They say it takes 30 days to break a habit, and even if alcohol isn’t exactly a ‘habit’, there are still some great benefits to taking a month off.
We know that drinking too much can take its toll on our physical and psychological health, because let’s face it - we have all been there! Those mornings when you wake up full of dread from what you may have done or said the night before and a throbbing headache, accompanied by a close encounter with a toilet bowl… Some of us may have had this experience only a few times and learned the lesson, others may still be figuring out what role alcohol plays in their life and whether it needs to take more of a back seat.
Apart from immediate hangovers and next day anxieties, alcohol really can wipe us out for a few days and even unsettle our week. Whether you think it’s worth it for you to have occasional big nights out and deal with the consequences later, or you know you should probably look at taking a break from drinking, here are some benefits to taking a month’s break from booze.
Taking an alcohol-free month can allow us to look at our relationship from a different, deeper perspective and understanding.
What is my relationship with alcohol and am I happy with it?
If over the month, you begin to notice that you are missing your glass of wine each night, maybe there is some kind of dependance happening? Do you really need the alcohol when you go to social events, or can you have a good time without it and drive you and your friends home? Or are you just drinking because everybody else is? As that is something we all need to be aware of coming from a very strongly ingrained drinking culture, where getting drunk is often celebrated. It may be helpful for you to check in with yourself after the month and reset your limits or your goals around drinking.
Benefits for your physical health
Unhealthy relationships with alcohol have been proven to increase the risk of cancer, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease.
What is an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. The NIAA's definition of drinking at a low risk differs for women and men. For women, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For men, it is defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.
The Australian Cancer Council states that any alcohol consumption can increase the risk of someone developing a type of alcohol-related cancer. The more regular and heavy a person is drinking, the higher the risk. Cancer Council Australia estimated that about 3,200 cases of cancer (mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver and breast) in Australia in 2010 were attributable to alcohol consumption.
Cutting out alcohol can also be an effective approach to losing a few kilograms, as long as you're not replacing the alcoholic beverage with a sugary drink, or stocking up on chocolate and sweets to help you fight cravings! To see how many calories are in your drink of choice, check out this calorie calculator from the National Institute of Health.
The final positive physical benefit for cutting out alcohol for a month: you will sleep better! Studies led by the University of Melbourne found that drinking alcohol before sleep may help you fall asleep faster, but you won't have a good quality rest. The study found that in the group of people tested:
"Alpha wave patterns were heightened, which doesn’t happen during normal sleep. Alpha activity tends to occur when the brain is awake but quietly resting, in metabolic break mode. Having both delta and alpha activity together, therefore, leads to disrupted sleep, since the alpha functions tend to offset any restorative efforts the brain neurons are trying to squeeze in."
Benefits for your mental health
Whether you are participating in an initiative like Dry July or Sober October, or just taking a month off drinking, your brain will thank you for it. Aside from no deep, dark hangovers where we often bathe in self-hate, a study on the effects of alcohol on the mental state also found that alcohol impairs executive cognitive functioning, which is our ability to reason, plan and organise. Basically, drinking too much alcohol too often, means we are jeopardising the available clarity we can tap into when we feel healthy and well.
Taking a month off improves your chances of sustainable change
Research led by psychologist Dr Richard de Visser, was conducted with over 800 people who took one month off drinking. His results showed participant's drinking days fell from 4 -3 a week, drinks consumed per day dropped from 8 to one and the times the participants drink in a month also dropped. Participants also reported higher energy levels and felt less need to drink alcohol, even several months after the study.
$18 cocktails can definitely chew up your cash, so saving money is a positive when it comes to cutting out alcohol. There's also no hangovers which tend to get worse and worse the older we get. No hangover means we can spend more quality time with loved ones and family, and even form more authentic connections with people.
However, The best benefit of taking a 30-day break from booze is the opportunity to understand your relationship with alcohol, and starting to create a relationship you are happy with for longer, sustainable change. Giving up drinking depends on factors including how regular you drink, your age, body type, diet, genetics and family history. This means all of our journey's with alcohol will be different. There are plenty of places to go for support if you are wanting a little help with resetting your habits or cutting back, including Hello Sunday Morning, ReachOut Australia, and DrinkWise.
You can read more here about Fiona's reflection on her life, 6 months after giving up drinking.
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