Take a Break! The Benefits of Alcohol Abstinence

By Yania Padilla Sierra Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) - February 3, 2023
Limiting alcohol consumption will improve your life in many areas, including physical and mental health. (Courtesy Photo)

The holiday season can be a time of overindulgence in food and drink for many of us. Drinking too much or too frequently has known negative effects on our physical health, our emotional health, and, sometimes, on our bank accounts. 

Alcohol prevents our bodies from absorbing vitamins and minerals and hampers the immune system. Studies have indicated that consumption of alcohol can increase our risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Whether it feels like you’re veering into unhealthy alcohol consumption or you’re firmly in the one-drink-at-dinner camp, it can be difficult to limit your intake if alcohol is the focus during social interactions.

Many of us start a new year with resolutions focused on improving our health. “Dry January” has been making the rounds on social media, a call to abstain from alcohol for 30 days in order to reap numerous physical and emotional benefits. If you’re working on resolutions or improving your health, eliminating alcohol from your diet might be of interest.

Abstaining from alcohol benefits your body almost immediately. In the first 24 hours, the body’s blood glucose levels normalize, especially if you maintain a healthy diet. Within a week, sleeping routines and patterns improve due to an increase in REM sleep, which is the deepest, most restorative stage of sleep. Though alcohol is a depressant that might help you fall asleep, it prevents REM sleep.

Additionally, hydration levels improve. Alcohol is a diuretic. A week after your last drink, your skin will be more hydrated, resulting in a brighter, perhaps more youthful appearance. An added benefit of increased hydration is improved oral health.

Within two weeks of your last drink, the lining of the stomach begins to heal from constant inflammation, and acid reflux should dissipate with a healthy diet. If you’ve maintained healthy eating habits, you might even notice you’ve lost a pound or two by shedding the empty calories of alcoholic drinks.

Three-to-four weeks from your last drink, many drinkers will have reduced their risk for cardiac disease, including high blood pressure, stroke and high cholesterol. Kidney health and even vision may improve. After a month without alcohol, your liver will have more time to dedicate to its 500 other vital functions, and your liver fat may be reduced by 20%, which can reduce the risk of cirrhosis. The liver is also able to significantly ramp up efforts to detoxify your body.

People who abstain from alcohol for 30 days are more likely to abstain from alcohol use for longer periods of time, increasing the benefits to their minds, bodies and relationships. Whether it’s a 30-day detox, ‘dry January,’ or a long-term lifestyle change, examining your relationship to alcohol and offering your body periodic breaks to restore itself are worthwhile. For those interested in support with their alcohol use, here are some helpful resources.

  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP): 845-938-1039;
  • Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline: 800-662-4357;
  • Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care (SUDCC): 845-938-7691.