Chances are you know a friend or two who has cut out alcohol for a month, whether it be as part of “Dry January” or simply an individual effort to boost their health. Although this anti-drinking behavior has become somewhat trendy in recent years, there’s actually a great deal of sense to it, according to experts.
Of course, many of us are well aware that drinking is not a “healthy” behavior by any means. And, even if you’re someone who doesn’t consume alcohol daily, it’s still possible to experience short-term effects on both the mind and body, notes Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Visiting Professor of Health Psychology at Princeton University and author of What to Eat When You Want to Get Pregnant. “The liver is able to process one standard drink of alcohol per hour, but consuming more than this can lead to intoxication and a rise in blood alcohol content that can cause difficulty concentrating, skin flushing, raised blood pressure, mood swings, loss of critical judgment, dulled perception, passing out, and vomiting,” she says.
The long-term effects are even more concerning. Over time, drinking alcohol in excess can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, dementia, liver disease and a host of cancers including throat, mouth, breast, colorectal and esophageal, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The difficult aspect to all this is that few of us are even drinking “moderately,” or one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Even if we are following that limit, research shows that this amount of alcohol is not risk-free, notes Dr. Avena. “The latest dietary guidelines actually recommend you cut out alcohol, or refraining from drinking more than recommended, on the basis of providing health benefits,” she says.
If you’re considering cutting out drinking, even for a month, here are some things you can expect to happen.
You might sleep better
Have you ever wondered why you wake up so tired after a night of drinking, even when you clocked a decent amount of shut-eye? There’s good reason for this, according to functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P. “For starters, alcohol can create imbalances in the blood sugar and decrease your growth-hormone secretion,” she says. “As liver enzymes metabolize the alcohol throughout the night, the decreasing of your blood alcohol levels can actually cause more sleep disruptions and poor sleep.” Giving up alcohol, even for a month, will leave you more restful and give your hormones a better balance so you can feel replenished.
You may have fewer headaches
Oftentimes a morning headache accompanies a night of drinking and this is due to the fact that alcohol is a dehydrating chemical (this is why we pee a lot when we drink). “The headaches you experience along with dry mouth will decrease significantly if you cut out alcohol for a month,” says Jerry Bailey, D.C., LA.c., certified nutritionist, acupuncturist, chiropractic, and functional medicine physician at Lakeside Holistic Health.
Your skin might clear up
As your body’s largest organ, your skin is directly impacted by what you put into your body, alcohol. “When you drink too much or even regularly, your body is going to naturally do what it knows to do and get rid of the toxins from the alcohol, which may cause acne, rashes, dullness of the skin, etc,” she says. “As you stop putting the toxins in, your skin can clear up a bit and not have as many physical signs of detoxing the body out.”
You might lower your risk of heart disease
One of the risk factors for heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S., is high blood pressure. “When you cut out alcohol you decrease the stress on the pancreas allowing for better glucose control which will decrease triglycerides and other cholesterol levels,” explains Dr. Bailey. “These changes start to decrease the risk factors for heart attack, stroke, and even neurological issues.”
You might lose weight
Unbeknownst to many of us, alcohol is overwhelmingly high in calories. Most beers can range from 150 to 350 calories per can, and even a 5-ounce glass of wine will run you 150 calories. Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness, points out that alcohol intake also increases water retention, so cutting it out will naturally make the scale lighter. “When you cut out alcohol for a month, you can start to recognize hunger and satiety signals better and may find that your evening snacking was influenced by alcohol and wasn’t really hungry at all,” he adds.
You’ll have better digestion
Your stomach will definitely thank you once you cut out alcohol. You’ll start to feel better and have fewer issues such as reversal of ulcers, bloating, and fatty liver disease, according to Dr. Bailey. “Your indigestion, acid reflux/heartburn from alcohol irritating your digestive system will significantly decrease and possibly reverse allowing you to get off of medications meant to reduce those symptoms,” he says. “Your liver will start to function better, clearing out/detoxifying the body as it is supposed to function, which will result in the further clearing of the skin, brain, lungs, and allow for better sleep.”