Ahh January. The mulled wine bottles are piled high in the recycling bin, the tequila suddenly looks far less appealing, and your body is screaming for a green juice, stat! And whilst it can feel like a total new year cliche to add “my body is a temple” to your morning affirmations, sometimes as the calendar sheet is turned, practising healthier boundaries around alcohol consumption can feel somewhat intuitive.
Enter: Dry January. It might sound pretty unappealing when the thought of a 6pm glass of red can help manage the January scaries, but hear us out, the benefits of cutting the Chardonnay for just 31 days may be enough for you to reach for the mocktail menu for good.
How does alcohol impact the body?
An Aperol Spritz watching the sunset in the warmer months and a delicious glass of Baileys sat fireside with a book is the stuff dreams are made of, but did you know that whilst you don’t necessarily feel the impact of alcohol from one drink, the effects on your mind and body happen from the first sip. Positive sensations such as a sense of giddiness and relaxation happen first, lowering stress levels and even creating feelings of euphoria as our inhibitions are lowered. Sounds dreamy right?
Sadly the positives are somewhat outweighed by potential negatives here, as whilst an increase in confidence may seem fun when the warmth of Prosecco first hits, the dangers of a decreased perception of danger, increase in impulsive behaviour, and everything from loss of coordination, nausea, headaches, trouble focusing, gaps in memory, slurred speech and changes in perception too have the potential to be a recipe for disaster. Chuck in some dehydration and potential loss of consciousness if you really overdo it and suddenly that friendly 5pm tipple seems a little less appealing.
But what’s the science behind such drastic changes occurring from substances we can buy so easily along with our avocados and Crunchy Nut in the local supermarket? Say hello to: Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, often known as GABA. An important neurotransmitter involved in inhibitory function, this integral part of brain processing is thrown out of whack with alcohol in tow and leads to reduced coordination, overall slower motor abilities, and all of the above short term but potentially dangerous side effects.
Drinking excessively over a longer period of time can actually change the structure of our brain – it shrinks. LiterallyDr Alisha Damani
Now of course the volume and regularity in which you drink will determine the extent and severity of these changes in mind and body, but even those of us who enjoy just a couple of glasses a week may not be aware of how this can alter our bodies in both the short and long term. “Drinking excessively over a longer period of time can actually change the structure of our brain – it shrinks. Literally” says NHS doctor Dr Alisha Damani. “Studies have demonstrated atrophy particularly in the areas responsible for memory, emotions, coordination and balance. Once the structure of the brain is impacted, this type of damage is usually permanent and irreversible.
There is ample evidence demonstrating that long-term high volume drinking reduces life expectancy, increases the risk of cancers, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, liver, heart and cognitive problems to name a few, and so permanently avoiding alcohol can bring a whole wealth of benefits.”
Currently struggling with dry January? Us too. Here’s what happens when you ditch the booze…
When detoxing from anything, be it fast food, alcohol or substance use in general, the first few days are usually the hardest as your body adapts to life without this addition to your system. Following this, and once the grogginess of any initial hangover has subsided, you should start to feel more refreshed in general, but know it can actually take up to 72 hours before you mentally and physically feel back to normal after drinking! Alcohol therapists Lisa and Alex from Bee Sober note that day 5-7 is when we can expect to wake up with more energy, as although alcohol can send us to sleep easier, we actually miss out on “the all-important Rapid Eye movement (aka REM) which should be around 6-7 cycles but the effects of alcohol mean this is limited to one or two. After two weeks you will notice a huge improvement in overall sleep pattern as your body becomes more regulated.”
“After two weeks you will also likely see a drop in body weight, eye bags reduced and far less overall bloating around the stomach area”- in part because alcohol can impact our appetite and increase the hormones that make us hungry, often leading to bingeing on foods that are typically unhealthier.
Next up: blood pressure. “After 3 weeks blood pressure will reduce, as drinking every day or binge drinking can cause our blood pressure to rise and can be really dangerous, and lowering this can help with any long term health problems.”
3 weeks in you will also notice a significant improvement in overall cognitive ability and increased energy levels.Dr Alisha Damani
“3 weeks in you will also notice a significant improvement in overall cognitive ability and increased energy levels. After 4 weeks of not drinking alcohol, skin and eyes will look brighter and clearer. Skin which is irritated and normally dry will feel better due to the added hydration to the body. After 4 weeks, liver fat reduces up to 15%, increasing its ability to flush out toxins. Mild liver disease, like fatty liver, can be reversed completely if a person stops drinking alcohol altogether. When there is no alcohol in your blood for several months, the liver cells can return to normal. Overall after 4 weeks of not drinking alcohol, sleep will be regulated and you will most certainly feel well-rested. More energy, clearer skin, less bloated and likely to have dropped a dress size. Brain function and productivity will have increased and you’ll generally feel better overall in yourself” say Lisa and Alex.
The benefits are endless, and it doesn’t just occur physically too, as we’re reminded by Dr Damani. With your newfound mental clarity, you may notice your relationships, productivity, and emotional wellbeing improve too, as life feels a little lighter and your motivation across all that you do increases. Because whilst hangovers and a little sluggish start to the morning don’t feel like the end of the world, there’s growing evidence that ditching alcohol can lead to some seriously dramatic long term positives too- “the science of sleep, our circadian rhythm and hydration is becoming more renowned in its impact on delaying dementia, reducing the risk of acute heart problems and diabetes.” Seriously life-changing stuff!
As wonderful as these health benefits sound both mentally and physically, dropping the booze- be it for Dry Jan or for good- after living a life with alcohol at the centre of your social life is no mean feat! Breaking habits takes work, and changing your routine, lifestyle and the way you relax and potentially connect with friends is never going to be a walk in the park. But if you fancy setting yourself a goal that challenges your norm and improves your health this January, perhaps ditching the daiquiris and Desperados is for you.
I’ll get one of each please
Cutting back on alcohol doesn’t mean you’re restricted to the world of tap water alone, no no! Whether you’re hibernating at home this winter and fancy spicing up a Friday night, or instead are intrigued by the mocktails at your go-to weekend haunt, keep reading for the ultimate sober drink options that are anything but dry:
- Muddle the sugar with leaves from the mint using a pestle and mortar (or use a small bowl and the end of a rolling pin).
- Put a handful of crushed ice into 2 tall glasses. Divide the lime juice between the glasses with the mint mix. Add a straw and top up with soda water.
Recipe Source: BBC Good Food
Passionfruit Martini Mocktail
- Slice open the passion fruit and scoop out all of the seeds into a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake well.
- Strain into a coupe or martini glass and garnish with the passion fruit half.
Recipe Source: Olive Magazine
- Cut the mango into slices and pop it in a blender to create a mango puree.
- Put the mango puree into a cocktail shaker with the ginger beer and juice of half a lime and stir together.
- Pop some crushed ice into your glasses and top with the mango mocktail. Garnish with some slices of mango, lime and mint.
Recipe Source: Small City Big Personality
- In a tall glass, pour the tomato juice over the ice, add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, tobacco, salt and pepper and stir.
- Serve with a stick of celery and a wedge of lemon.
Recipe Source: Good to
- Add equal amounts of orange juice and non-alcoholic sparkling wine (or alternative) to a champagne flute.
- Gently pour in the Grenadine.
- Garnish with your choice of fruit and serve.
Recipe Source: Mindful Mocktail
- Place the orange, lemon and pineapple juice into a tall glass with some ice and stir
- Top up with sparkling water
- Garnish with a slice of orange
Recipe Source: Cocktail Mocktail