BlogThe benefits of staying sober past January

The benefits of staying sober past January

10 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

dry january- staying sober
Although Dry January drew to a close last week, the benefits of staying sober can be felt year round, and enjoying alcohol in moderation is one of the best ways to naturally boost your overall health and general wellbeing.


As part of our Wellness Wednesday series that focuses on natural and holistic approaches to improve wellbeing, we thought now would be a fitting time to discuss the benefits of responsible drinking, or staying sober beyond January.  

From improving general health and overall wellbeing, to stimulating mental clarity, and benefiting your bank account - there are a number of benefits to reducing your intake of alcohol, and this article aims to explore them all. So, let's dive in. 

What is Dry January?

In 2012, the British charity Alcohol Change UK launched Dry January as a campaign, inviting the public to ‘ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline and save some serious money by giving up alcohol for 31 days’ during the first month of the year. 

In the past 12 years, the Dry January movement has seen a tremendous surge in popularity, attracting participants from around the world who are eager to enhance their health and wellbeing. 

This year alone, over 175,000 individuals registered to take part with Alcohol Change. However, the actual number of participants abstaining from alcohol for a month is likely to be much higher, as many who joined the challenge didn’t formally report their involvement. 

How does alcohol affect health?

Although drinking alcohol can make people feel more relaxed, or more euphoric, there are a number of health risks associated with the use of alcohol, regardless of how little is consumed.

While moderate alcohol consumption can be a part of a healthy lifestyle for some individuals, it is important to be aware of the health risks involved. People who binge-drink, or drink large amounts of alcohol periodically, are likely to notice the health effects much sooner than those who enjoy alcohol in moderation. 

Short term effects of alcohol 

Even consuming a small amount of alcohol can negatively affect your health. For example, alcohol influences cognitive function and motor skills, which can cause impaired judgement and coordination, which in turn increases the risk of accidents or inebriated injuries. 

Another short term effect of drinking alcohol is dehydration. When you drink alcohol, you actually loose around four times as much liquid than you drank. This causes your organs to lose water, which is replaced by taking water from the brain. In turn, salt and potassium levels reduce, and nerve and muscle function is influenced, which is why you can develop a headache, or feel fatigued or nauseous after drinking alcohol. 

One of the most serious short term effects to be aware of when drinking is alcohol poisoning. If you consume a large amount of alcohol in a short space of time, you run the risk of developing alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Symptoms of alcohol include nausea and vomiting, slow breathing, unconsciousness and seizures. 

Long term risks associated with alcohol 

Regularly consuming alcohol can lead to negative drinking habits, and in extreme circumstances, a physical dependence on alcohol known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), which can cause mental health concerns. Chronic use of alcohol is the leading cause of liver disease, cirrhosis, and fibrosis which can all lead to liver failure, and can be life-threatening. 

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention also note alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer in the mouth, throat, liver, colon, oesophagus, and for women: in the breast. Chronic heavy drinking can also weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infection, and poorly affect your gut. 

Alcohol is also known to agitate the acid in our stomach that is meant to break down food, and instead it starts to attack the stomach lining. This can seriously impact your intestines, and if left untreated, could lead to ulcers or even stomach cancer. 

How does alcohol impact lifestyle?

Often, because the effects that alcohol can have on the body are so serious, the impacts alcohol can also have on a person’s lifestyle are overlooked. As well as influencing our health directly, drinking alcohol can impact our general wellbeing and wellness, by shaping our relationships, experiences, and even our finances.  

Alcohol and wellbeing

Even though alcohol can feel like a social elixir, and sometimes drinking makes you feel more confident, or reduces your inhibitions, its overall impact on mental health and emotional stability can become extremely troublesome overtime.

As well as disrupting your sleep patterns and reducing sleep quality, which impacts mood and cognitive function, drinking alcohol irresponsibly can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. By staying sober, mental clarity improves, and often it's easier to manage your emotions. This can drastically improve quality of life, and boost overall sense of wellness and wellbeing. 

Economic impact of alcohol

According to Drinkaware, in the UK the average household spends around £17.60 every week on alcohol, which is almost £1,000 every year. 

In a pub or nightclub, it typically costs around £35 for five bottles of beer and five alcopops, -which is just below the recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol per week. If this was reduced in half, to include only 7 units of alcohol a week, (e.g. three alcopops and two small bottles of beer) you could save up to £910 in one year. 

With the current cost of living crisis, extra income is always appreciated, and altering your drinking habits may be a simple way to help your finances, and boost your overall wellbeing. 

