I was recently listing to The Chalene Show podcast episode “9 Bad Habits to Drop ASAP” and she mentioned a survey that 25% of Americans admitted to drinking more in 2020. It got me thinking about my own drinking habits and it’s not unusual for me to drink a glass or two of wine after the kids have gone to bed or a hard seltzer with dinner. I had thought about giving up alcohol for January like I had done for Lent last year. A quick Google search revealed this has been a popular trend for years, with the name Dry January. But should you give up alcohol for a month? I’ll go over the benefits of abstaining, along with any potential risks.
Dry January Benefits
It May Improve Your Mood
Alcohol can make symptoms of anxiety and depression worse. While Dry January won’t cure your depression, stepping back from that nightly drink can provide the distance you need to assesses your motivation for drinking. When not self-medicating, you’ll be in a better position to recognize that you’re going through something that perhaps you need additional help with. At the very least, Dry January can provide valuable insight as to why you’ve been regularly drinking.
After a night of drinking, it’s usually pretty easy to fall asleep. But as the National Sleep Foundation explains, levels of the sleep-inducing chemical adenosine rise to help you nod off, but it then crashes, waking you up in the middle of the night. Even if your body doesn’t fully awaken, you’ll likely rise groggily anyway. Alcohol degrades sleep quality; drinking moderate or high amounts of alcohol decreases “restorative” REM sleep, according to a review in the journal Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research. Giving up drinking for a month may help you get a sounder sleep, and better rest means more energy to devote to the things that matter.
As much as we’d like them to be, alcoholic drinks are not calorie-free. And they are liquid calories, which research shows don’t fill you up the way food calories do. It’s been found that when people stop or cut back on drinking, they don’t replace those calories. This one change helps you lose weight. You may also be consuming more junk food when under the influence, as booze has been known to knock down your willpower when you get a case of the munchies.
You’ll Save Money
As I write this, we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we’re not dining out as we once did. But remember those cocktail prices of $9-$10 a drink. Those add up! Your dinner bill will go down significantly without those added drinks. Even drinking at home adds up. We frequent Aldi’s, but going through a couple of $5 bottles of wine a week can put a dent in your wallet over time.
Your Skin Might Look Brighter
Alcohol is a known diuretic, which means it will cause you to pee more than if you just drank water. As a result, it’s harder for the body to hydrate itself. Lack of hydration can lead to dry, lusterless skin. Alcohol also has the potential to increase hormones like estrogen and cortisol, as well as spike your blood sugar (depending on how sweet you like your drinks). This is a recipe for breakouts. Research has shown that the toxins in alcohol can speed up your skin’s aging process. Yuck!
Stronger Immune System
Binge drinking (more than four drinks in a single occasion for women) may suppress your body’s immune response. A 2015 study found that when healthy folks (who normally consume low or moderate levels of alcohol) had an episode of binge drinking, their immunity initially rose. However, two to five hours later, levels of disease-fighting immune cells (like NK and white blood cells) decreased. Researchers can’t say how this may play out— as in if it means you’re more likely to be saddled with a cold or flu virus — but it’s certainly not a good thing if your immune system is taking a break.
“Alcohol lingers in the stomach for a while, being absorbed into both your bloodstream and small intestine,” says Peyton Berookim, a double board-certified gastroenterologist in Los Angeles. “It can affect acid production, diminishing your stomach’s ability to destroy harmful bacteria that enter the stomach.”
Berookim also notes that beverages with more than 15 percent alcohol by volume can delay stomach emptying, which can cause bacterial degradation of food and abdominal discomfort.
And, according to Berookim, booze immediately impacts the structure and integrity of the GI tract.
“Alcohol alters the numbers and relative abundances of microbes in the gut microbiome. These organisms affect the maturation and function of the immune system,” Berookim says. “Alcohol disrupts communication between these organisms and the intestinal immune system.”
Berookim goes on to say that drinking elevates blood pressure and levels of blood glucose, blood cholesterol, triglycerides, liver fats, and rice acids. If a person’s levels are already sky-high, fortunately, they can be lowered by participating in a sober month.
“Our digestive system, including the liver, is resilient and recovers rapidly in the absence of alcohol,” Berookim says.
Dry January Risks
If you are a heavy drinker and give up alcohol cold turkey, it can temporarily increase blood pressure to elevated levels. It is better to gradually reduce alcohol consumption.
Going into 20201, we have the benefit of limited opportunities for happy hours and other get-togethers, but if you regularly get together with friends for drinks, participating in Dry January is likely to get you some weird looks and odd comments. Your partner at home may even give you grief for abstaining if they are used to sharing a bottle of wine with dinner. Look for opportunities to communicate your intention for a Dry January. Find accountability buddies who are also participating.
Save For Later