Happy New Year! Being born and raised in Wisconsin means I grew up around plenty of alcohol. Drinking is incredibly normalized here, to the point that we have a pro sports team named after fermented beverages, as well as alcohol being very cheap and accessible. So, for many people, Dry January has become a new yearly habit to take some time to cut back, check-in, and reset your relationship with alcohol. For those of you who are starting this month off sober-adjacent, let’s look at how to have a successful month and talk about some of the many benefits to having a sober month.
First off, let’s acknowledge that alcohol is bad for us. Like, it’s actually toxic. Homo sapiens have developed different enzymes and bodily functions to more efficiently process alcohol out of our systems. It messes with our cognitive patterns, our brain-gut connection, and negatively affects our circadian rhythms. It’s a garbage substance that we can’t get enough of (check out the book Drunk by Edward Slingerland for a deep dive on that topic, it’s a fascinating read!). For those of you being like, “Yeah, but it makes me better at throwing darts!” It absolutely does not. It really isn’t good for us, and if it weren’t for the social effects it has we would have quit it a long time ago. So, it’s a bit redundant to talk about what the benefits are of cutting out a toxic substance, but I wanted to talk about this just to highlight how ingrained (get it) alcohol has become in our society, the presupposition is that it’s a substance we will use as if it is normal.
Let’s start health benefits. Alcohol negatively impacts your sleep. Get proper sleep and hydrate are my two starting recommendations for nearly anyone I meet, so getting better sleep is already a huge win. Alcohol consumed later in the day and into the evening affects our hormone production that promotes sleep, which means we may fall asleep faster but not get into that deep, restful stage of sleep. For some people it might also make it harder to sleep, causing frequent wake-ups or even symptoms of sleep apnea or other breathing problems. My first foray into cutting my alcohol usage back intentionally was once I started tracking my sleep, and seeing how even just one drink before bed had a negative impact on my sleep cycles.
Next: empty calories. If you drink regularly, you’ll lose weight by cutting alcohol out. Alcohol is loaded with calories, the process of fermentation actually does some crazy chemistry so booze is actually a super calorie dense substance. And a night mixing up cocktails rarely ends with hitting the gym, so those calories just sit there and get converted to stored energy aka fat cells. Many folks find that they actually will up their water intake by doing Dry January, and they realize how much more water their body needs to feel properly hydrated.
Those are both great benefits you will see during the dry month, but longer term benefits of cutting back alcohol are pretty profound. Alcohol, again being literally toxic for us naturally, has been linked to causing several different cancers, and negatively affects our heart health, and obviously creates unnecessary strain on our kidneys and livers. Cutting back, even for a month, can improve your physical health across all these areas, and then tie in all the benefits from better sleep? Now we’re stacking up healthy wins!
Last but not least, there has never been a better time to be sober-curious. Nearly every craft brewery has non-alcoholic options. I had a NA Guinness the other day! So, whether you rock some mocktails or try the haziest of NA IPAs, there are more options than ever to go out, be social, and drink NA without fear of missing out on the party. You can drive home safely, haven’t started any foolish fights, and will still be able to get great sleep! Now you get all that and can find something that tastes good. My personal rec is Lagunitas Brewing and is called “Hoppy Refresher,” zero calories, zero sugar, zero alcohol. It’s legit delicious, it’s like a hoppy carbonated water.
Obviously, if you or someone you know needs to get a better handle on their alcohol usage, please reach out and get that help. But for all of the reasons listed (and more, check the YT page soon!), everyone can benefit from doing Dry January and being more intentional with their drinking habits. So, raise a glass of that NA and cheers to sober January!