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Why you should try a 30-day alcohol break

Maybe you’ve tried it after the holidays. With overindulgence a not-so-distant memory and healthy resolutions staring you in the face, perhaps you’ve embraced the idea of a Dry January or “Drynuary.”

But the “sober curious” movement has spread beyond January. NPR points out that now there’s “Dry July” and “Sober September” with people sharing their alcohol-free experiences on social media year-round.

Giving up alcohol for a full month might be a way to shed extra pounds or just a way to accrue 31 days of health benefits ranging from better sleep and a happier mood to giving your liver and cholesterol a much-needed break.

Whatever the reason and whenever they quit, some people say the alcohol break is worth it.

John Ore is credited with coining the “Dry January” phrase and popularizing the idea in the U.S. He hasn’t had a drink in January (OK, maybe one here and there) for about a decade. Starting in January 2007, he and his then-girlfriend, now wife decided to try a “post-holiday cleanse,” he writes in Slate, daring themselves to abstain from alcohol for a month. His drink of choice? Seltzer with a splash of juice.

The benefits of going dry

Feet standing on scale One obvious benefit to cutting back on alcohol is weight loss. Drinking fewer calories can mean dropping some pounds. (Photo: Billion Photos/Shutterstock)

There have been studies touting the benefits of indulging in an occasional glass of red wine. But taking a month off from alcohol can deliver a range of positive results, too.

In the U.K. “Dry January” started in 2012 as a fundraising campaign targeting social drinkers. The money raised goes to people affected by alcoholism. Of the 2 million or so people who pledged to go dry in 2016, 62% said they slept better and had more energy, 49% lost weight and 79% saved money.

In fact, researchers from the University of Sussex surveyed over 800 people who participated in Dry January in 2018 and found that the positive results lasted well beyond the month. By August, the average number of drinking days, units consumed and frequency of being drunk were all lower. Most of the participants also reported sleeping better and losing weight. But the benefits don’t end there. The participants also reaped many mental health benefits.

The research showed that:

  • 93% had a sense of achievement
  • 88% saved money
  • 82% think more deeply about their relationship with drink
  • 80% feel more in control of their drinking
  • 76% learned more about when and why they drink
  • 71% realized they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves
  • 70% had generally improved health
  • 67% had more energy
  • 57% had better concentration

In a 2018 study, researchers compared the health of a people who gave up drinking for one month to a people who continued to drink. Those who abstained had lost some weight, had lower blood pressure, had improvements in their insulin resistance and a drop in cancer-related growth factors.

Other research also shows how differently we consume food when we drink. A 2013 study of more than 1,800 drinkers found significant differences in food intake and nutrition on drinking versus non-drinking days. In general, their diets were poorer on days that they were drinking than on days they weren’t.

In a very small study in 2013, 14 staff members at New Scientist (all “moderate” drinkers) decided to put a month-long alcohol fast to the test. Ten of them gave up drinking for five weeks, while four continued to imbibe. They had blood tests and liver ultrasounds done before and after the experiment. Yes, the sample was small, but the results were interesting.

There were no changes after five weeks for those who kept on drinking. But for those who gave up alcohol, their cholesterol, weight, blood glucose levels and liver fat dropped. Their self-reported assessments of how well they were able to sleep, concentrate and perform at work went up.

“What you have is a pretty average group of British people who would not consider themselves heavy drinkers, yet stopping drinking for a month alters liver fat, cholesterol and blood sugar, and helps them lose weight,” said Kevin Moore, consultant in liver health services at University College London Medical School (UCLMS). “If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they would be raking it in.”

Tips to succeed

bowl of chocolate sauce surrounded by cookies You may want to replace that rush from alcohol with a sugar high instead. (Photo: Milos Batinic/Shutterstock.com)

If you normally drink, whether occasionally or on a regular basis, it might be tough to go cold turkey. Some things to consider:

When you don’t have alcohol, you may crave sugar. “Don’t be surprised if you try to get that same enjoyment or rush you used to get after a drink from something sweet,” Los Angeles-based physician Damon Raskin, M.D., who is board-certified in addiction medicine, tells Prevention.

Watch out for peer pressure. Social influence doesn’t end in high school. When you’re out with friends, they may not understand why you’re not drinking and may try to give you grief.

It can be both challenging and fulfilling. The first week is easy, says Ore. But after a while, there’s only so much that is exciting about seltzer … until you make it to the end of the month. “If you can get this done,” Ore tells The New York Times, “there is this sense of accomplishment.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in January 2017.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Why you should try a 30-day alcohol break

Whether it’s Dry January or Dry July, a month off from alcohol could be good for you.

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