Alcohol and medication interactions

Another aspect that is often overlooked, is how alcohol can influence the prescribed medications you take. When alcohol and medications interact, both the effects of your medication, and the effects of alcohol you’ve consumed, can be altered. 

Although most research in this area focuses on the chronic use of alcohol and medication interactions, as opposed to alcohol enjoyed responsibly in moderation, there are a number of life-threatening consequences associated with drinking while taking certain prescribed treatments. 

Combining opioids or benzodiazepines with alcohol is extremely dangerous and should always be avoided, and caution should be exerted if you are taking medications with sedative or anxiolytic effects and drinking alcohol. 

Cannabis-based medications and alcohol

Cannabis-based medicines are also known to interact with alcohol, and it is always best to refrain from drinking to avoid negative drug interactions, especially if this is a new treatment plan. 

Research suggests that consuming cannabis, or cannabis based products, before drinking alcohol could slow down the bodies' recognition of alcohol, and cause blood alcohol levels to rise slower. This may lead to people to drink more than they should, because the sensation of being drunk is delayed. 

Other studies suggest if cannabis is taken after drinking alcohol, the rate of THC absorption increases, which can poorly affect dosing routines for medical cannabis patients, and lead to an increased risk of side effects. 

What happens to the body when you give up alcohol?

So long as you are not suffering from an addiction to alcohol, within a few days of abstaining from alcohol you should begin to feel the benefits, and you should start to notice tangible evidence of the improvements to your health or wellbeing within a number of weeks. 

One of the first tangible differences people are able to notice when quitting drinking is their improvements in sleep. After drinking, people tend to fall into a deep sleep very quickly, which many think is a good thing. 

But actually, alcohol affects rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which plays a role in emotional processing, brain development and memory consolidation. Normally you should have between six and seven REM cycles in one night’s sleep, but after drinking this drops to only one or two. 

The health effects of Dry January

A study from the University of Sussex, led by psychologist Dr Richard de Visser, investigated the effects of Dry January in 2018, and aimed to find out which benefits were most impactful on everyday life. Using the survey responses of 800 participants, researchers found after one month of abstaining from alcohol:

  • 71% had improved sleep 
  • 70% noticed improvements in their general health
  • 67% said they had more energy
  • 58% said they had lost some weight
  • 57% said their concentration had improved
  • 54% noticed their skin health was better

What are the lifestyle benefits of drinking responsibly?

Dr Richard de Visser’s investigation into the benefits of Dry January also asked its participants how they felt staying sober for one month had impacted on their lifestyle. 

An overwhelming majority of respondents said they felt a sense of achievement (93%), had saved money (88%), felt more in control of their drinking (80%) and learned more about their drinking patterns (76%). Additionally, 71% realised they didn’t need to drink alcohol to enjoy themselves. 

Although complete sobriety isn’t appealing to everyone, moderating alcohol consumption to stay within (or below) the recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol per week will minimise the health risks, and could greatly benefit your overall wellbeing. 

Quality of life 

Enjoying alcohol responsibly and in moderation can help to maintain a clear state of mind, and reduce the risk of developing mental health issues that are associated with excessive drinking, ultimately benefiting quality of life. Dr Richard de Visser’s study showed a wealth of benefits to taking a break from alcohol, and so, if you are struggling with your mental health perhaps this is something to consider. 

Reducing your alcohol intake can also make it easier to live a healthier lifestyle. With a sound sleeping routine, you feel more energised and are able to partake in more physical activities which keep your heart, body, and mind healthy. Drinking moderately also reduces the risk of developing diseases or serious conditions associated with chronic alcohol consumption, like heart and liver disease. 

Balancing enjoyment with wellness 

Enjoying alcohol in moderation does not mean giving up your social life, in fact, it can actually enhance your social interactions. Drinking responsibly often makes nights-out more enjoyable because they are not interrupted by the negative side effects of feeling drunk, like dizziness, poor coordination or nausea. 

Another benefit to finding a health balance is its effects on personal relationships and  communication. This is because when you are drunk, it is much harder to read social cues and concentrate on conversations, and drinking in moderation eliminates these issues. 

Although the drinking culture in the UK is very prominent, it's important to resist social pressures and drink in moderation, for not only your health, but your overall wellbeing. Mindful drinking techniques include alternating between alcoholic drinks and water to stay hydrated, choosing quality over quantity, and setting limits for yourself. 

We hope that this Wellness Wednesday article has helped to explain the benefits of staying sober and enjoying alcohol in moderation, and has inspired you to take part in a sobriety stint. And, for those who took part in Dry January, well done! 

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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