Here are a few reasons why it’s worth cutting out the booze, even for a while, and some strategies to try if you’re choosing not to drink
The new year is in full swing! Many of us are probably working on our health goals and riding that “new year, new me” energy. And maybe you’ve heard of Dry January or are trying it right now. After the excesses of the holiday season, it is a popular trend that many people try to kickstart their health. The challenge is to abstain from any alcohol for the whole 31 days. The supposed benefits range from improving overall health and giving your body a break (alcohol is a toxin after all!), to resetting drinking habits and cultivating a more mindful relationship with alcohol.
Recently, I’ve noticed a greater awareness of the benefits of reducing alcohol, even though data shows that people are actually drinking more since the start of the pandemic. This makes sense as people might drink to cope with stress and difficult emotions, or deal with boredom. As for the proverbial 1 drink a day for women, 2 drinks a day for men, it seems like research is shifting. The World Health Organization has actually stated that there is no safe amount of alcohol that does not affect health. So you definitely don’t want to drink just for the purported health benefits.
While I don’t recommend the cold-turkey approach with food, here are a few reasons why it’s worth cutting out the booze, even for a while, and some strategies to try if you’re choosing not to drink.
The Benefits of Dry January
More restful sleep and more energy: You might have noticed this one: after a night out, you fall asleep right away, only to wake up a few hours later, or you toss and turn all night and wake up feeling groggy. Alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle, and can cause you to snore or raise your heart rate, so sleep is not as restful. Better sleep can boost your day, not to mention avoiding the hangover recovery is a big plus. Glowy Skin: Alcohol is dehydrating, so your skin might start to look clearer and brighter when you skip the liquor. You might even notice fewer fine lines or wrinkles as the toxins from alcohol damage your cells and can speed up skin aging.
Better Mood: It is widely known that alcohol depresses your nervous system, and can cause feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety. You might have experienced the dreaded hangxiety that can even stick around for a few days. This also happens when alcohol interferes with the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, the happy hormone, and can increase cortisol, your stress hormone. Regular drinking also depletes and prevents the absorption of B vitamins, which also have a role in mood regulation. Especially if you imbibe regularly, experimenting with sobriety might show you how good you can feel. Save Money: Those nights out really add up, especially when you’re having multiple drinks a week. Beverages, especially alcoholic ones, are usually very profitable for restaurants and bars. Even if you’re drinking at home, you might find that you save up some money that can be spent in a way that serves you better instead.
Better Relationship With Alcohol: No, you're not meant to start binge drinking again once the month is over! A key part of the Dry January movement is to take a step back and assess your relationship with alcohol. You might learn a little more about why you drink and how it affects you, and make some positive changes.
Healthy Weight Loss: Excessive drinking can lead to unhealthy weight gain in a few ways. Alcohol is calorie dense, especially when you factor in sugary mixers which can be easy to drink a lot of. Alcohol can also stimulate your appetite and mess with your blood sugar. You’re also more likely to eat less nutritious food when your inhibitions are lower, and when there aren’t many healthy options around.
A Healthier Liver: Alcohol is a toxin in the body and is processed by your liver. When you consume alcohol, especially large amounts, you damage some of your cells. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to conditions like fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis where your liver is severely scarred. Reducing your consumption can take the extra load off your liver.
A Healthier Heart: Your heart health can also improve when you cut your alcohol intake long term: alcohol can increase your blood pressure, damaging your arteries and increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Your cholesterol levels can also improve, reducing your risk of heart disease.
Reduce Cancer Risk: Long-term heavy drinking is linked to several types of cancer. The ethanol in alcoholic drinks breaks down to acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen. It can be helpful for your health to decrease your intake now, and the benefits add up over time.
3 Ways to Start Drinking Less:
Be Mindful: Everyone drinks for different reasons, notice what yours are. Write down or type out your triggers or thoughts around choosing to drink, and recognize any patterns. You might find that healthier coping mechanisms, different types of social activities, or a new hobby can do the trick.
Find Alternatives: Try out some mocktails, there's tons of recipes to try if you’re making your own. Sparkling water and a splash of juice or fruit slices can make water more interesting, or some bars can make virgin versions of your favorites. Or you might find that you need alternative activities all together and switch up your environment so you don't miss out on time with friends and family.
Planning and Accountability: Coming in prepared always helps. This might include a goal of how many drinks you’ll stick to per day, or how you’ll say no if offered a beverage. You might even team up with a friend for some extra motivation or accountability. Having a goal tracker can be motivating too so you can see your progress and note positive changes. Some studies show that the benefits of Dry January do last longer than just a month, so it may be a worthwhile venture to take for better health. If going cold turkey is too challenging, you can still improve your health by reducing your intake slowly over time too. Set yourself up for a conscious and empowered approach to drinking this year, and raise a (nonalcoholic) glass to a sober you!
Chella Po, MS, RD is a New York City-trained US registered dietitian who can be found on Instagram as @betterbeing.ph. She uses science to back up her professional advice for clients seeking to create a sustainable, healthy diet without counting calories, restrictive plans, or stress! Contact her for a free discovery call today. Banner photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels