What are the benefits of giving up alcohol for a month?
Alcohol is known to be detrimental to your health and drinking too much – even on one occasion – can negatively affect your heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and pancreas and can cause your immune system to be weaker than usual for up to 24 hours after you have stopped drinking, making you more susceptible to illness (1).
Whether it’s for a New Year’s resolution, dry January, or sober October, there is never a bad time to give up alcohol – even temporarily.
Giving up alcohol will produce a range of health benefits from early on in your journey, and a full month without any alcohol intake will be beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing.
Some of the main health benefits to giving up alcohol for a month are:
Drinking alcohol in the evenings may help you to fall asleep faster than you would if you hadn’t had a drink in the evening, which is obviously a very attractive quality of alcohol for people who suffer from sleep disturbances. However, research has shown that alcohol often makes you fall straight into a deep sleep, meaning you miss the first stages of sleep that are important in making you feel well-rested (2).
Missing these vital sleeping stages not only make you feel tired and groggy the next day, but also typically make you wake up earlier, so you are not getting the same quality or quantity of rest that your body needs.
Restful sleep will help you feel more productive, can help improve your mood and is beneficial to your overall health.
Have you ever noticed that you tend to pee more when you consume alcohol? That’s because alcohol is a diuretic.
That means that it inhibits the hormone that regulates water excretion, so the water that would ordinarily be absorbed into your body is instead flushed out through the bladder – meaning that you end up peeing out a large quantity of water that should be absorbed. This causes you to become dehydrated.
Dehydration can cause headaches and dry mouth, as well as affecting your physical performance, cognitive abilities, liver and kidney function and your gastrointestinal functions (3).
Replacing your alcoholic beverage with a glass of water for a month will keep you better hydrated and keep your organs functioning correctly.
Alcohol contains empty calories – this means that every alcoholic drink adds to your daily caloric intake but does not contain any nutrients. Studies have shown that heavy drinking and binge drinking are contributing factors to weight gain (4).
A standard glass of wine contains approximately 158 calories, while a pint of beer can contain around 222 calories. Spirits typically contain around 50 calories, but the calories will increase when a mixer is added (5). Beer, wine and cider also contain a lot of sugar which contributes to weight gain.
Cutting out alcohol for a month means that you won’t be consuming these empty calories anymore and if you are a heavy drinker or a binge drinker, the chances are that you will see a reduction in weight.
Healthier blood pressure
Being overweight, not exercising enough, and regularly consuming alcohol, are contributing factors in high blood pressure, or hypertension. This is one of the leading causes of heart disease.
High blood pressure can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, palpitations, and chest pain with around half of heart attacks and strokes being caused by high blood pressure (6). Studies have shown that heavy drinking and binge drinking contribute to high blood pressure and reducing alcohol intake can bring your blood pressure back to normal levels (7).
Even if you have hypertension, you might not have any symptoms. Cutting out alcohol for a month will help to bring your blood pressure to normal levels and reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke.
More radiant skin
Dehydration caused by consuming too much alcohol can cause dry, flaky skin and breakouts. It can also make the dark circles under your eyes appear darker – making you look more tired. Alcohol also causes your blood vessels to expand which can make your face become red and blotchy and studies have shown that there is a link between heavy drinking and rosacea (8).
Alcohol also lowers your skin’s natural defences against free-radical damage, causing oxidative stress to the skin. This can impact the skin’s ability to produce collagen and can result in a more wrinkled appearance, dark spots, fine lines, sagginess, and blemishes.
Replacing your Friday night glass of pinot grigio for a glass of water will help keep your skin glowing and healthy.
Improved cognitive function and better memory
Cognitive function refers to your ability to learn, remember, reason, solve problems and pay attention. Impairments with cognitive function have long been linked to alcohol use.
The most obvious cognitive impairments linked to alcohol are slurred speech, balance issues and blurred vision, and while these disappear once you have sobered up, long-term cognitive effects can also be caused by heavy drinking or binge drinking alcohol.
Studies have shown that even after abstaining from alcohol for a long time, recovering alcoholics suffer from short-term memory loss and issues with problem-solving (9). Memories that occurred before the onset of heavy drinking remained, but new memories did not remain.
Abstaining from alcohol will improve your cognitive functions not just on the occasion that you chose not to drink, but also in the long run.
Better vitamin absorption
Alcohol causes nutrient deficiencies by impairing your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and vitamins. Studies have shown many alcoholics to be deficient in vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B vitamins (10). These vitamins help the body recover from injury and prevent excessive bleeding if you become wounded.
Giving up alcohol, even just for a month, will mean that your body has an entire month to absorb all the good vitamins and nutrients from your food.
Reduced-fat in liver
Alcohol needs to be broken down in the liver in order to be removed from the body. This filtration process can cause some of your liver cells to die, and it needs time to recover and rebuild before it needs to begin breaking down more alcohol. If you consistently and regularly drink alcohol, your liver won’t have time to build new cells, this leads to a build-up of fat in the liver and can lead to Alcohol-Related Liver Disease, or ARLD.
Cutting out alcohol for a month will give your liver time to recover and rebuild new cells and can completely reverse the early stages of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease (11).
Improved sex life
It’s true that alcohol can lower your inhibitions and make you feel a little more adventurous in the bedroom. However, while you may have good intentions, you will likely find that you cannot perform quite so well when you are under the influence of alcohol.
Research has also shown that there is a link between drinking heavily and becoming involved in sex-related situations that could be dangerous – especially for women (12).
Staying sober not only gives you better control of your situation but also means that you will have better overall sexual enjoyment.
Boosted immune system
Alcohol disrupts the immune system and can make you more prone to illnesses and infections and can also slow the recovery from certain illnesses.
Several studies show that alcohol can suppress the immune system, even in those that do not consider themselves to be heavy drinkers. Research shows that even in binge drinkers, recovery from things such as burns and brain injury is much slower. Heavy drinking or binge drinking is also associated with higher rates of pneumonia and pulmonary diseases such as tuberculosis (13).
Staying away from alcohol can help your immune system fight off infections and aid in the recovery process of any illnesses or wounds.
Reduced risk of cancer
Alcohol is a known carcinogen and can increase your risk of developing cancer. This happens because our bodies turn alcohol into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which can cause cancerous cells to grow.
Alcohol also alters the cells in your mouth which can cause harmful chemicals from the alcohol to be absorbed – leading to throat and mouth cancers.
Fluctuating hormone levels brought on by alcohol use can also cause your cells to divide at a much faster rate, increasing your risk of developing cancer (14).
You can never be 100% certain that you won’t develop cancer but cutting down on your alcohol intake will massively reduce your chances.
Many people associate drinking alcohol with socialising and having a good time, so it can be surprising to learn that it is actually a depressant.
This does not mean that it makes you depressed, but the slurred speech and unsteadiness associated with being drunk are actually caused by alcohol depressing the central nervous system.
The good feeling you get when you first start drinking alcohol is because it boosts serotonin levels. Serotonin is the hormone responsible for a balanced mood and an overall sense of well-being. However, prolonged and heavy alcohol consumption actually reduces the amount of serotonin produced by your brain and is linked to long-term mental health disorders such as depression (15).
Overall, giving up alcohol – be it permanently or temporarily – is good for many different aspects of your life, your mental health and your general well-being.