An hour to an hour and a half. That’s how long it takes for your body to break down one glass of alcohol. Your liver has no trouble handling that. But chances are you drink more, and more often. January is the perfect time to reset your relationship with alcohol. Perhaps you’re considering reducing your alcohol intake or going totally alcohol free in 2020. Or are you still in limbo?
Let’s be honest, beginning is always the hardest part. When it comes to breaking habits like drinking alcohol, the process always seems far more difficult in practice. Parties, dinners, Friday socials or birthdays can be challenging. Whatever your goal is, it’s good to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. Do you want to be alcohol free for the whole month of January? Then don’t drink at that party. Do you want to limit your drinking to weekends? Or do you want to stop drinking altogether? How specific have you defined your goal? We have some tips to help you reach and keep your goal.
What does alcohol do to your body?
Drinking alcohol has many effects on your body. When consumed in moderation, some of these effects are positive. After a glass of wine you will feel relaxed and a little more confident and talkative. However, alcohol can also increase the risk of health problems. If you drink alcohol regularly, even if it’s just a little, you have a greater risk of developing the following conditions:
- Alcohol is consistently linked to an increased risk of cancer, in particular cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and larynx.
- Liver and brain damage. Alcohol affects liver function and can also affect the brain.
- Cardiovascular diseases. Alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically and therefore also the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Alcohol irritates the stomach, so it can lead to complaints such as heartburn.
- Alcohol is high in energy content and can contribute to your waistline. One glass of wine contains no less than 123 calories and a glass of beer has 113. Excessive alcohol use leads to weight gain and can even cause obesity.
A night of drinking may be fun and feel great at the time, but the day after you’ll probably feel so hungover that you can’t face talking or seeing anyone. Alcohol also affects your sleep, so even if you are not sick, you will probably be feeling very tired. Would you like to know if going without alcohol for a month will benefit your health? Consider spending a month booze free.
An alcohol-free month: what’s the point?
We can hear you think: ‘What’s the point of abstaining from alcohol for one month?’ Well, here’s the point. Research from the University of Sussex in England noted that abstaining from alcohol for just one month has myriad benefits. Most participants who took a month off alcohol during Dry January slept better, had more energy and lost weight. They also saved money in the process. Most interestingly, after Dry January was over, the participants continued to drink less. So, the simple act of taking a month off alcohol helps people drink less in the long term.
The effects of an alcohol-free month
An alcohol-free month gives the body time to recover from the damage sustained. A break from drinking seems to be especially beneficial to the liver. This is confirmed by Hans van Vlierberghe, Head of Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Ghent University Hospital: ‘The liver has a remarkable capacity to regenerate. Abstaining from alcohol for a while allows the organ to recover, so that the damage from alcohol-induced scarring is reversed and further damage prevented.’
How do I stop drinking alcohol?
Would you like to stop drinking alcohol for a month, or longer, then you should be aware that you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, difficulty sleeping and moodiness. The good news is these symptoms will pass. After a few alcohol-free days, you’ll even feel better than before. You’ll be closer to your goal and notice that it’s possible to have a good time without alcohol. These tips will increase your chances of staying dry:
- Set a clear goal and stick to it: Dry January means no drinking for the entire month.
- If you find it difficult not to drink beer or wine, stock up on alcohol-free options. There’s a wide range of alcohol-free drinks available these days, so this way you don’t have to be a ‘party pooper’.
- Make it very clear to your family and friends that you’re committed to the process of staying alcohol free, whether they like it or not. You’ll see that the benefits of a booze-free life will inspire others to do the same.
- If you are having a difficult time not drinking, distract yourself to kill the urge. Go for a walk, take a bath or phone a friend. Cravings usually subside after 30 minutes or so.
- Turn negative thoughts (‘I deserve a drink’, ‘I’ll never keep it up’) into positive ones (‘I deserve a reward other than a drink’ or ‘I’ve stuck with it for so long, I’m going to see this through’).
- Keep a journal about your sleep and how you feel physically. You’ll see that your diary entries will become more and more positive as time passes.
- It’s good to realise that parties with alcohol are not necessarily more fun. The benefits of alcohol are actually quite small. Really.
- Buddy up. Having someone – a friend, neighbour, relative or colleague – in the same booze-free boat can be a great source of encouragement and will help you stay on the healthy path.
- If the withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, hyperventilation or anxiety, are too much for you to handle, then a doctor can provide support and, if desired, prescribe medication.
Are you ready to start your alcohol-free journey? We wish you the very best of luck. You can do it!
Would you like to read more about cutting back on drinking alcohol or do you think you may be addicted to alcohol? At Dokteronline.com you can read about treatment options and, if necessary, consult a doctor.
Jellinek – Effective Support – Expert on alcohol, drugs and addiction (n.d.). Afbreken alcohol lichaam | Jellinek | Hoe wordt alcohol afgebroken? (Breaking down alcohol in the body | Jellinek | How does the body break down alcohol?) Consulted on 20 November 2019 on https://www.jellinek.nl/vraag-antwoord/hoe-wordt-alcohol-door-het-lichaam-afgebroken/
Ford, A. (n.d.). How ‘Dry January’ is the secret to better sleep, saving money and losing weight. Consulted on 30 April 2019 on http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/47131
Roest, P. (2016, 22 July). Research: Alcohol veroorzaakt zeven soorten kanker (Alcohol is the cause of seven types of cancer). Consulted on 30 April 2019 on https://www.metronieuws.nl/nieuws/extra/2016/07/onderzoek-alcohol-veroorzaakt-zeven-typen-kanker
Sevil, M. (2018, 13 January). De winst van een maand zonder alcohol (The benefits of an alcohol-free month). Consulted on 30 April 2019 on https://www.parool.nl/binnenland/de-winst-van-een-maand-zonder-alcohol%7Ea4556786/
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Thuisarts.nl. (2017, 26 October). Ik ga stoppen met alcohol drinken (I’m going to stop drinking alcohol) | Thuisarts. Consulted on 20 November 2019 on https://www.thuisarts.nl/alcohol/ik-ga-stoppen-met-alcohol-drinken#in-het-kort
Van Berkel, H. (2015, 10 January). Een maand zonder alcohol, heeft dat zin? (An alcohol-free month: what’s the point?) Consulted on 30 April 2019 on http://aa-tilburg-eo.nl/een-maand-zonder-alcohol-heeft-dat-zin/