After weeks of holiday celebrations, you may be ready to take a break from alcohol. And even if you aren’t, maybe you should.
Did you know that the CDC defines heavy drinking as more than one drink per day for women or two for men? And binge drinking is four or more drinks in one sitting for women, five for men? Your drinking habits may be more hazardous to your physical and mental health than you realize.
Dry January is 31 alcohol-free days. It can be a jump start on your New Year’s resolution to stop drinking or drink less, or it could be just a month off. Either way, there are several health benefits to starting the year without alcohol. Here are seven.
1. You’ll Sleep Better
Many people think that alcohol contributes to better sleep because it’s a central nervous system depressant. It slows your breathing and heart rate and helps you relax.
A drink or two might help you drift off to sleep more quickly, but it will likely decrease the overall quality of your sleep. Binge drinking before bed might keep you awake for a while and lead to fitful sleep throughout the night.
As a sedative, alcohol can make you go into a deep sleep sooner than you would sober, but this causes an imbalance in sleep cycles that results in poor sleep. People who sleep poorly and are tired the next day may drink alcohol again to fall asleep, thus repeating the cycle.
Not drinking alcohol can help your body progress smoothly through sleep cycles. Even if it takes a little longer to fall asleep, you should feel more rested in the morning.
2. Your Mood Will Improve
You might have a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day. It might make you feel better. But drinking three or more drinks at a time raises your blood pressure, causing more stress. And regularly reaching for the bottle to cope can increase your anxiety and depression.
These effects on your brain occur because alcohol messes with brain chemicals that should make you feel good, like serotonin and dopamine.
Taking a month-long break from alcohol helps rebalance your brain, so you have more control over your mood. It also gives you a chance to develop alternative coping strategies that promote mental health rather than alcohol dependence.
3. You’ll Be More Focused
Having multiple drinks makes it difficult to concentrate and think clearly. Regular heavy drinking and binge drinking impairs judgment, memory, and learning ability.
One drink might calm your nerves so you can focus on the task at hand. It might also make you too sleepy to concentrate for the rest of the day. A month off alcohol use can sharpen your mind and increase your ability to focus.
4. You Might Lose Weight
Alcohol adds extra calories to your diet, but it doesn’t make you feel full like food. It might even make you eat more to soak up some of the alcohol after binge drinking. And the food people eat when they’re intoxicated is often heavy and unhealthy.
While cutting calories isn’t the only way to lose weight, eliminating empty calories like those you get from alcoholic drinks can help with weight loss. Abstaining from alcohol may help you make better nutritional choices as well.
5. Your Immune System Will Be Stronger
Alcohol use weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight sickness. Even one instance of binge drinking lowers your immune system’s resistance to infection for up to 24 hours, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Heavy drinking can damage most of your vital organs. Chronic alcohol consumption or binge drinking can lead to heart disease, liver disease, or cancer in many parts of the body.
As a diuretic, alcohol makes you urinate more, and it causes dehydration. Dehydration leads to headaches, muscle tension, dull skin, and other health issues.
A one-month hiatus won’t reverse all the damage alcohol has already caused your body. But it can slow or stop some alcohol-related issues and give your immune system a chance to recharge.
6. You’ll Save Money
Alcohol is one of those expenses that you don’t realize are adding up. Paying five to 10 dollars per drink during happy hour can quickly run up a tab. Drinking at home is cheaper, but it can still put a strain on your budget if you drink heavily or buy expensive liquors.
Take a look at how much you spent on alcohol in the last month. Each time you don’t drink in January, it’s like a deposit into your bank account.
7. You’ll Have More Control Over Your Life
If you’ve been mindlessly reaching for alcohol when you’re stressed or looking for a mood boost, a month off can help you regain control of your life. You’ll be able to re-evaluate your drinking habits and examine your relationship with alcohol.
Mindfulness and self-awareness are tools you can use to make Dry January easier.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and aware of the world around you. You focus on one day at a time rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future. Self-awareness is noticing how your thoughts and actions do or don’t line up with your values.
They’re both easier to practice when you’re not under the influence of alcohol, and both can help you avoid using alcohol in unhealthy ways.
Before You Start Dry January
Dry January can benefit a lot of people, but if you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, you shouldn’t stop drinking cold turkey. Gradually decreasing your alcohol intake is safer, as alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Talk to your doctor for guidance and support, or reach out to an addiction treatment center. Many rehab facilities offer medical detox, which takes place in an inpatient environment and ensures your safety during the alcohol withdrawal process.
After detox, a personalized alcohol addiction treatment program—like those we offer at Recovering Champions—can break the chains of addiction and lead you to recovery. Contact us today to learn more.