In recent years, the number of people cutting back on alcohol or stopping drinking entirely has been increasing. The organisation behind Dry January, Alcohol Change, recorded its highest-ever number of participants in 2022. It’s not surprising, when you consider the benefits to your health and well-being that giving up drinking provides.
From sleeping better and losing weight, to improving brain function and lowering blood pressure, there are plenty of convincing reasons to consider reducing your intake of alcohol or giving it up completely. Read on to discover more benefits to going dry.
Benefits of giving up alcohol may include:
1. Consuming less sugar and fewer calories, potentially leading to weight loss
2. Uninterrupted, deeper sleep
3. Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression
4. Less risk of developing liver disease and some types of cancer
5. Helps lower blood pressure
6. Supports healthy brain function
7. Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease
8. Improves energy levels
9. Stops skin and eyes from appearing dull
10. Allows the liver time to heal, and reduces fat build up
What are the benefits of reducing your alcohol intake?
Cutting back on alcohol can improve your mental and physical health in a number of ways, including:
1. Weight management
Alcohol is made by fermenting (and sometimes distilling) starch and sugar. Because of this, it’s high in calories, supplying 7 kcals/g – almost as much as fat, which provides 9 kcals.
Calories from alcohol are typically described as ’empty calories’ because they provide no nutritional value. Some alcoholic drinks contain traces of vitamins and minerals, but not in sufficient amounts to contribute to a balanced diet.
When you drink alcohol, your body also burns less fat as energy. We can store nutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fat in our bodies, but we can’t store alcohol, so our bodies try to process it as soon as possible. This disrupts the other processes that would usually take place, including those involved in absorbing nutrients and burning fat.
Swapping alcoholic drinks for non-alcoholic options that are lower in sugar and calories can be a great way to cut down on calories and help you manage your weight.
2. Better sleep
You might think alcohol helps you nod off, but the truth is that even just a few drinks can disrupt your sleep cycle and make you feel tired and sluggish. When you fall asleep after drinking, you may fall into a deep sleep more quickly than usual, but over the course of the night, you actually spend less time in deep sleep and more time in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, which is much less restful. This means you’re more likely to wake up feeling tired, even after a full night in bed.
In contrast, having alcohol-free days may help you sleep better and wake more refreshed the next morning.
3. Better mental health
Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down the brain and central nervous system. So, while it may make you feel more confident and relaxed in the short term, in the long term it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Say no to drinking and you could miss out on the low mood caused by poor sleep, dehydration and horrible hangovers.
4. Better long-term physical health
The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing a number of serious, potentially life-limiting health conditions, such as pancreatitis, liver disease, some types of cancer and diabetes.
However, reducing your intake so that it is within the low-risk guidelines will help keep your risk of alcohol-related harm low.
5. May lower blood pressure
Dr Gautam Mehta, senior lecturer at the UCL Institute for Liver and Digestive Health, co-authored a paper on the benefits of periods of abstinence, such as Dry January. He says:
“Our work has shown that a month off alcohol, in healthy individuals drinking at moderate to high levels, does lead to tangible health benefits by the end of the month. Our study saw a weight loss of around 2kg, a decrease in blood pressure of around 5 per cent and improvement in diabetes risk of almost 30 per cent. However, it’s important to note that we don’t know how long these benefits last, or whether they translate to long-term improvements in health.”
More like this
6. Improve brain function
Alcohol slows down the communication between your brain and the rest of your body. It also limits your ability to retrieve memories. People who are dependant on alcohol may suffer from disorders of the brain due to excessive drinking.
Giving up drinking alcohol puts you at a lower risk of developing these disorders, and may improve brain function over time.
7. Good for heart health
Excess drinking produces free radicals in the body that cause any ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) to oxidise, which may eventually block arteries.
Therefore, reducing the amount of alcohol you drink decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
8. More energy
Cutting out alcohol hugely improves the quality of your sleep, so you’ll likely feel more energised. Without the dehydrating effects of alcohol, you may also notice that your mind is more clear and you experience less brain fog. What’s more, you won’t be reaching for sugary and carb-heavy foods to give you a quick release of energy, only to suffer from crashes later on.
9. Glowing skin and eyes
Alcohol dehydrates your body, which can leave your skin and eyes looking dull. If you cut back on the booze, you may notice how healthy, hydrated and well-rested you look.
10. Less fat around the liver
Drinking more than the recommended amount (two drinks a day for men, one for women) causes fat to build up around the liver. This is concerning, as the liver is vital for filtering toxins from the blood, aiding the digestion of food and balancing blood sugar levels.
The good news is, fatty liver disease is reversible – once you stop drinking, the liver should begin to slowly recover.
Where can I get help to tackle my drinking?
Speak to your GP if you’re worried about your alcohol intake or that of someone you care about. They will be able to suggest ways to help manage your drinking habits, and also refer you for counselling or support services.
The Drinkaware website is a great online resource offering plenty of free tools, facts and advice. It also has information on and contact details for a range of alcohol support services.
If you’re concerned that you may have an issue with alcohol or you’d like support with stopping drinking, book an appointment with your GP.
Want more like this? Try:
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.
Drinkaware is an independent charity which aims to reduce alcohol-related harm by helping people make better choices about their drinking. It provides impartial, evidence-based information, advice and practical resources, raising awareness of alcohol and its harms, and working collaboratively with partners. Visit the Drinkaware website for more information.