Can You Give Up Booze for 31 Days? The Benefits Are Worth It
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Dry January, otherwise known as a month of abstaining from alcohol, has been picking up steam year over year, with more than one in five Americans participating as of 2019. But why are so many adults so quick to take a break from the hard stuff for a month? Abstaining from alcohol for a full 31 days can have many lasting benefits for moderate drinkers—especially now that so many of us have been spending more time at home or making light of the stress of the pandemic by compensating with a little more booze than we would consume during a less tumultuous year.
“People who choose not to drink for one month are less likely to suffer from alcohol-related health conditions, including high blood pressure, brain cell damage and memory loss, heart and liver disease, and even cancer,” explains Michael Ahearn, Certified Addiction Recovery Coach.
However, keep in mind that while Dry January is loaded with benefits for moderate drinkers, it may not be the best route for everyone. “It’s important to note that Dry January isn’t the right fit for people struggling with alcoholism,” explains Ahearn, “who can experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking without the help of a medical professional.”
With that in mind, we reached out to a handful of health professionals to drill down the biggest benefits of participating in Dry January – and they may just make you pack away your bar cart for the month.
Time to Reevaluate Your Relationship with Alcohol
Have you ever cracked open another beer with the guys just to wonder if you actually enjoy drinking? Alcohol is so ingrained in our culture that, unless you’ve made the choice to be sober, having a beer at the end of the day is pretty much a given … but it doesn’t have to be. “I’ve never been a huge drinker, though I would drink socially, and after having a dry January I just kept it going, even in social situations,” says John Frigo, Digital Marketing Lead at MySupplementStore.Com. “I probably did have a couple of glasses of wine over the course of the year and maybe a beer here or there, but alcohol to me isn’t that enjoyable in the first place.”
“People indulge in way too much of everything during the holiday season. A dry January lets you do a reset,” adds Caroline Madden, Ph.D., and a licensed marriage & family therapist. “You have a month to explore what triggers your drinking (hard day, the kids, socializing with a certain friend group). That benefits you because then you can better plan for your drinking in the future. You are then drinking by choice and not habit.”
Improved Energy and Digestion
“Removing alcohol from your diet for a short period, 30 days or less, could improve your energy and digestion,” explains Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. “In the short term, alcohol has been shown to weaken the immune system, intensify mood swings, prevent restful sleep, and lower energy levels. If you’re already suffering from an energy-sapping digestive condition, like Candida overgrowth, that’s the last thing you need.”
Looking and Feeling More Youthful
“Drinking definitely makes the skin look older, among other elements we face in a more mature body, including hindered digestion, poor sleep, and increased anxiety — not to mention the amount of time you lose being hungover (the average adult spends two years of their lives with a hangover),” explains Hilary Sheinbaum, three-time Dry January participant and author of The Dry Challenge.
Valuable Time to Create a Healthy Morning Routine
Now, especially, as many of us are working from home, it can be easy to have a few too many drinks during the weeknights and pay for it come morning time when you know you don’t have anywhere to be — and your Zoom meetings can always be done without the camera on. However, taking a month off will likely give your bod a boost to get going in the a.m. and help you establish (or re-establish) a healthy morning routine.
“A lot of time and productivity is wasted due to alcohol and effects of excess,” explains High-Performance Life Coach, Roger Southam. “The hours you gain from being fresh from the get-go in the morning are invaluable. You will find an alertness to your day from removing the alcohol.” This way, you’ll have more time to get up, get a workout in, or even just do some reading with a cup of coffee before starting your workday.
Stronger Liver Function
According to Richards, drinking alcohol has been shown to weaken liver function and prevent your liver from operating effectively. Removing alcohol for a short period can allow your liver to undergo a much-needed break, so January may even be a good time to do a detox – especially after all those holiday cocktails.
Greater Self-Reflection and Growth
“Simply put, Dry January will help you level up,” says Dr. Daryl Appleton, LMHC. “You will start to see where you have been putting band-aids on bullet holes and become more aware of the role that alcohol may or may not play in your life.”
According to Dr. Appleton, what you feel and why you feel it, as well as having an understanding of what you are accountable for, will become much more clear when you’re sober and more level-headed at all times of the day. Alcohol will either heighten or dull these emotions but it will now allow a clear mind to fix them in a way that is actually helpful, especially if you’re already interested in personal development.
The stress that the body is under when it needs to process and digest freshly consumed alcohol limits its ability to lend energy to various other bodily processes, including the immune system. This is why people who drink alcohol to excess often become sick more regularly. According to Jamie Bacharach, licensed medical acupuncturist and health expert, Dry January can offer your body the immunity boost it needs, thanks to increased bodily resources, to help fight off viruses and germs.
A Better Night’s Sleep
Those nightcaps might feel like they’re helping you drift into a restful snooze, but they might actually be harming your chances of a good night’s sleep. “While alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, it then disrupts the REM cycle responsible for that restorative sleep that makes you wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested,” explains Richards. “Taking alcohol away for a month can allow you to catch up on restful sleep leading to greater energy.”
“Alcohol consumption leads to increased anxiety and depression due to the loss of neurotransmitters,” says Erik Levi, Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. “As such, giving up alcohol is a huge boost to both physical and mental health.”
If you’ve been feeling more down than usual — which, don’t get us wrong, most of us have been after the unprecedented year we’ve experienced — cutting out booze and giving your body a breather to health and detoxify may help lift the fog and make the winter months a bit easier.
A Little Weight Loss
Aside from the mental benefits, participating in Dry January can make it even easier to reach your physical health and fitness goals, as well, since you will be cutting out a major source of added calories that do not provide any real nutritional benefit to your body. “Simply by cutting out alcohol, depending on how much you drink, you could be cutting hundreds, even thousands of calories out of your diet without having to change anything else!” says Emily Tills, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Coach.
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