There's no denying that ending the work week with good friends and strong drinks is a good time. For many, that fun extends beyond Friday, though, and can have well-documented impacts on a person's health. So what happens when you stop? The benefits of stepping back from drinking for 30 days are stunning. From better heart and liver health to less facial swelling and even weight loss, these are the benefits of taking 30 days off of the sauce.
Starting The New Year Clean
As the one year ends and a new year begins, several people embark on what is known as "Dry January." For the first month of the year, they abstain from drinking, hoping to reset their systems for the coming months.
Many of the effects that will be revealed in the coming slides have come directly from a group of volunteers who participated in 2020's "Dry January." What started out as a difficult task for many turned into a life-changing experience.
Initial Increased Sugar Cravings
Leaving the bar on a Friday night after a few drinks can lead to late-night eating. For the first week of January, many people reported that their cravings increased as they went cold turkey.
This is because their bodies weren't used to how much less sugar was being ingested, resulting in lowered blood sugar levels. As days continued to pass, they found these cravings subsided and they even began eating smaller, healthier portions of food.
Headaches, Back Pain, And Poor Sleep Followed
Along with increased cravings, volunteers revealed that the first week of being clean led to headaches, body aches, and a lack of sleep. This was especially evident for those who used drinking to lessen pain and fall asleep quicker.
Undeterred by the initial negative effects, volunteers continued to stay on course, and eventually found the light at the end of the tunnel. For most people quitting drinking, these symptoms only last around two weeks.
Sleep Improved, Along With Dreams
After two weeks, not only did sleep improve for several people, they also had better dreams. Facial swelling and dark bags around the eyes also began to dissipate the longer they stayed strong.
This more youthful appearance was a result of better sleep. Although you might fall asleep and even sleep longer after drinking, your body is not actually recharging properly during that time. These were the first of many positive changes that were reported.
Improved Dental Health
Another surprising benefit that was noted was better dental health as time progressed. Because drinking decreased saliva production, it increases wear and tear on your enamel and your risk for cavities. As your enamel recovers, you decrease your risk to cavities and other negative impacts of drinking.
Drinking also tends to kill taste and smell receptors, senses which returned to many in the group as those receptors in the mouth began to recover.
Your Liver Begins To Repair Itself
While some damage caused to a person's liver is irreparable, not all of it is. After 14 days with no drinking, the liver will start to recover. If you are a heavy drinker, that process could take three weeks.
According to Lance Stein, M.D., many people don't realize they are over-drinking until it is too late, "They think they're drinking one drink, but they're actually having two or three."
Increased Blood Flow Leads To Better Skin
If you are a heavy drinker, you may have noticed that your skin has seemingly prematurely aged. This is because drinking decreases blood circulation, causing lines to appear and the color of your skin to be altered.
Those who participated in "Dry January" noticed that their skin began to improve. This is directly related to an increase in their blood circulation. We're not saying that quitting drinking will get rid of all your wrinkles, but it could help alleviate some.
Not everyone who stops drinking will lose weight, but many will. In the fourth week of January, those participating noticed that they began losing weight - anywhere from six to eight pounds.
This weight loss also led to a decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some even found that their blood pressured improved as well as their circulation. These benefits are one reason why skin can clear up as you stop drinking.
In the stomach, gastric acid is used to help digest food as it passes through. When this gastric acid is increased, it can lead to pain in the stomach as it begins to digest itself, as well as ulcers. This usually happens with lower ABV beverages and less so with spirits.
Once you stop drinking, your production levels of gastric acid return to normal, leading to less irritation, and better overall digestive health.
One of the more negative side effects of heavy drinking is decreased focus and brain health. The more a person drinks, the less oxygen flows to the brain. This results in brain cells dying, and focus decreasing.
Eventually, brain cells will grow back as you stop drinking, and focus will return. Volunteers reported increased focus began in week four of January. This coincided with an increase in overall confidence as well.
Three Weeks To Break A Habit
According to alcoholchange.org, "A month off is the perfect way to reset your relationship with alcohol. It only takes three weeks to break a habit, so this could be your route to happier, healthier drinking long-term."
Of course, if you or someone you know genuinely has a drinking problem, then taking a month off will only serve as a temporary fix to a larger problem. Keep reading to learn other benefits to taking time off.
Take A Month Off To Drink Less Later
While we don't know what happened with participants once January ended, we know from other studies what may have happened. In 2016, a similar study was done by the National Library of Medicine.
This study tracked participants after January, many of who reported decreased drinking habits during the following months. "Findings suggest that participation in abstinence challenges such as Dry January may be associated with changes toward healthier drinking and greater DRSE, and is unlikely to result in undesirable 'rebound effects.'"
Why Your Liver Recovers
Like your skin, your liver is capable of repairing itself. It's known as a tolerant organ, and when treated appropriately, can reverse some of the damage caused by drinking.
