The non-drinking movement
The new year is upon us. It’s a time to review our habits and behaviors of the last 12 months and identify what changes our happier, healthier future selves will thank us for. In 2021, 6.5 million people aimed to complete ‘Dry January’, an increase of a whopping 2.6 million people on the previous year.
The great news is once we put down the booze, we begin to see multiple improvements across health and performance.
Impact on mood and emotion
Firstly, by abstaining from alcohol, you won’t have to deal with erratic mood swings or ‘hangxiety’ (the common hangover anxiety). Alcohol disturbs the normal release of your neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Alcohol is a sedative, so your brain compensates by exciting the stimulatory systems.
It seems to affect people more severely if they are already prone to anxiety, typically those using alcohol as a social lubricant. There’s a lag time, so these signals continue after we stop drinking. A 2013 study on rats still felt fear, depression, and anxiety symptoms 14 hours after alcohol blood levels reached zero.
Impact on sleep
A common mistake people make is to consider alcohol as a sleep aid. Yet sedation is not the same as regular sleep. In reality, alcohol plays havoc with our sleep cycles and the quality of our sleep after drinking. Our hours in bed are littered with micro-awakenings, preventing us from achieving restorative sleep.
A study on just under 100,000 Japanese students found alcohol to disturb a multitude of sleep functions, including short sleep duration, difficulty initiating sleep, and waking up early. The disturbance effect increased with the number of consecutive days the participants drank.
“Hop on the bus, Gus; you don’t need to discuss much.
Just drop off the key and get yourself free”50 Ways to leave your lover, Paul Simon, 1975.
Impact on Cardiovascular functioning
People rarely consider the detrimental effects alcohol is having on their cardiovascular function. Drinkers collectively raised a glass upon hearing the news that one glass of red wine might lower the risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, and stroke.
However, people rarely stay within the recommended guidelines, and doctors would prefer we abstain from drinking altogether. Indeed, binge drinking is the top factor leading to premature death for males under sixty.
Impact on weight and shape
A common side effect of giving up booze is weight loss. We tend to forget about the hundreds of calories contained in each glass we’re knocking back, but these often show up later on our waistlines. This effect compounds when one considers that alcohol causes a spike in the body’s insulin secretion (to deal with all that sugar consumed!). Blood sugar levels then fall, hindering exercise performance.
Impact on workout and fitness
Furthermore, alcohol stops the absorption of vital vitamins and minerals such as thiamine, B12, folic acid, and zinc. Without these, the human body cannot generate new cells, build a robust immune system or metabolize food efficiently.
Of course, when you’re not so hungover, you’re also more inclined and motivated to hit the gym rather than the biscuit tin. Trading a pint for a gym pass will not only help you drop the pounds but will have innumerable benefits for your body and mental health.
Beer isn’t a good post-gym drink, either: it won’t help you re-hydrate or supply energy. Alcohol dehydrates you because it is a diuretic, meaning that it makes you pee and remove fluids faster than other drinks. Instead, reach for some (coconut) water.
Impact on sexual performance
If all that didn’t get your attention and convince you to take a break from drinking, perhaps this will: alcohol ruins your sex performance. Sure, a few drinks lower our inhibitions and make potential partners seem more alluring (hello, beer goggles).
But when it comes to the crucial act, males may find their ability to maintain an erection or ejaculate impaired. Sober sex might sound intimidating, but reassuringly, almost three-quarters of Cornell University students reported being sober when they had their best sexual experience.
Forming healthy habits
For most people, drinking is nothing more than an ingrained behaviour requiring distraction or replacement with more rewarding activities to overcome. Remember that most of our drinking really is just a bad habit, often starting with browsing you favourite wineshop online or stopping-over at the convenience store on your way home.
A period of abstinence will help your mind to form new healthier habits and your brain with learn to pass through the bottled racks unimpressed. Bad habits lead to a closed state of mind from which we deem healthier alternatives less attractive. We risk missing out on the real rewards in life: meaning, intimate connection and achievements.
Counselling helps to increase awareness of unhealthy habit loops and enables sustaining change of thinking and behaviour. Seeing a counsellor in Hong Kong or online provides the support for you to add the emotional and physical strength back into your life.
Committing to dry January and joining thousands of other people may be the kick-start you need to break this habituation, teach your brain new reward pathways, and give your whole body a chance to perform optimally. So raise a glass of Perrier to the new year and you may just find that sober life is a resolution that endures.