As the holiday season draws to a close, many people find themselves reflecting on a fresh and healthy start in the new year. A popular observance in the last few years has been Dry January, a commitment to starting out the new year by not consuming alcohol for the entire month.
Impacts of Alcohol Consumption on Physical Health
Drinking too much alcohol can seriously impact your health. Long-term or heavy drinking can harm your heart, leading to issues like cardiomyopathy, irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure. Your liver can also be impacted from excessive drinking, resulting in problems like fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Additionally, drinking too much is linked to a higher risk of various cancers, including those of the breast, liver, colorectal, and esophagus.
There are many other impacts of consuming alcohol as well, ranging from a weakened immune system to pancreatic, gastrointestinal, and respiratory issues as well.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
- 6% of cancer cases and 4.0% of cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol consumption.
- Of the 100,530 liver disease deaths among people ages 12 and older in 2021, 47.4% involved alcohol.
- Among all cirrhosis deaths in 2019, 50.3% were alcohol related.
Physical Benefits of Dry January
With so many negative impacts of alcohol consumption on physical health, it’s not hard to imagine that abstaining for alcohol for a period of time would have significant benefits to ones physical health.
According to a study published in 2021 titled Natural Recovery by the Liver and Other Organs after Chronic Alcohol Use, the liver is one of the organs of the body that has the highest degrees of alcohol-induced damage. However, abstaining from alcohol can often bring about some level of recovery to the organ. The extent of recovery does depend on the severity of damage to start with, but it’s promising to know that engaging in Dry January can allow your liver time to repair and heal itself.
Sleep and Energy:
Though alcohol has a sedative effect on our bodies initially, it does not provide any further benefits when it comes to sleep and energy. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, chronic alcohol use is associated with sleep complaints in 35-91% of patients. Alcohol interrupts REM cycles, preventing deep and restorative sleep. When you stop drinking, your brain begins healing and your sleep cycles are able to return to a more normal state. The University of Sussex’s 2019 study on Dry January found that 71% of participants slept better, and 67% had more energy.
Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect on our bodies, which extends to our skin. Increased levels of dehydration can lead to wrinkles, dry skin, and an overall decrease in the quality of your skin.
According to a 2018 report on Dry January from the University of Sussex, 54% of participants saw the appearance of better skin after completing the month-long challenge. So consuming less alcohol can lead to a decrease in dry skin, redness, and puffiness.
Impacts of Alcohol Consumption on Mental Health
Alcohol not only impacts us on a physical level, there are also many emotional and mental health concerns related to alcohol consumption as well. Alcohol is a depressant, which disrupts the balance of neurotransmitters in our brains. This imbalance can lead to loss of memory and mood changes. Alcohol consumption can also lead to slower brain processing, which can lead to clouded judgement and confusion.
Long term alcohol consumption can alter your brain chemistry, which can cause anxiety and depression because you no longer have the natural chemicals that help you deal with these feelings. This can create a harmful cycle of drinking to deal with anxiety or depression, because your body is no longer able to help you deal with these things naturally.
Mental Benefits of Dry January
Dry January’s impacts are not limited to just the physical aspects, it can also have many mental health and emotional benefits.
Abstaining from alcohol for 30 days can provide you with the opportunity to have meaningful reflection on your own personal relationship with alcohol. This introspection is a key aspect of Dry January, offering a chance to identify harmful habits and take intentional steps toward building healthier ones. Without the numbing effects of alcohol, you can gain a clearer perspective on your emotions, triggers, and coping mechanisms. This self-awareness can be a powerful catalyst for positive change, helping you forge a more mindful and balanced connection with alcohol moving forward.
Sense of Accomplishment:
Partaking in Dry January is also a great way to provide yourself with a great sense of purpose and accomplishment. When you complete the 31 days of no alcohol, you’ve achieved a goal you set out to accomplish, and studies have shown that achieving goals contributes positively to wellbeing. You’ve proven to yourself that you can accomplish this lifestyle change, and this sense of achievement may propel you to evaluate what other lifestyle changes you may want to incorporate into your life moving forward or additional goals you may want to achieve moving forward. Overall, this sense of accomplishment can help motivate you to incorporate additional positive changes into your life.
As mentioned earlier in this article, alcohol is a depressant that disrupts the brain’s balance of neurotransmitters that help moderate mood, and fight against anxiety and depression. Throughout Dry January, you’re allowing your brain an opportunity to reset and re-regulate the balance of neurotransmitters, which can lead to more stability in your mood. The increased mental clarity and sense of achievement from partaking in Dry January can also contribute to a more positive mood and mental wellbeing as you are making positive changes in your lifestyle.
We Are Here to Help
If you are finding yourself needing more support, or if you think you need assistance with your drinking, remember that you are not alone. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional or contact organizations that provide help to people who may be consuming too much alcohol.
- Al-Anon Family Groups
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
If you or a family member are struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, your EAP or mental health provider might be able to help. Uprise Health offers comprehensive support at many levels for any member who is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction or has a loved one who is.