If your drinking habits have increased over the last couple of years, you’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has put us all under immense pressure and to cope, some of us have increased our alcohol intake. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that one in 20 people are drinking more than 50 units a week, which amounts to more than five bottles of wine – a figure that’s 50% higher than in March 2021. The NHS state, men and women should be drinking no more than 14 units weekly, so the amount we are drinking on average is well above recommended limits.
What is Dry January 2022?
Simply put, Dry January is a month during which participants abstain from drinking alcohol. It’s been something people across the UK, Europe and the US have tried during the last decade, although it’s difficult to nail down exactly when the idea began. The month’s origins are attributed to Alcohol Change, a UK-based charity, but many more organisations and individuals have joined the campaign promoting the healthy and positive benefits that can come from even a temporary period of sobriety.
Whether you’re fully invested in an alcohol-free month or you’re still deciding if you want to or not, our pharmacist Sumaiya Patel outlines some of the effects Dry January may have on your body. If you’re ready to make a change read on to find out more.
A concise breakdown of Dry January’s health benefits:
1: Improved sleep
2: Increased energy levels
3: Better digestion
4: Reduced blood pressure
5: Glowing skin
6: Weight loss
7: Improved liver function
Benefits of Dry January
After one week away from alcohol, you may notice that you are sleeping better. When you drink, you will typically fall straight into a deep sleep reducing the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you need. Most people have between six and seven cycles of REM sleep a night however you may only have one or two when you’ve been drinking.
There are many benefits of better sleep. You will be more productive, where you can learn and communicate better. Your ability to control your emotions and behaviour will also improve.
You’ll have more opportunities to manage your food and drink intake. Sleep helps to balance the hormones that make you feel hungry or full. After drinking, your ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes you feel hungry) go up and leptin (the hormones that make you feel full) go down.
Increased energy levels
Going alongside better sleep, those who abstain from alcohol for a period of time often notice that they feel more energetic. This may positively impact your overall well-being and it can really help kick-start any New Year's resolutions you may have to be more active.
By removing alcohol from your diet, you can reduce the likelihood of developing acid reflux and gastritis, or stomach inflammation.
Symptoms such as indigestion and acid reflux can be caused by alcohol irritating your digestive system. When you abstain from alcohol you’ll also be better able to absorb nutrients and store vitamins and minerals.
Reduced blood pressure
High blood pressure is linked to alcohol consumption, and this is known to be one of the main causes of heart disease. Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily raises your blood pressure, but repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases.
Alcohol consumption is an entirely preventable cause of severe hypertension (high blood pressure) in both men and women. Giving up alcohol this Dry January can help you make positive changes to reduce high blood pressure.
Adult acne can be hard to cope with, and for some of us, our drinking habits negatively affect our skin. You may be surprised by how healthy your skin looks and feels after a month of no drinking.
If you want to pamper your skin a little more, these are some of the skincare products from Chemist Direct you could try. Dry January could be the kickstart for that new skincare regime you've been waiting for.
Alcohol slows your metabolism, making it harder for your body to process fats and sugar. Alcohol also has a high-calorie count (approximately 160 calories for a medium glass of red wine, 210 or more in a pint of beer) and many of the mixers we enjoy with spirits, like vodka or gin, are high in sugar. You’ll also be less likely to have late-night, fast food binges than you would after you’ve been drinking alcohol.
When you cut out alcohol it makes it easier to lose weight but cutting out these extra calories. Even if you don’t drop any weight, most who partake in Dry January round out the month feeling more in shape than they started.
Improved liver function
Cirrhosis of the liver can occur over time in those who drink excessively. Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring (fibrosis) of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism.
Cirrhosis doesn’t happen in a day, but for anyone who drinks in excess, which is more than two drinks a day for men, and one a day for women, there are fatty changes to the liver. When you stop drinking, the negative changes are usually reversible allowing your liver to become normal again.
Because the liver is a tolerant organ, positive changes can occur within weeks of going dry. With the absence of alcohol, the liver can focus on its other jobs, such as breaking down other toxins produced by the body, metabolising fats and excess hormones that need to be broken down.
Across the month, your body is likely to have benefitted greatly from giving up alcohol. Better hydration and improved sleep will have increased your productivity and daily wellbeing. Your liver, stomach and skin will also have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol.
If you are struggling with alcohol and are finding it hard to quit, you may want to think about getting support. Visit the other resources below for help and advice.
Your GP is your first port of call for alcohol problems. They will be able to provide confidential advice and refer you if you need extra support.
Check on your local authority website to see how you can access your local provider.
There are a number of NHS services you can use to find support and treatment services near you: