What Happens to Your Body When You Don't Drink Booze for a Month
Photo credit: Sally Anscombe - Getty Images
From men's health
By drinking pandemics, Dry January either sounds like a really good idea or a really painful idea. Either way, you probably won't be alone trying.
Over the past 10 years, Dry January has grown in importance as a solution. And we bet it won't slide too far down the resolution list this year as alcohol sales soared when the pandemic broke out and many of us are drinking more than before.
The concept of dry January is straightforward: give up alcohol for the entire first month of the year. And yes, January is a month with 31 days, so not an easy step out of the way with a nice round 30.
There are health benefits associated with Dry January - and there are too: Many experts have problems with the one-time quitting approach. If you've increased your alcohol consumption to three or four drinks a night, experts warn against getting a cold turkey. If this sounds like you, then try lowering the number first to avoid potentially serious withdrawal issues. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has some useful strategies for reducing it. If these don't feel right to you, consider getting professional help, often just a teletherapy phone call away.
So is this the ultimate dry January year? Depends on. A dry January may be more difficult this year if your office is your happy hour area and your space to relax and zoom in with friends is right next to the fridge or bar cabinet that these drinks live in. On the flip side, it could be easier without the lively bar scenes from before you have a cold (and another and another) and friends rolling eyes at your Dry January breakup.
If you're looking to try Dry January, here's what it can do for your body - and how you can make it a little easier.
What is dry January?
The first official “Dry January” was launched in 2013 by the UK-based non-profit organization Alcohol Change UK. This year, more than 4,300 people pledged not to drink alcohol for this month. And yes, “dry” means going without alcohol for a month - no fraudulent days.
In 2017 that number rose to more than 5 million and the craze for the campaign spread across the United States. Dry January participants claim that months of abstinence from drinking can reverse the negative health effects of regular drinking, such as fatty liver disease and elevated blood sugar. They are also committed to ensuring that not drinking can improve sleep and increase energy.
How alcohol affects your body
Your body breaks down alcohol through a number of organs, including your stomach and pancreas, but your liver bears the greatest burden of converting alcohol into less harmful forms.
Through this breakdown process, the toxic by-products of alcohol can cause inflammation in your pancreas, which can potentially damage your insulin-producing cells and affect your fat metabolism.
Constant living on the drink / repeat cycle can also lead to fatty liver, a silent disease that is relatively benign in its early stages, although more research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms involved. (Your liver isn't the only risk: drinking too much can damage your entire body, including your heart, skin, penis, and muscles.)
Although fatty liver is common in people who drink to or above guidelines ("moderate" is defined as no more than two drinks a day for men), there is evidence that it is reversible if they abstain from alcohol, or even less drink, says Rotonya Carr, MD, a hepatologist at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
With prolonged drinking, about a third of people with fatty liver develop alcoholic hepatitis or inflammation of the liver, which eventually leads to scars and the life-threatening condition of cirrhosis in 10 to 20 percent of people. Even at these advanced stages, research suggests that giving up alcohol can reverse scars and improve chances of survival.
"The liver is a very forgiving organ," adds Dr. Carr added, "She can heal herself if the insult, in this case alcohol, goes away."
Does Dry January erase all those nights of drinking?
Not quite. It will take more than a month for your liver and the rest of your body to heal completely, emphasizes Dr. Aaron White, senior scientist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
"But taking a month off from drinking is never a bad idea and a good time to evaluate your relationship with alcohol," says White.
Advantages for dry January
Which of the supposed benefits of Dry January is really being scrutinized?
Dry January will help you sleep better.
True! Anecdotally, people often attribute alcohol to helping them sleep. However, a review of studies in 2013 found that alcohol can help people fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply during the early stages of sleep, but likely disrupt sleep later in the night.
“Overall, alcohol is not useful in improving a night's sleep. Sleep may be deeper at first, but it is then disturbed, ”study co-author Chris Idzikowski, Ph.D., and sleep specialist, said in a statement. “Also, this deeper sleep is likely to encourage snoring and poorer breathing. So you shouldn't expect better sleep with alcohol. "
Dry January will help you drink less for the rest of the year.
Also true! It sounds strange, but you can't tell how often or how much alcohol your drink is until you don't drink it.
While drinking in moderation isn't all bad - and indeed has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and death - taking a month off may help you drink less in 2021. In fact, a 2016 study of adults who took part in Dry January found that up to six months later they drank less and drank less when they drank.
Making dry January easier
Some men find it difficult to change the habit of having a drink in hand at 6:00 p.m. So first change what's in your glass. Fortunately, there are now plenty of flavored alcohol substitutes out there that you can use to come up with some really interesting non-alcoholic cocktails. This includes products like Kin and Seedlip.
Also on your side is the growing number of surprisingly good non-alcoholic beers. Check out the ones here that passed our taste test.
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