognitive functioning improves. Another reason to stay dry as the year goes on.
5. You’ll Feel Happier
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of eliminating alcohol is the way it can impact your mindset. As we’ve discussed, alcohol easily becomes part of daily life – often to the point where you feel dependent on it. Abstaining for a month or more helps you to relearn how to celebrate or wind down without alcohol. You find alternatives, realize you don’t need it, and this helps you gain more control when around alcohol. Women in particular are said to feel better after kicking alcohol to the curb.
6. You May Drink Less Over Time
Although Dry January might seem like a gimmick, choosing to abstain from alcohol for a month any time of year could have long-lasting positive effects even if you end up drinking again. Studies show that six months after completing Dry January, people report drinking on fewer days of the week. Plus, when they do drink, they drink less than they used to.
7. You’ll Improve Your Overall Health
When you stop drinking, you allow your body to detox and return to normal function. It can take time for your body to recover, especially if you’re a heavy drinker, so these changes may be subtle. Still, when you consider all of the negative impacts of drinking alcohol, it stands to reason that eliminating alcohol will likely improve your overall health. In early 2023, The World Heatlh Organization stated in The Lancet Public Health that there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption that does not affect health. “It doesn’t matter how much you drink – the risk to the drinker’s health starts from the first drop of any alcoholic beverage,” said Dr. Carina Ferreira-Borges in a WHO press release. “The only thing we can say for sure is that the more you drink, the more harmful it is – or, in other words, the less you drink, the safer it is.” Moderation is key.
Booze Clues: Tips for Cutting Back
- At a party, drink a tall glass of water after every beer, wine or cocktail. That will rehydrate you (alcohol is very dehydrating) and slow down the amount of alcohol you consume.
- Find non-alcoholic drinks you enjoy that you can have on hand for when you’re craving alcohol or in situations in which you’d normally drink.
- Challenge a friend to join you in a month (or longer) of abstaining from alcohol. There’s strength in numbers.
- Avoid situations where you might normally feel tempted to drink.
- Try using an app, like Try Dry or I Am Sober
- Remove temptation from your home. Out of sight, out of mouth!
- Keep a journal to track your progress and reinforce your efforts.