If you’re early in your sobriety or stuck in a cycle of relapse, you might find yourself questioning why you’re doing this to yourself.
You don’t feel good. Some days, it’s too hard. That elusive pink cloud never visited you. When does it get better?
My best answer to that? Soon. But slowly.
Because I’ve been there, I know what an unsatisfying answer can be, so to give you a morale boost, I want to go over some of the biggest benefits of sobriety I’ve experienced in my journey.
You probably already expect a few of these to be on the list, but there are some surprises in there, too.
Let’s dive right in.
1. I Look A LOT Better
I’ve destroyed any and all images of me that aren’t filtered to the gods from 2014-2016, so I don’t have much photographic evidence, but believe me when I say that I took a major hit in the looks department.
(I’ve included a side-by-side at the end of this section.)
Even though I’d been drinking heavily for years at that point, something about late 2014/early 2015 made my body say, “I give up.”
I packed on about 25 pounds, my skin was a nightmare (breakouts, dehydration, reddish tone, rosacea), and my hair was thinning and falling out. My students and coworkers routinely told me how fat I had gotten (cultural differences).
These days, I’m still carrying around about ten extra pounds, and I’m jiggly in places I didn’t use to be, but I chalk that up to birthing a human and not trying very hard to rectify the problem. (Eh-hem dusty gym membership.)
My hair is much fuller and shinier! For the first time since elementary school, I don’t have any blemishes on my face. The redness is mostly gone.
I look healthy and hydrated (because I am).
How does it take for your appearance to improve after quitting alcohol?
It depends on many factors, including the amount of damage you’ve done, years of heavy drinking, age, and genetics.
Realistically, by six months to a year, you should begin to see marked improvements. Some see results much faster, and they are among the lucky few.
Bless their hearts.
If you’re interested in learning more about what alcohol does to your skin and just how badly it ages, here is a very informative (albeit a bit dry) video explainer:
2. No More Brain Fog
By the end of my drinking days, it was a wonder to me that I could do anything.
I could not remember things. And it wasn’t just the cute little forgetful moments when you walk into a room and immediately forget why you’re there.
I’m talking about things like being at dinner with a friend and forgetting the mechanics of subtracting large numbers. I shit you not.
Alcohol is incredibly inflammatory.
The long and short-term impact of alcohol on your brain is extensive. I won’t go into detail here because I’ve written about it before, but if you can’t engage intellectually with the world like you used to, you’re forgetting more things or struggling to focus, there is good news for you, my friend!
Your brain can heal. You can get your mental faculties back!
This one happened for me relatively early on, and that’s WITH pregnancy brain. It is an incredible feeling to have that fog lift. You quite literally feel like a brand new person.
The ability to think, read a book, engage in an intelligent conversation, actually have IDEAS again, and not just loop terrible thoughts on autopilot in your brain is liberating. It’s one of the best benefits of sobriety I’ve experienced.
If you feel numb, like you’re in a fog, or have nothing going on – this is possibly one of the reasons. It goes away, and it is magnificent when it does.
3. My Stress Levels Are Lower
I think, subconsciously, I allowed myself to get worked up over small things because it was a nice excuse to drink.
People who abuse alcohol get to a point in their drinking where they cannot manage any emotion in a healthy way. Drinking is the solution to boredom, frustration, sadness, and extreme happiness.
Additionally, research has shown that drinking any amount of alcohol chronically (including one drink per day) changes your Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA), which Maintains your physiological balance between what you do and don’t perceive as stressful.
This leads to more cortisol released at baseline when you’re not drinking. Translation: alcohol increases your anxiety and stress levels even when not drinking.
It was a horrible cycle of self-medicating my anxiety with alcohol which, in turn, only made my anxiety levels worse. I was stressed out all of the time and had no healthy coping mechanisms for that stress.
Sobriety changed that.
As a fair warning, sometimes alcohol withdrawal can have the opposite effect and make anxiety significantly worse, but it is temporary.
It goes away, and you feel much more stable and clear-headed after the initial withdrawal period.
4. I Know Who My Friends Are
Friendships can be tricky things in early sobriety, especially when all of your friends are drinking buddies.
A lot of people feel lonely when they give up alcohol. When your entire social life has revolved around getting wasted, it’s normal to feel like there’s nothing to do.
Re-evaluating your relationships with other people is part of the process.
We all have to go through it, but the AMAZING thing is that you’ll end up with really powerful connections with the people you choose to keep around.
You might think that emotionally unloading with your friends over wine and cookies makes you close or that your buddy holding your hair while you puked means something.
That’s not what strong friendships are built on. Sobriety is going to show what real relationships can look like.
When I got sober, it became very clear who I hung out with because I needed bar buddies and who I actually enjoyed being around. The great thing is that you might be surprised! Somebody who was just a casual acquaintance can become one of your closest friends.
The more comfortable and confident you become in sobriety, the more positive people you will attract to your life. It takes some time and a few growing pains, but it is much more fulfilling.
5. I Actually Like Myself…A Lot
Sobriety has taught me a lot of self-compassion and humility.
I used to drink because I couldn’t stand myself or my life. Ironically, I preferred to drink alone to medicate those feelings on my own terms. The theme of my life seemed to be “I hate feeling alone, but also leave me alone.”
When you finally get over those first months of early sobriety, you’ll see that you’re not so bad after all.
People who are successful with their sobriety find ways to keep themselves busy. It’s through that process that many people start to forgive themselves and see the value they can bring to the world.
Every day you go without drinking boosts your self-esteem, even if you don’t notice.
