7 Health Benefits Of Dry January—And Expert Advice On How To Set Yourself Up For Success – Forbes Health

Not drinking alcohol for one month may result in several physical and psychological benefits, according to experts. However, it’s important to note that those who consume five to six drinks or more daily should seek a medical evaluation prior to attempting the challenge.

Better Sleep

The most immediate benefit that Dry January participants tend to notice is improved sleep within a week, says Eric Collins, M.D., chief medical officer at Recovery Education and Applied Learning (REAL), or RecoveryEducation.com, and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.

“Alcohol is a sleep disruptor and inhibits REM (rapid eye movement) sleep,” he says. “You also have fewer interruptions getting up to urinate as often because alcohol is a diuretic (increases urine output).”

Reducing alcohol intake leads to better rest, further improving energy levels, focus and productivity, adds Heather Martin, D.O., a Tennessee-based internist and medical director of K Health Primary Care Program.

Clearer Complexion

“A lot of people notice their skin looks better when they stop drinking, not for days, but for a few weeks or a month,” says Dr. Collins. Without alcohol’s diuretic effects, the body and skin are more hydrated.

“[Alcohol] it dilates the blood vessels in the periphery,” he adds. “That’s actually why people feel like they’re warmer when they’re drinking, even though they’re losing their body heat.” Therefore, not drinking helps reduce redness or a ruddy complexion.

Improved Blood Pressure

Regular heavy drinking has been linked to high blood pressure.

“According to a number of studies over the years, there are several possible ways that alcohol is believed to raise blood pressure, including an imbalance of the central nervous system, imbalance of vasoconstrictors, impairment of baroreceptor control in the brain, increased cortisol levels and increased amount of calcium that binds to the blood vessels,” explains Dr. Martin.

However, blood pressure levels can improve even with a month of abstinence. One small study found that male heavy drinkers who abstained from alcohol for just one month had significantly decreased blood pressure, based on a 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring assessment (which is a method that measures blood pressure on a continuous basis).

Liver Recovery

Drinking too much can overwhelm the liver, the organ that breaks down alcohol, and lead to liver disease.

“Binge drinking in particular causes liver injuries and that can accumulate over time,” says Dr. Collins. “And even giving a person a month off alcohol allows the liver to recover—unless the liver has been so severely damaged—it tends to recover nicely and repair itself.”

Indeed, healing of the liver can begin just a few days after you stop drinking, as the organ is self-healing (like your skin). Still, if the damage is severe, it can take a few months to heal.

Weight Loss

Alcohol can lead to weight gain by preventing the body from burning fat, contributing to sugar and starch intake and causing cravings for foods high in fat, explains Dr. Martin. Cutting out alcohol even for a month can help someone avoid those negative effects.

Not to mention, abstaining from booze also means avoiding the empty calories alcohol often provides. “Alcohol is a very high-calorie food and it’s liquid calories,” explains Dr. Collins. “It doesn’t fill us up as much and we don’t get the cues from our stomach expanding with a large intake of food. So there’s weight gain, and to some degree bloating or edema, which goes along with heavy drinking for some people.”

Separately, studies have shown abstinence from alcohol in moderate to heavy drinkers has an impact on not only weight loss, but insulin resistance and cancer-related growth factors.

Strengthened Immune System

Chronic heavy drinking weakens the immune system by killing off healthy bacteria and decreasing the number of T cells (white blood cells that specify immune responses) in the body, says Dr. Martin. Further, drinking a lot at once weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections for up to 24 hours afterward, per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Thus, taking a break from alcohol (especially during cold and flu season) gives the immune system a chance to recover.

Reevaluated Relationship With Alcohol

Dry January is an opportunity to soberly assess your relationship with alcohol, say Dr. Collins and Heidi Kar, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and principal advisor for mental health, trauma and violence at the Education Development Center in New York. This can be especially helpful for folks with a family history of alcohol abuse.

“We eat certain things we don’t think much about; alcohol’s one of those things that either we know when we have a bad day, we’re going to have something to drink, or when we’re in a certain social situation, we’re going to have a drink, says Dr. Kar. “We often don’t think about what our relationship to it is. And so that ability to take a step back and say, without it, is it feeling like a crutch?”

“It gives us a lot of information about ourself, about how we’re coping with things in our life and allows us to figure out, do I need to examine the relationship? That heightened awareness is very positive,” she adds. Completing Dry January can also build a sense of self-esteem and achievement, especially given the social and peer pressure aspect of drinking alcohol, she says.

A 2019 University of Sussex study found that 93% of Dry January participants felt a sense of achievement, and 82% thought more deeply about their relationship with alcohol.

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