I'm taking a Booze Break.
The how and why of changing your relationship with alcohol. BY JULIA SMITH
Recently people have told me; 'I think I started drinking more when I moved in with my new partner', 'I have a routine of pouring a glass of wine while I make dinner, I don't even think about it', 'honestly, it's my worst habit', and my personal favourite, 'I started drinking more around the start of lockdown and 2 years on I'm thinking it's too much!' ... I think many of us can resonate with that one!
Why taking a break is helpful.
Every time we drink alcohol, the liver has to filter it in order to break it down and remove it from the body. Some liver cells die during this process, which is why the liver needs a break from alcohol to allow it to regenerate and make new cells. The organisation One Year No Beer (www.oneyearnobeer.com ) surveyed participants in their 28 days and 1-year challenges. The statistics they gained suggest that people who take even a short break from alcohol feel better, have improved sleep, reduced anxiety, achieve weight loss and feel more productive. Reducing alcohol can help you to be more present, more energetic and even result in improved relationships. The health service Hello Sunday Morning (www.hellosundaymorning.org) explains that most people find themselves feeling happier and less anxious when they take a break from drinking – there is sometimes a thing called the ‘pink cloud’ where we can actually start to feel euphoric as the brain chemicals start to shift after a couple of days without drinking. I personally think of taking a break from alcohol as a genuine form of self-love. It's a real celebration of our health and wellbeing. Even for the non-dependent drinker, alcohol fulfils a purpose for all of us. Whether we use it as a social lubricant, a way to relax, to connect, or sometimes as a way to escape the tensions of daily life.
Common health effects of alcohol
I'm sure we've all read advice that red wine 'is good for the heart'. And while that might be comforting, in reality, the research is still conflicting. Studies have shown that moderate consumption has been linked to increased high-density lipoprotein (or HDL a good form of cholesterol), and decreased blood clotting. Yet on the flip side, evidence has shown that drinking more than two drinks per day is associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke. Alcohol has been linked to elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, excess risk of atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease.
As the chemical factory of your body, the liver serves many functions. It plays an important part in the regulation of blood sugar and cholesterol, produces many key proteins, helps fight infection and is the first port of call for nutrients entering your body from digestion. If it's damaged or sub-par due to excess alcohol, you can feel lethargic, nauseated, constipated, suffer headaches, foggy brain, weight gain and food or chemical sensitivities. Regularly consuming more than 40g of alcohol (4 standard drinks) can lead to alcoholic fatty liver, with some individuals going on to develop more advanced liver diseases.
In addition to liver function, the impact of alcohol on your stomach and other digestive organs is real. It can reduce the secretion of digestive enzymes and a single heavy episode of drinking can damage the mucous cells in the stomach, inducing inflammation and reflux. Studies from the USA have noted alcohol causes nearly 50% of all cases of chronic pancreatitis. In addition, the damaging effect on your delicate microbiome balance can lead to long-term impacts on your healthy gut bacteria.
Alcohol can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Individuals that consume 1 to 2 standard drinks daily have a 1.34 times higher risk of developing osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones) compared to non-drinkers. Cancer
Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer in humans), with low levels of drinking (one standard drink per day) and higher levels (up to five standard drinks per day) both being associated with an increased risk. Alcohol can directly damage the cells in your mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus, stomach and bowel. A known relationship exists with breast cancer, where moderate consumption has been linked to an increased 30-50% risk.
Mood and mental health
Alcohol usage goes hand in hand with some very common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and the combination of alcohol misuse and depression increases the risk of suicidal behaviour. It can also affect the efficacy of antidepressant medication. Alcohol also reduces inhibitions and impacts decision making, which can lead to us making decisions whilst drinking that we would not normally make sober. It is also linked with increases in risky behaviour and aggression.
We sometimes relate having a drink with feeling sleepy, yet even a modest amount of alcohol can impact your sleep. Just a couple of glasses of wine can lead to a reduced amount of deep sleep, reduced quality of sleep and fractured sleep cycles.