Medical expert Amitava Dasgupta explains, "anyone who drinks in excess, which again is more than two drinks a day for men, and one a day for women, there are fatty changes in liver, so when you stop drinking, those changes are reversible and the liver can become normal again."
Reduced Risk Of Cancer
Helping reset your drinking habits by participating in a dry month could have one major lasting health impact -- reducing your risk for cancer. According to the National Toxicology Program, alcohol is a known carcinogen.
Heavy drinking is linked to several kinds of cancer, including esophageal, liver, colorectal, breast, head, and neck. A 2009 study from the American Journal of Public Health estimated 3.5 percent of cancer deaths were related to drinking.
Losing Weight Isn't A Guarantee
While taking a break from drinking for a month might be an effective tool for some in the battle against the bulge, it won't work for everyone. Dr. Rekha B. Kumar reports:
"Again, depends on what the baseline consumption is. If heavier drinkers remove [subsrances] for a longer period of time, they might see weight loss, improvement in body composition, less stomach fat, improvement in triglycerides (one of the fat particles in the blood)."
The Aging Process Will Slow Down
Earlier we wrote that those who were a part of "Dry January" reported healthier and younger-looking skin. For most people, the redness that occurs while drinking goes away in a few hours. For some, the impact that it causes can be lasting.
Inflammation damages the skin's cells, leading to unwanted and premature aging. When you drink less, you allow your skin to recover, in turn slowing down the early aging process.
Your Wallet Will Thank You
Not every benefit from "Dry January" is physical. As far as habits go, drinking is one of the more expensive ones you can have. Not only are you buying for your home supply, but you're also going out and ordering drinks at bars and restaurants.
At the end of the week, the cost to drink can be pricey. For some 4.5 million Americans, that cost is a reported $200 a week!
Drinking Leads To Self Isolation
While we've already covered why taking a break from drinking for 30 days could lead to more confidence, we haven't fully explained why. Studies published on psychologytoday.com come to the conclusion that for some, drinking creates stability and makes them feel connected.
This connection isolates them from the outside world, however. By breaking this cycle, even for one month, people become more willing to make new connections and become more confident in their social abilities as a result.
Sleeping After Drinking, Explained
It's not uncommon to associate drinking with sleeping. Drinking makes you tired because it's a depressant, but it also messes up your sleep cycle by triggering alpha activity and delta activity at the same time.
Delta activity is used by your brain while to sleep to help with learning and memory restoration. Alpha activity is something used by your brain when you're awake. The bottom line is that while drinking can help you fall asleep faster, you will be unable to enter a normal deep sleep cycle.
Good Sleep Won't Return Right Away
Over the course of 30 days, a lot will change with your sleep cycle. The volunteers at first reported trouble sleeping. After a few days or even weeks, their sleep patterns returned to normal and they found themselves more refreshed in the mornings.
Unfortunately, not everyone who stops drinking will find their sleep patterns restored. Some heavy drinkers who quit cold turkey develop sleeping problems such as insomnia and must learn to stay strong.
Mood Swings May Go Away
While many people use drinking to help stabilize their moods, the truth is that the mood swings they are experiencing might be caused by their drinking. Drinking to solve your problems could lead to further problems.
In severe cases, a person might develop lesions on their brains, resulting in memory problems. After 30 days, many reported that their moods were improved and much more stabilized. They didn't get angry as easily or inappropriately affectionate.
Athletic Performance Improves
One reason to take 30 days off of drinking is to improve your athletic performance. As drinkers rely more and more on what's being poured, they care less and less about going to the gym.
And those who still find the motivation to get in a good workout find the gains they are looking for don't come at the pace that makes them satisfied. Taking 30 days to reset themselves increases both energy for exercising, and how quickly improvements can be seen.
You'll Get Sick Less
This effect wasn't noted during the 30-day "Dry January" we've been discussing, but it is an important positive aspect of non-drinking to point out. Heavy drinking will weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illnesses including the common cold and the flu.
How does this happen? As you put more "poison" in your body, it starts attacking itself, becoming more vulnerable to outside viruses and germs as a result.
Withdrawal Is Only Temporary
Typically, heaving drinkers will go through a period of withdrawal when quitting. This will happen during the initial 30-day dry period and is to be expected if you find yourself drinking more per week than normal.
The good news is that these symptoms won't last forever. While nausea, night sweats, and other side effects are unpleasant, most who experienced them in these symptoms in the study we've followed recovered in two to three weeks.
More Stable Blood Pressure
Normal blood pressure for a healthy person is 120 over 80. If you drink most nights and your blood pressure is above 130 over 80, the two might be connected.
Just easing back on drinking could be enough to help stabilize your blood pressure. And remember, if you do go the 30-day route and it helps, don't use that as an excuse to return to the bad habits that gave you high blood pressure in the first place.