For thousands of years, alcohol has been a part of various cultures around the world. Whether to celebrate something or just as a regular part of a meal, many of us have at least one drink almost daily. While there are some health benefits to certain types of alcohol, having too much, too often is not a good thing. What happens if you quit drinking? It takes only 30 days to find out.
What Happens When You Quit Alcohol for 30 Days
Though alcohol kills more people than opioids, completely giving up alcohol for 30 days can seem extreme. After all, what happens when you quit drinking for just 30 days, really? Isn’t it better to instead moderate your consumption all year long than to give it up entirely for only one month?
The answer is yes: It is best to always be conscious about how much you’re drinking at any given event, dinner, brunch, night out, or evening in. Unfortunately, many of us struggle to find that balance. Going for 30 days without it can help you to better see the benefits and reign in your drinking habits permanently. (1)
The Dry January Study
Researchers at the University of Sussex in England decided to follow 800 Dry January participants after they completed the one month of no alcohol to see what effect, if any, it had on their drinking habits afterward. (2)
They discovered that giving up alcohol for one month helped them better moderate their consumption even six months later. (2) Here are the stats for you (2):
- Number of drinking days per week dropped from 4.3 to 3.3
- Excessive drinking rates fell from 3.4 times per month to 2.1
- Number of drinks on a drinking day fell from 8.6 to 7.1
Essentially, taking a month off of drinking helped people learn that they don’t need to drink as much in order to enjoy alcohol and the events that surround it. In fact, they might even enjoy it more. (2)
What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Alcohol
Many of us have been stuck in the same drinking habits for so long, we don’t actually see the adverse effects it is having on how we feel. Of course, the effects of giving up alcohol for one month will vary from person to person, however, they do all tend to follow a similar pattern. (3)
When you quit drinking for 30 days, you can expect to see these changes to your body and health:
1. Improved Liver Health
The liver is the primary organ responsible for processing alcohol. When you give it a break, the health of your liver will start to improve. (3)
“It doesn’t happen in a day, but for 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,” explains Dr. Amitava Dasgupta, author of The Science of Drinking. “the liver can focus on its other jobs, such as breaking down other toxins produced by the body, metabolizing fats and excess hormones that need to be broken down.” (3)
2. Lower Risk for Cardiovascular Disease
Found primarily in the liver, a group of enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases is responsible for metabolizing alcohol. When alcohol is consumed in excess, however, the enzyme is overwhelmed and different enzymes have to take over. (3)
“When it’s metabolized by this different pathway, it produces lots of free radicals which is known to oxidize bad cholesterol (LDL), and when the LDL is oxidized it deposits on the carotid arteries forming [blockage],” said Dasgupta. (3)
Drinking in moderation (only one or two drinks a couple of times per week) doesn’t have this effect on most people. (3)
3. Lower Risk of Cancer
We always talk about smoking and cancer, but alcohol can have very similar effects. There are links between alcohol consumption and these types of cancer (3):
Drinking less, or not drinking at all, reduces your risk of developing these cancers. (3)
4. Weight Loss
Will you lose 20 pounds from just one month of not drinking at all? Likely not, however, you will notice a change in your body. First of all, drinking tends to cause swelling (aka water retention) so the first thing you will notice is the loss of that. (2, 3)
Beyond that, alcohol does contain calories, especially sugary cocktails. When you replace your regular gin and tonic with a seltzer and lime, your average calorie intake on a night out will drop to zero. You will also avoid:
- Drunken late-night cravings (4)
- Greasy hangover food after a night out (4)
Not to mention rather than spending your entire Sunday melted into the couch, you will have the energy to go out and do productive, active things with your day. As always with weight loss, if you truly want to make your alcohol-free month effective, you also need to change eating and exercise habits. (3)
6. Sleep Better
While alcohol has a sedating effect, the actual quality of your sleep is generally not good. When you quit drinking, you will notice that you wake up feeling more refreshed and energized. You can also expect to look better: Say goodbye to undereye bags and hello to bright, glowing skin. (2)
7. A Brain Booster
It is well known that alcohol has an effect on our brains. The more excessive the drinking, the more likely alcohol is to have a lasting impact on your brain. When you quit drinking, or at the very least drink less, you can expect to have increased concentration and improved memory. (3)
Positive Effects are Not Just Physical
There are many other positive effects to not drinking. These include (1):
- Decreased anxiety and improved mental health
- Saved money
- Better connections with family and friends
- More enjoyable and productive weekends (or weekdays)
The savings you experience alone not having spent $50 to $100 at the pub on a Friday night or an extra $30 on drinks at brunch on a Sunday afternoon adds up quickly. Imagine what you could do or where you could go with that extra cash in your bank account?
What Happens When You Quit Alcohol? Alot, But Quitting Isn’t Easy
Despite all of the benefits, prepare for quitting alcohol to be hard. Your friends and family might not understand, there will be pressure to have a drink in many different settings, and there will be some days where you just really crave a glass of wine.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with these challenges. Perhaps you decide not to go out for that month and that works for you. For the social butterflies who can’t imagine missing a night out with friends, perhaps this means having “virgin” drinks (though try to stick to low-sugar or sugar-free ones) to help get you through is the answer. For those who live in places where cars are necessary to get around, offer to be the designated driver for the month.
Perhaps you can even suggest sober bars to your friends instead of the regular ones. However you decide to do it, you will see benefits and they are well worth the effort.
If straight-up quitting is not for you, perhaps try a different take by simply limiting your alcohol intake. Perhaps this will look like “No Drunk January” instead of “Dry January”, or maybe this is setting rules like “I won’t have drinks Monday through Thursday” or “I will limit my drinking to two drinks per session, maximum two days per week.”
Whatever you choose to do, be clear with your intentions and rules and communicate them with your friends and family. Your short and long-term health will benefit.