We’ve heard it called sober October, dry January, and no-fun February. Whatever you call it, a month without alcohol is fantastic for your health. For Alcohol Awareness Month, let’s look at 7 great reasons to switch mocktails for cocktails, at least for a while.
How a Month without Alcohol Improves Your Health
Drinking too much, over time or in one sitting, can harm the body in several ways. So, it’s not surprising that refraining can have multiple benefits for your body.
With the understanding that “moderate drinking” is defined as one drink a day for women or two for men, according to the National Institutes of Health, let’s look at the ways a dry month benefits your health.
Stronger Immune System
Drinking more than moderately, whether chronically or on one occasion, can weaken the body’s ability to fight off infections up to 24 hours after, making you more susceptible to colds, viruses and pneumonia. When you stop drinking, the immune system starts improving within days and continues to get stronger the longer you abstain from alcohol. No more catching every cold going around!
Improved Memory, Mood and Cognitive Function
Because alcohol disrupts the brain’s communication pathways, changes brain chemistry and can kill brain cells, drinking affects your mood, behaviors, memory, and cognitive function. You’ll likely notice that your thinking is clearer and memory sharper after a few days without alcohol. Since alcohol is a depressant linked to anxiety, quitting typically improves your mood as well. Although brain cells damaged by heavy drinking cannot be repaired, research shows that new brain cells can grow in the absence of alcohol.
Healthier Liver Function
Overconsumption of alcohol even for a few days can cause a buildup of fats in the liver. A fatty liver can cause stomach pain, nausea, drowsiness, jaundice, and weight loss. Without alcohol to filter, the liver can do its remarkable job of removing toxins from the body and metabolizing fats and excess hormones. You’ll naturally feel better with a healthy liver! Plus, much liver damage from alcohol is reversible, including fatty liver disease and alcoholic hepatitis.
Cancer Risks Decline
Alcohol is considered a carcinogen by the US Department of Health and Human Services because the more a person drinks over time, the higher their risk of developing cancer – especially head and neck cancers, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. Almost 4% of cancer worldwide is alcohol related. Alcohol can trigger inflammation throughout the body, which increases cancer risk. Abstaining from alcohol allows inflammation to subside, dropping cancer risks.
Risks of Cardiovascular Disease Drop
While you drink, your heart rate and blood pressure can rise. Binge drinkers and even light drinkers may notice heart palpitations caused by alcohol. Over time, heavy drinking (above moderate described above) can lead to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy, stroke, and heart failure. A month free of alcohol helps the heart muscle get stronger and beat regularly. Your blood pressure and triglycerides (fats in your bloodstream) may also drop.
Alcohol may help you fall asleep quickly (even when you don’t want to) but it disrupts your sleep cycles and thwarts the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stages. It’s linked to insomnia and sleep apnea, which both cause daytime sleepiness. Even low and moderate amounts of alcohol decreases sleep quality, according to the Sleep Foundation. Poor sleep can make you irritable, stressed, less attentive, and slow to react. Plus, poor sleep also negatively affects your immune and cardiovascular system. When you replace alcohol with good sleep hygiene to get the 7-9 hours of restful sleep that your body needs, your thinking, mood, and reflexes improve.
Better Understanding and Control of Drinking Habits
After a month of not drinking for a UK study, participants said they better understand when and why they drink 80% and feel more in control of their drinking habits. A majority said they realize they don’t need to drink to have fun. Plus, they reported better overall health, energy, sleep, concentration, and complexions. Over half of these participants also lost weight.
These are great reasons to take an alcohol break. If you’re curious how alcohol affects your health and wellbeing, try a month without it to see how you feel. The changes may surprise you!
Please note, if you’re a chronic heavy drinker, do not quit cold turkey without help. Alcohol withdrawal can be painful and fatal. A medical provider can help you stop drinking safely and help you find support for lasting sobriety.