Drinking in excess even one time per month has significant impacts on the body. But taking the opportunity to participate in dry January, a very mainstream ritual these days, can possibly make a significant impact on your body and your relationship with alcohol.
Unfortunately, alcohol can have negative impacts on the body, affecting nearly every organ system.
Let’s take a closer look...
- Central Nervous System (Brain and spinal cord): Alcohol can impair brain function leading to poor judgment, slow reaction times, loss of balance and coordination, and slurred speech. Chronic alcohol abuse can result in permanent damage to the brain, leading to cognitive problems or even dementia.
- Gastrointestinal System: Alcohol can damage the tissues in the digestive tract, leading to ulcers and gastritis (extremely painful!). It can interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the intestines, leading to malnutrition and physical damage elsewhere in the body. The liver is also part of the GI system and with excessive and long standing use, it can be severely damaged causing conditions like fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
- Cardiovascular System: Alcohol can cause you to have high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat as well as heart disease.
- Immune System: Unfortunately, drinking can weaken the immune system. We’re less likely to be in homeostasis and allowing our immune system to make components it needs to fight illness, like white blood cells and proteins that create antibodies, making the body more susceptible to diseases.
- Reproductive Health: In men, long-term alcohol use can lead to erectile dysfunction and a decrease in testosterone levels. In women, it can lead to an increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery.
- Mental Health: Alcohol abuse can lead to a range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and increased risk of suicide. It is also highly addictive and can lead to physical and psychological dependency. Withdrawal can be severe and life-threatening.
- Risk of Cancer: More and more articles are coming out about the connection between chronic alcohol consumption and an increased risk of several types of cancer, including mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast cancer.
So what are the positive impacts of abstaining from alcohol for even a period of 30 days?
Cutting back for 30 days can result in improved liver function. Alcohol is processed in the liver, and excessive consumption can lead to liver diseases such as cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. Amazingly, our liver can repair significant damage on its own, the only human organ that can do this. A break from alcohol can help the liver to recover and function better.
Better Sleep Quality: Though alcohol may help individuals fall asleep, it often disrupts the sleep cycle, leading to poor sleep quality. Abstaining from alcohol can improve sleep patterns and overall sleep quality.
Have you been hoping to drop your holiday weight when January hits? Cutting alcohol can help. Alcohol is calorically dense and can contribute to weight gain. A break from alcohol can help individuals lose weight and improve their physical health. Besides the fact that you’ll have better sleep quality and more energy to work out.
It can enhance hydration status! Alcohol is a diuretic (meaning you have the urge to use the bathroom more often), which can lead to dehydration. Abstaining from alcohol can improve hydration levels in the body as you remain in homeostasis more often and in turn improves migraine, skin conditions, fatigue and digestion.
Discontinuing alcohol can result in improved mood and mental clarity. Stopping alcohol can lead to improved mood, mental clarity, and overall cognitive function. It can also help with decreasing dependence as a period of abstinence can help vulnerable people recognize their dependence on alcohol and potentially help in reducing long-term use.
This is certainly not without challenges. Unfortunately, depending on the level of alcohol dependency, some individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be life threatening and you should be monitored by a doctor if you are suffering from this. Common side effects include headache, nausea, tremors, fast heart rate, anxiety and in severe cases hallucinations and seizures. Social Pressure or work events can also become an issue and it can help to prepare what you want to say before going to these.
Try out Dry January and see what impacts it might have for you!
If you find yourself struggling to abstain when you want to, consider seeking professional guidance. SAMHSA is a very helpful resource if you or someone you know is in need of assistance. (https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline)