Thinking about going alcohol-free for a while? Perhaps you are on a cleanse and want to be able to socialize without feeling tempted at dinners. Maybe you entertain clients for work and often feel pressure to drink, but you’d like to decrease your intake. It’s possible you’ve had one too many mornings of alcohol induced lethargy and you’re sick of it. Whatever your motivation, these tips are a great place to start in your quest to go alcohol-free, be it for a week, a month, or for life.
In moderation, drinking alcohol may work just fine for you. However, when drinking becomes a nightly habit (that one glass of wine , or two, or three per night to ‘wind down’ anyone?), it can begin to take a toll on your health and sabotage goals such as weight loss. Drinking alcohol too much can negatively affect your sleep , your mood, your skin, your hormones, and your digestion.
Many people drink that glass of wine before bed thinking it will help them fall asleep but in reality, it’s probably causing you more harm than good. Research shows that while alcohol increases the quality and quantity of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep—or the dreamless sleep during which your brain waves, heart rate, and breathing begin to slow, leading you into REM sleep—in the first half of the night, it disrupts sleep quality in the second half, making you more tired the next day.
Most people experience changes in mood during a night of drinking, ranging from relaxation, and lowered inhibitions to even aggression or sadness. But long term effects can also occur. Studies suggest that overusing alcohol can lead to an increased risk of depression and other mental health problems.
If you tend to notice breakouts and redness after a night of drinking, you’re not crazy. Between the dehydration, lowered immunity, and hormonal changes from alcohol, it can wreak all kinds of havoc on your skin, leading to breakouts, inflammation , dryness, and more. Studies have even linked moderate alcohol consumption to an increased risk of rosacea in women.
Your hormones control most of your major bodily functions, which means when a substance is affecting your hormones, you will probably notice. Even moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to disrupt your hormone balance, most notably increasing estrogen and decreasing progesterone . And chronic exposure can cause an increased release of stress hormones , so your attempt to “unwind” at night actually causes you more stress the next day.
Alcohol’s impact on the bacteria in your body can increase gastric levels and acid secretion and speed up digestion, often causing diarrhea or constipation depending on the person, type of alcohol, and amount consumed. Excessive alcohol use can also impact your liver, where alcohol is metabolized, causing a build up of fats, inflammation, and scarring , significantly disrupting its normal functioning.
While people lean on the age old belief that a glass of red wine will improve your heart health, it’s no excuse to take up drinking. While this is true with moderate consumption—antioxidants found in wine can produce a small increase in HDL (or “good” cholesterol)— too much alcohol is known to raise blood pressure and increase your risk of cardiomyopathy .
It’s often just the act of having something to hold onto and sip on at a bar or at dinner that we’re used to. Many bars now serve the fermented beverage kombucha on tap, sip on this instead of a beer. At home, I like to get a GTS Kombucha with 2g of sugar or less (gingerade, citrus, and cosmic cranberry are my fave flavors) and pour it in a wine glass to sip on while I’m cooking dinner. If you’re more of a cocktail person, have a club soda with a splash of bitters and a twist of lime. Bitters have long been used as a digestif, a drink taken after a meal to aid in digestion – so it’s the perfect post dinner drink!
For most people, if they have a bottle of wine in the house, they are going to to drink that bottle of wine. Keeping a dry house sets you up for success by taking the temptation out of proximity.
Do you often meet friends after work for a drink? Meet them for a tea or coffee in the morning instead. Or, meet them after work and take a walk in the park, go to a yoga class, check out a show, or try a restaurant with a healthy focus that has delicious booze-free beverages.
I’ve heard from many people that there is often pressure to drink – especially in work situations where it can be a big part of workplace culture. I’ve been told that the easiest way to deal with this is to fake it. You can pull the waiter or bartender aside and tell them to not put vodka in your vodka and soda. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to sniff your drink to make sure that you’re actually drinking alcohol!
Having a drink every now and then is one thing, being dependent on it for stress relief is another. Alcohol can chill people out after a stressful day but ultimately it can be quite depleting. Find other ways to relax such as taking a bath, getting a mini massage, or adding a nightly meditation to your routine.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.