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Every year, millions of people make a personal pledge to give up alcohol for a month as part of a challenge known as Dry January. Everyone has their own reasons for participating in Dry January, from giving our bodies a post-Christmas detox following the excesses of the festive season, to using it as an opportunity to reset their relationship with alcohol in the long term. Whatever the reason, abstaining from alcohol for a month has multiple benefits, for our physical and mental wellbeing (not to mention our bank balance!) which we will explore in more detail below.
Here are some of the health benefits you are likely to experience if you choose to abstain from drinking for a month:
There is a close link between drinking alcohol and mental health. Research has demonstrated that people with a higher alcohol intake are at a greater risk of experiencing mental health problems and illnesses according to the Mental Health Foundation. This may be due to using alcohol as a tool for self medication, or to aid relaxation, but in actual fact, alcohol can accentuate anxiety, sleep disorders and depression, rather than ease the symptoms. By taking a break from alcohol, you may find symptoms of depression and low mood are improved, while your sleeping patterns become more balanced.
After a month’s abstinence, you may reduce the risk of a number of health issues, including liver disease, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Your blood pressure will start to reduce, as will your cholesterol, and your immune system will improve, meaning you are less susceptible to colds, bugs and other viruses. It’s possible you will increase your life expectancy too!
Alcohol dehydrates the skin meaning wrinkles and pores are likely to become more prominent. Drinking to excess can also lead to dryness, inflammation and blotchiness which is often visible on your face. By giving your skin a break from alcohol for a month, you can expect to see some significant improvements. After just an hour, your body will already be working hard to remove excess toxins from your bloodstream. By the following week, as long as you are drinking plenty of water, your skin may start to look clearer thanks to restored hydration. By the end of the 31 days you can expect your skin to look significantly healthier with a more even skin tone and less swelling.
While a glass of wine before bed may help you drop off more quickly, alcohol can actually affect the quality of your sleep. By slipping into a deep sleep straight away, you are depriving your body and brain of key stages of the sleep cycle required for restoration. You may also find your rest is more disrupted due to dehydration and a need to go to the toilet more frequently through the night. According to a survey from Alcohol Change UK, 70% of people who participate in Dry January s have better sleep and 66% have more energy. This is most likely due to balanced sleeping patterns and cycles, leaving you feeling refreshed and clear-headed for the day ahead. You can read more about the effects of alcohol on sleep in our article How does alcohol affect sleep?
If you want to lose weight, abstaining from booze is a great place to start. Alcohol contains more calories than people think. A standard glass of wine, for example, has as many calories as an ice cream while a pint of beer is equivalent to a bar of chocolate. By cutting out alcohol for a month, wine drinkers could reduce their calorie intake by a staggering 3,840, whereas beer drinkers could reduce their calorie consumption by 4,320. Read more about this in our article How does alcohol affect your weight or download the Try Dry app which will track the amount of calories you’re taking on board as a result of alcohol.
After the excesses of December, it may feel like going cold turkey for an entire month is a daunting task, particularly with those long winter nights to contend with. Here are some tips for making Dry January not only rewarding, but enjoyable too.
For some people, the 1st of February can’t come quick enough, but before reaching for the bottle opener, it’s worth pausing to reflect on why you chose to do Dry January in the first place and whether this is the time to plan a different relationship with alcohol in the long term. The beginning of February doesn’t have to mean the end of your alcohol-free journey, you may prefer to think of it as the beginning of a new journey. If you’ve made a note of how much money you’ve saved on alcohol during the month, think of how much more you could potentially save over six months, or even a whole year.
If you’re looking to reassess your relationship with alcohol going forward rather than stop altogether, try our Habit Hacker to explore behaviour change techniques which may help break bad habits. You can also contact the LiveWell Dorset team for some one on one guidance on how to reduce your alcohol consumption going forward.
For further inspiration why not check out Ed’s Dry January story? Weymouth-based Ed contacted LiveWell Dorset following a scare at a work health check. You can read about his Dry January journey in our article Ed’s Dry January journey.
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