When To Call a Professional
Consider speaking with a trusted medical professional, psychologist or counsellor if you or someone you love has an alcohol-related problem. Remember, alcoholism is not a sign of weakness or poor character. It is a condition that can be treated. The sooner treatment begins, the easier a problem with alcohol is to deal with.
Find your favourites
Firstly, I'll mention that this isn't for everyone. Drinks that look or feel like alcohol can be a trigger for some folks, so if in doubt, don't. Many bars and restaurants will be happy to serve you a mocktail or fancy non-alcoholic drink, and if you don't see one on the menu just ask the bartender to create something fun!
Alcohol-free beer, wine and spirits.
Bottle shops and supermarkets have increased their options in this space lately, so keep your eyes peeled! If it helps you to avoid the temptation to buy alcohol, shop online:
Think ahead to give yourself the best chance of success. Plan for weekends, events, sports clubs, catch up's, birthdays... look forwards at the calendar and make sure you are ready to handle whatever is coming up. Get in touch with a coach or sponsor if you need support. Awareness of your drinking habits is also key. If you know that stressful days hit you hard, prepare for how you'll manage things differently while you take a break.
Be ok with a slip up
How many days does it take to make a new habit? 21? 28? 60? I think it depends on who's advice you take. What I know for sure is, that any habit you've had for a long time isn't going to disappear overnight. And it will likely take more than positive thinking and willpower to make it happen. So, this tip is super important to have in mind. There may be pitfalls along the way. It's ok to mess up. But rather than wallow in self-imposed pain, get back up, dust off your self-esteem and make the right choice next time! Yep, the very next day, get straight back to choosing not to drink.
Track your progress
Several of the resources on the last page have digital support networks and apps, but an old-fashioned notebook or a note in your calendar can work just as well. Journalling can be a therapeutic way to record your progress while providing an opportunity to connect with your purpose for taking a break in the first place and working through any emotional shifts that come up during this time.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol?
Quitting or reducing alcohol for as little as one month reliably gives an uptick in physical wellbeing, mental health and mood, productivity and focus, stability of relationships, and money left in our pocket. But there are potential downsides – some of them serious. Read on...
The Good News: A much deeper and restful sleep pattern can start emerging. A sense of being more present takes over. Your digestion can greatly improve, with less reflux, pain and better digestive regularity. You'll save money. You'll wake up in the morning with better energy levels and feel more productive. Greater energy means you're more likely to keep those fitness goals you've been setting. Weight loss. Not only are you taking in fewer calories from the beer and wine, but you're dodging the poor food choices that often go with it. You're less likely to reach for junk food the next day, so eating habits tend to improve. Psychological benefits. Without alcohol, the haze can lift and your mood with it. Relationships can be positively impacted, and even sex can improve! As Shakespeare said, ‘alcohol provokes the desire, but takes away the performance.’ Your body becomes better hydrated, with positive effects for brain, liver, kidneys and heart health. Hydration improves skin health too.
Warning: for some people, withdrawal can be sickening Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to serious and depend on how much you drank and for how long. Talk to a qualified health professional if you're feeling unwell.
Mild symptoms usually show up as early as 6 hours after you put down your glass. They can include anxiety, shaky hands, headache, nausea, vomiting, insomnia and sweating.
More serious problems range from hallucinations about 12 to 24 hours after that last drink, to seizures within the first 2 days after you stop. You can see, feel, or hear things that aren’t there. That’s not the same as delirium tremens. DTs usually start 48 to 72 hours after your last drink. These are severe symptoms that include vivid hallucinations and delusions. Only about 5% of people with alcohol withdrawal have them. Those that do may also have confusion, racing heart, high blood pressure, fever and sweating. This is a medical emergency, and urgent transfer to a hospital is recommended – carers should be urged to call an ambulance. (source: hellosundaymorning.org)