Every year, millions of people take part in Dry January. This is when you completely give up alcohol for a whole month. Now, you may ask what the point is. That’s a fair question. Can a month really make all that much of a difference? The answer is, yes. Yes it absolutely can.
So if you did take part in Dry January this year, congratulations! But what now? Have you considered continuing not to drink, or reducing your intake?
There are benefits that come from not drinking alcohol at all, and there are benefits that come from the reason you’re not drinking alcohol. If you’re considering quitting, permanently or temporarily, or want to find if you possibly should, keep reading. We’ll also help you with a few tips on how to stop.
Why should I quit alcohol?
There are a few virtually instant effects that alcohol has on your body. Drinking alcohol, especially heavily, interferes with the chemicals in your brain, dehydrates your body, interrupts your sleep cycle, and more. Because of this, when you stop drinking, you experience benefits such as clearer skin, a mental health boost, better sleep, weight loss, and more.
Alcohol increases the risk of a number of cancers, as well as liver disease and heart disease. Cutting out alcohol can significantly reduce the risk of developing these over time.
Drinking in Moderation
It’s important to note that while there are a significant number of reduced risk factors when you don’t drink, you can still drink in moderation and be healthy. In fact, there are certain benefits to drinking once in a while. For example, drinking one or two glasses of wine a week can actually reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
When we talk about drinking alcohol in moderation, we refer to limited drinking in a way that doesn’t involve binge drinking or heavily drinking. It is recommended that you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, and that it is spread out over the course of at least 3 days if this is done regularly.
A key element of drinking moderately is remaining mindful or how much you are drinking, when you’re drinking, and why you’re drinking. You also need to pay attention to how drinking affects you. If it’s having a negative impact on your life and behaviour, it may be worth considering taking a longer break.
If you’re not sure you’re able to drink in moderation, speak to a doctor to help you decide what’s best for you.
I think I might be alcohol dependent...
Alcohol dependency is incredibly common, and can happen without you even realising. Alcohol dependence, otherwise known as alcoholism, refers to a strong desire to drink. Contrary to what many think, being alcohol dependent doesn’t necessarily mean that you are consistently drinking large quantities of alcohol - you could be drinking small amounts frequently enough that your health will be affected by it.
Fill out Drinkaware’s Self-Assessment to find out if you might be alcohol dependent.
How do I quit drinking?
How you quit drinking depends significantly on why you’re deciding to quit, as well as what type of drinker you are. For example, if you already drink in moderation or only drink on special occasions, it may simply be a case of deciding not to drink. However, if you are drinking frequently, there may need to be more thought and determination going into deciding to reduce your alcohol intake.
When someone that is alcohol dependent stops drinking, it is very common that they will experience withdrawal symptoms. This is because over time, your body will have adjusted to having alcohol around, and so will be working harder to keep your brain awake. Once the level of alcohol in your system suddenly drops, your brain is still in this new adjusted state for a while, causing symptoms of withdrawal.
These tend to vary from mild to severe, and include symptoms like nausea, headaches, and shaking.
While these are expected, in rarer cases, you can experience something called delirium tremens which is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. It is a very serious condition, and can be fatal. It is therefore important that if you think you may have an alcohol dependence, even a mild form, that you consult your doctor before you attempt to quit alcohol.
It’s important to also note that what works for one person may not work for another. The exact cause of alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is still unknown, but there are a wide range of contributing factors. Each of which would have an effect on how it is treated.
Drinkline: National alcohol helpline. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): Free self-help group. Find an alcohol anonymous meeting near you
We Are With You: UK treatment agency - helping you manage the effects of alcohol misuse
SMART Recovery: Helps you decide if you have a problem, and support your recovery if you do
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