Following a global report this year that there is no safe amount of alcohol, more people may be trying to cut back on booze. This month, many people are giving up alcohol for 31 days, in a campaign called Sober for October.
Fiona Sim, a former GP and medical advisor to Drinkaware, told The Evening Standard giving up alcohol for a month can have some noticeable impacts on your health and body.
For instance, your blood pressure might reduce, and your sleep pattern and quality may improve.
“Your liver will be helped too but how much will depend on how much damage has already been done due to alcohol,” she said.
Also, the immediate positive effects may not be obvious for a very heavy drinker, as they may experience withdrawal symptoms like shaking, headaches, and nausea.
“If this is the case, you would probably find it better to cut down more slowly and steadily until you reach the low risk drinking guidelines or stop completely,” Sim said.
When trying Dry January one year, I found it completely messed with my sleeping pattern, despite being told the opposite would happen. Health experts I spoke to told me this could be a sign of withdrawal. Apparently, if your body is used to being put into a relaxed state by alcohol, it may struggle to get to that state for a while without being medicated.
The following year, I found I craved sugary food. Studies have shown sugar may actually be addictive, and the idea I could be making my body dependent on things that are bad for me put my drinking habits into perspective.
Despite the body sometimes taking a while to adjust, Sim said giving up alcohol for a while can be good for your mental health.
Alcohol is a depressant. So although you may feel good when you get the initial buzz, in the long term, it probably won’t make you feel great. Sim said it has also been linked with self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and memory impairment.
“After a heavy drinking session, you may not remember anything about the night before, but with long term drinking, that memory loss can be more serious,” she said.
“When you stop drinking, your risks are reduced but if the damage has already been done to your brain cells, not all the harm can be reversed.”
Any confidence alcohol gives you also probably won’t last long. Alcohol isn’t the aphrodisiac some people think it is, often reducing sensitivity meaning you enjoy sex less, Sim said.
“For both men and women, alcohol can reduce fertility, so particularly if you are both heavy drinkers, it may be more difficult to conceive,” she added.
“As far as relationships are concerned, drinking heavily can lead to bad mood swings and aggression, an important catalyst for domestic violence. So all in all, going sober has a lot to commend it in the realms of significant relationships.”
Other benefits of going sober for a while include better skin, decreased risk of obesity and certain cancers, fewer migraines, and the fact you can save money (potentially).
There’s also something to be said about waking up after seeing friends, and not worrying about anything that was said or done the night before.
When we drink heavily our brains miss out on the part of sleep that helps us process guilt — called REM sleep. So we’re more likely to wake up with “alcohol guilt” or the “beer fear.”
For whatever reason you’re considering going sober for a while, there are plenty of benefits you might see, both for yourself and those around you.