You can reap the health benefits of giving up alcohol after just 30 days.
No matter your reason — New Year’s resolutions, weight loss goals or sleepless nights — there’s never a wrong time for a fresh start. Going dry for 30 days (or more) does more than just save you money — it can change your physical and mental health for the better.
“The benefits of giving up alcohol will vary based on how significant the change is from a person’s baseline behavior,” says Richard T. Hale, DO, a Geisinger internal medicine doctor. “Alcohol should be consumed in moderation, up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Drinkers that exceed that — even once a month — will reap rewards for their health by avoiding alcohol for 30 days or more.”
Benefits of giving up alcohol
Pausing the pour can bring a myriad of positive changes that enhance your overall health and wellness, and the benefits can be even greater the longer you cut back. Here’s what happens when you stop drinking:
Alcohol can make you sleepy at first, and you’ll quickly fall into a deep sleep. But later in the night, it’ll disrupt your sleep patterns and lead to poor sleep quality, causing more awakenings throughout the night and reduced amounts of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
“While most people have up to seven cycles of REM sleep a night, if you’ve been drinking, you may only have one or two,” says Dr. Hale. “When you give up drinking or even cut back, you will wake up feeling sharper, more energized and refreshed for the day.”
Immune system boost
Research has shown one night of drinking a few too many can weaken your body’s immune system for up to 24 hours. In addition, alcohol disrupts your sleep quality, further weakening your body’s ability to fight germs. Giving up alcohol gives your body a fighting chance against cold and flu season — and anything else that comes its way.
Drinking alcohol adds many empty calories to your diet, not to mention a lot of unwanted sugar. On average, a serving of beer is about 150 calories and a glass of wine is about 120. That can add up quickly over the course of an evening out with friends.
What’s worse, drinking alcohol increases your appetite — adding even more calories to your diet — while decreasing your energy and motivation to exercise. All these factors add up to weight gain.
Improved heart health
You may have heard red wine (in moderation) can be good for your heart. But, drinking it and other alcohol in excess is not. Alcohol raises the triglycerides in your blood, contributing to high cholesterol, and narrows your blood vessels, which leads to increased blood pressure.
“Cutting back or stopping drinking altogether can reduce your risk for stroke, heart attack and heart disease,” says Dr. Hale. “In fact, people who avoid alcohol for 30 days or more will begin to see lowered heart rates and blood pressure.”
Enhanced brain power
Alcohol damages nerve cells in the brain and can lead to many cognitive concerns, such as poor memory, brain fog, slow reaction time and poor concentration.
When you give up drinking, you’ll notice your mind is clearer, you’re more productive at work and home, and you’re better able to remember events.
Decreased risk for anxiety and depression
Alcohol is a depressant and over time can lead to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. When you drink alcohol, it floods the brain with dopamine, temporarily making you feel happy and less anxious. However, the rush of this “feel-good” chemical can cause anxiety to flare up as soon as it wears off.
Giving up alcohol can boost your mood, give you more energy and reduce negative feelings.
Reduced risk of injury
Alcohol impairs your judgement, vision and coordination, and unfortunately, plays a major role in car accidents and serious injuries every year. The good news is you don’t have to completely cut out alcohol to be safer. Drinking in moderation can dramatically reduce your risk of injury.
Signs you might be going through alcohol withdrawal
If you’re a heavy drinker, withdrawal symptoms can begin within the first 24 hours after your last drink as your body begins to detoxify. The nature and intensity of symptoms vary depending on how much and how often you drink.
Withdrawal symptoms from giving up alcohol can include:
- Cold sweats
- Racing heart rate
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shaky hands
- Intense anxiety
Fortunately, they are only temporary, and social to moderate drinkers should start to feel more like themselves again after a few days.
“After about a week of no drinking, you should start to notice the benefits, and by one month, most people are feeling their best,” says Dr. Hale. “You’ll be sleeping better and have a clearer mental state, more energy and an improved mood.”
In severe cases of withdrawal from heavy drinking, a person may have hallucinations, seizures or other life-threatening complications.
When to get help for drinking alcohol
You may think you have your drinking under control, but many people who abuse alcohol don’t believe they have a problem.
If you have alcohol cravings or withdrawal symptoms or are struggling to cut back, it could be time to reach out for help. A good place to start is with your primary care provider. Your provider can discuss treatment options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or medication to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and be a good source for referrals.
You also can search local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline. Geisinger’s Marworth Treatment Center can help you break the cycle of addiction in a safe and supportive environment.
“While giving up alcohol can be a challenge, the health benefits will be well worth it,” says Dr. Hale. “Even if you don’t go completely booze-free, cutting back and drinking in moderation will make you feel more energized and ready to tackle the year ahead. Just keep in mind: these benefits can be reversed if you go back to heavy drinking after 30 days.”