We all know that heavy drinking is bad for us and that quitting alcohol or drinking less is better for our overall health. There are the beer guts and the days lost to hangovers. I’m sure we all have a cringeworthy story or two involving alcohol, memories of things we shouldn’t have said.
Who among us hasn’t had a particularly rough night and then woken up the next day and thought, “Never again!”
6 Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
Even if your Dry January is not meant to be a launching pad for long-term sobriety, it should be the beginning of a new relationship with alcohol. Let’s narrow down some of the big benefits you’re getting by taking a month-long break from drinking.
1. Your Brain Will Start To Heal Itself
Wait, my brain????
I’ve written about the negative effects of alcohol on the brain before, but it bears repeating. Drinking alcohol regularly negatively impacts your cognitive function, and these effects can be particularly damaging in the long term if you don’t get it under control.
As a reminder, for women 4-5 drinks in a single session and 5-6 for men, are considered HEAVY drinking. If that sounds like you several days per week, then I’m extra glad you’re here.
Why Alcohol Impacts Your Brain
Heavy drinking shrinks the size of the hippocampus in your brain. This is the region responsible for embedded memories. If you drink too much in one sitting, your hippocampus could shut off temporarily causing what is commonly referred to as a blackout.
Ladies, there’s even worse news for us. Our brains are particularly susceptible to alcohol-related memory loss and shrinkage.
The only way to reverse this damage is to quit or severely cut back on alcohol. After seven days of abstinence from alcohol, you’ll begin to see new cell growth in the hippocampus which really starts to take off around week four or five.
Continuing to drink heavily will lead to further damage and make you more susceptible to more serious neurological disorders like depression, anxiety, dementia, or Alzheimer’s.
A Note For Heavier Drinkers Who Are Quitting Alcohol
If you are entering January with a history of heavy, chronic, problematic drinking, this first week is possibly going to feel a bit “foggy” for you. Your brain is still impaired.
If you feel like you’re having trouble concentrating or focusing, feel sick, or have difficulty functioning, seek medical attention immediately. For heavy drinkers, you may require medical supervision for detoxing. It isn’t something you want to “tough out” on your own.
2. Your Sleep Is Going To Improve
You may have noticed, but passing out after a night of drinks does not a restful sleep make.
Sure, you have been unconscious for nine hours, but you feel like you’ve barely slept a wink. That’s because alcohol disrupts your REM cycle and messes with your internal clock (circadian rhythms).
I’m going to keep it real with you so you aren’t thrown for a loop. Much in the same way you are not likely to drop thirty pounds after one month of clean eating, such is the case for improved REM sleep.
You may experience improved sleep this month and I am really hoping you do. However, if you find yourself experiencing the opposite, you may be wrestling with some sobriety insomnia.
This too shall pass.
The important thing is to keep your eye on the long-term prize. If you’re not experiencing improved sleep now, you will in the near future. Your body is used to passing out every night. It’s going to take some time after quitting alcohol to learn how to fall asleep more naturally again.
You got this!
3. You’ll Get Back Hours Of Your Life
The typical person spends approximately two years of their life with a hangover. TWO. YEARS. That’s 17,520 hours of your life gone to hangover recovery.
Think of all the wonderful things you could do with that time. How many well-intentioned Sunday morning plans never happened because you were too hungover to function? How many fitness classes, playdates, opportunities were missed?
You will be amazed at how much you can get out of your weekends when you eliminate alcohol from the equation.
4. No More Embarrassing Drunk Antics
We’ve all been there.
You went out and the night started off well enough, but then somehow the fun, out-going, charismatic YOU turned into a sniveling, what-does-it-all-mean, I think I’ll text my ex, drunk monster.
You wake up the next day, head pounding, checking your phone in horror as the memories of what you did and said come flooding back.
No more Saturday morning shame fests, hiding under a blanket on the couch.
You don’t have to feel physically, emotionally, or morally like shit. You’ll finally get to experience the magic of a sunny Saturday morning at 8 AM.
5. You’re Going To Look Way Better
Drinking too much makes you look horrible.
Before I quit alcohol, I had given up on my appearance in a lot of ways. I’d packed on about twenty-five pounds in under two years. My face and stomach were bloated, my hair hung limp and lifeless from my head, and my complexion was dull and sad.
Despite being naturally thin, my metabolism had waved a white flag and all the additional calories I was consuming through ciders or whiskey and sprites packed on rapidly.
Because alcohol is a diuretic, it dehydrates your skin. I’d drank so much that I managed to develop rosacea and was plagued by redness and little, broken capillaries around my nose.
Once you quit drinking alcohol, you should see improvements in the appearance of your skin within one week and significant improvement after one month.
6. You Will Smell Better
If you’re a heavy drinker, I have some bad news for you. You stink. Has anyone ever told you that?
When you’re drinking, you reek of booze and smell positively flammable to everyone around you. Because your body can only process about 12 ounces of beer an hour, anything beyond that is harder for your body to get rid of. It starts to build up.
Where do those toxins escape from?
Well, your skin, your breath, and your pee – none of which smell particularly great.
If you smoked, ate horrible food, and/or puked after drinking, chances are they don’t make a toothpaste strong enough to get rid of the stench escaping your mouth.
Have you ever woken up after a night of drinking drenched in sweat that smells like pure ethanol? That is how you smell to everyone around you, even after you’ve showered.
It’s just now, you smell like ethanol with a dash of Irish Spring.
For the entire month of January, you no longer have to worry about being the stinky one dragging their hungover self to the coffee shop around the corner. You will, however, probably notice just HOW stinky people are when they drink once you’re the sober gal or guy out.
It will have you saying, “Oh my god, did I smell like THAT?”
Yes. Yes, you did.
Final Thoughts on Quitting (or Taking a Break) from Alcohol
In the weeks ahead, you’re going to be doing a lot of introspection and figuring out how to navigate different social situations without drinking. You’re going to feel temptation, which we’ll tackle in a future post.
The big thing I want you to remember for today is WHY you are doing this and HOW it’s going to make you better.
Access should not be a barrier to help.
Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a therapist who has the knowledge and background to help you navigate your specific issues, try BetterHelp. Learn more about my counseling journey with BetterHelp or visit their website below.
Looking For Further Inspiration?
Check out this post, where I share five books that helped me get through my first thirty days of sobriety. Reading helped me a lot in the early days, and I hope you’ll find some inspiration in these books as well.