When you choose to go to the gym or take a cooking class, you’re signaling that you are open to seeing what else this life has to offer. The cumulative effects of all these new experiences and choices add up.
My drinking was all about self-loathing, which I had done for almost twenty years at that point. Sobriety helped me escape that.
6. I Don’t Have As Much To Be Sorry About
I LOVE not having to feel bad about something stupid or mean I said when drunk. There are zero alcohol-related regrets plaguing my life right now.
Sobriety means never having to say, “I’m sorry I puked on your plants.”
If I do something that requires an apology these days, it comes from a place of genuine misunderstanding. That is much easier to handle than drunk shenanigans that got out of hand.
7. My Mental Health Is Stronger
In the last year of my drinking, I woke up every day with the worst cases of anxiety, sometimes referred to as “hangxiety.” I would ask my husband to hold me tight while I did some deep breathing just so I could get out of bed. It was awful.
That never happens these days.
I continue to suffer from anxiety and have to manage it, but it doesn’t ruin my life like before.
Sobriety did not cure my depression or anxiety, but it weakened them significantly. Because I am much more clear-headed and happy, I don’t identify with my depression like before.
Alcohol made my anxiety worse. Smoking also made it worse. I consumed both because I wanted to escape how bad I felt.
In my mind, I was depressed, I was sad, and I was living a miserable life. These things completely defined me.
Now when my anxiety or depression pops up, I can see it for what it is.
Oh, shit! My chest is tight. That’s my anxiety. Or hey, I’ve been feeling low-energy and bummed out lately. That’s depression. Now, I can deal with them the same way you would deal with any chronic disease.
8. I’ve Got More Money, Honey…Kind Of
These days I do not “really” have more money because I quit my job and added another human to our family.
But I know for damn sure that I am not throwing away cash like I was when I spent the equivalent of $400 USD per week on alcohol and cigarettes (liquor is expensive in the country where I live).
There are also the added costs of paying for takeout food because you’re too drunk or hungover to function properly.
What about those drunk impulse buys online? How about the groceries that spoiled in the fridge because you weren’t responsible enough to cook?
None of those things are problems for me anymore. (Well, sometimes the produce still goes bad before I get to it.)
A lot of people are surprised by just how much they would spend on their drinking. Those $5 pints add up. Saving all that money means paying off debt, traveling, or finally being able to set a little aside.
9. I’ve Got Way More Time
I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but in case you missed it, did you know the average person spends TWO YEARS of their life hungover? Two. Whole. Years.
The weekends always felt like they flew by, probably because at least one of those days would be spent in hangover agony.
Another fabulous benefit of sobriety is that you can enjoy two full days of weekend bliss!
There are few things more liberating than being outside on a Saturday morning, and NOT because you’re squinting in the sun on your walk of shame back to your car or home.
I used to wonder how some people found the time and energy to have so much going on in their lives. It turns out that not getting trashed several times a week helps.
10. I’m No Longer An Easy Target
When you’re sober and clear-headed, you stop opening yourself up to manipulators and scammers.
I used to be an easy target for abusers and gaslighting. Because I was a mental and emotional wreck with no sense of self-worth, it was easy to take advantage of me. And plenty of people did.
As a bonus, I got to play the victim and drink even MORE when it happened.
Sure, every now and again, I still catch myself falling victim to good marketing and making impulse purchases or unnecessarily second-guessing myself after someone makes a sideways comment.
I’m a human being, after all.
What I am NOT is a pushover. I used to be. Sobriety has blessed me with some sense.
11. I Have Confidence
My friend, if you can go months and months without drinking, you can do anything! At least, that’s how sobriety will start to feel.
At some point in your journey (for me, about 90 days in), you will change your mindset about sobriety.
It will go from something you’re struggling to maintain to something you realize you HAVE. That mental shift is empowering. If you can quit drinking, what other magic can you do?
I finally got the courage to quit a career I did not enjoy and throw my weight behind exploring new avenues.
Alcoholic “me” would NEVER have.
I would’ve doubted myself and my abilities and been so paralyzed with fear that I would’ve given up before I even started.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a bit worried about whether or not I can make this all work, BUT I’m able to view it more as a problem to be solved and not some bigger, negative picture of who I am as a person or whether I’m capable of success.
There is a quiet ferocity that comes with quitting alcohol. The world is so much bigger when you’re sober, and you feel emboldened to grab your slice of it.
I’m not special. These benefits of sobriety are for everyone.
During each one of my failed attempts to quit drinking, I would read about and listen to people who had made sobriety work for them. I would see how their life had changed and think, “Okay, I want that for myself.”
(If you want to read those same books, check out my post “5 Books To Get You Through The First Month Of Sobriety.”)
One week went by, and I still felt horrible. What gives? Or maybe I felt great one week and then miserable the next. Eventually, I would reach the one-month mark and think, “Where are the benefits?”
It. Takes. Time.
Your world is not going to transform completely in three months. Your sobriety is heavily dependent on being both optimistic and realistic.
What this list doesn’t explore are all the things you have to do to get these benefits. Sobriety takes work, and much of it is not easy or pleasant to go through. But these benefits are available to you if you keep at it.
You need support, sometimes a program, and almost certainly a good counselor to help you navigate this new sober life.
I wish I could promise that if you don’t drink for four months or six months or twelve, then you’ll have reached some magical number where all your hopes and dreams come true.
It doesn’t work that way. Some people get there faster than others.
Just know that you can get there, and the Soberish community is here to support you.