Evidence suggests that taking even a short break from alcohol may be beneficial for health and for overall well-being.
Thinking about taking a break from alcohol? You’re not alone. Alcohol-free challenges, like Dry January and Sober October, are gaining popularity in the U.S. and abroad . According to a survey of U.S. adults, almost one-quarter of individuals reported participating in Dry January in 2021 . Alcohol-free challenges provide an opportunity to examine one’s relationship with alcohol.
Is taking a short break from alcohol good for you?
A recent observational study in London examined the impact of abstaining from alcohol for one month on metabolic and cancer-related growth factors.
Relative to individuals who continued to drink alcohol, participants who abstained exhibited improved insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, weight loss, and reduced cancer-related growth factors.
It is not known whether these positive effects persist when alcohol is re-introduced. However, many of the participants in the study mentioned above who abstained from drinking for a month stayed the course, eliminating or reducing alcohol for an additional six to eight months after the end of the study. There was also a significant reduction in the percent of individuals engaging in “harmful” drinking behaviors.
A break from alcohol could lead to a long-term reduction in alcohol intake
Along the same lines, a study conducted in the U.K. found that participation in Dry January was associated with reduced alcohol intake at follow-up (at the end of the challenge as well as six months later). Successful completion of Dry January was also associated with increases in Drink Refusal Self-Efficacy (DRSE) scores, which measures an “individual’s self-perceived capacity to refuse alcohol in three domains: social settings when others are drinking, for emotion regulation, and opportunistic drinking.”
Higher DRSE scores were, in turn, associated with decreased alcohol intake at six months. Interestingly, participants who did not successfully complete Dry January still experienced long-term reductions in alcohol intake. Very few participants experienced a “rebound effect.” Though this study suffered serious limitations, including high drop-out rates, the findings are still note-worthy.
Other potential benefits of drinking less include reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer, improved mental clarity, better sleep, enhanced immunity, etc. Lastly, this study found that individuals who participated in Dry January reported increased self-efficacy and well-being.
Are there negative side effects of doing an alcohol-free month?
Based on the available data, the potential benefits of participating in Dry January and other no-alcohol challenges appear to outweigh the risks for most individuals. However, there are a few potential drawbacks and things to consider before participating:
- Some individuals who participate in an alcohol-free challenge may experience a “rebound effect.”
- The extent to which the effects of eliminating alcohol for a month persist is not known if alcohol is reintroduced.
- Abstinence from alcohol may precipitate withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms range from minor (headaches and nausea) to moderate (vomiting and fever) to severe (delirium tremens) .
- Before making any lifestyle changes, including cutting out alcohol, always consult with a healthcare provider. Alcohol detox and withdrawal can be life-threatening in some instances, and should be done under medical supervision.
Shocking changes we saw when we gave up booze
Our sober curious journeys began with an alcohol-free challenge in the summer of 2020. We both felt like we wanted to take a break from alcohol, and after months of researching the effects of alcohol on health and creating mocktail recipes for our upcoming book, Mocktail Party, it just seemed like something we should do.
Diana has been alcohol-free ever since we completed the challenge! Kerry cut back her intake of alcohol significantly and then officially stopped drinking in January.
The biggest benefits we have noticed so far? Clearer skin, deeper sleep, and no hangovers. Plus, we are loving trying all of the amazing non-alcoholic products out there - and, of course, our own recipes!
Will I see these benefits, too?
Neither the experiences of two individuals nor the outcomes of studies guarantee results. Alcohol consumption is only one facet of health, along with overall diet, exercise, genetics, etc. Maybe you will experience all of these benefits, maybe you’ll experience none of them. Every alcohol-free journey is different because everybody (and every body) is different. Do your best to avoid the comparison trap.
Tips for participating in an alcohol-free challenge
- Keep your kitchen stocked. There are so many fun non-alcoholic products and recipes to try, you will never run dry on inspiration! Be sure to check out our products page to learn about our favorite products and tools
- Set a clear intention for your booze-free month.
- Don’t think about going alcohol-free as a “punishment” or a “detox” for indulging over the holidays, etc., but rather as an opportunity to explore how you feel when you don’t drink.
- Find support from friends, family, or social media groups.
Lastly, if you are concerned about yours or a loved one’s intake of alcohol, substance use, or mental health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) maintains a free and confidential hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and provides information and treatment referrals in English and Spanish 24/7, 365 days a year. You can find additional information and resources on their website at https://www.findtreatment.gov/.