Experts say there are physical and mental health benefits to not drinking for a month. Here’s some of them.
If your “rosé all day” attitude of summer has left you feeling less than rosy in the fall, you may be considering a drying out period. You’re not alone.
Thirty-day detox periods are gaining popularity as more individuals look for activities or goals that can help them reshape behaviors or drop bad habits altogether.
Sober September is one such challenge.
Like its start-of-year counterpart Dry January, Sober September takes the new season — or the restart to school and routines — as a chance to say “no” to sips of wine at dinner, beers at ballgames, or pints after your intramural practice.
In short, it’s a chance to dry out.
But how much impact can a brief period of sobriety really have on your overall health?
Quite a bit, it turns out.
What does the research say?
Several informal studies have looked specifically at the benefits of Dry January.
The results can be expected at any month you decide to take on the challenge, of course. January holds no magical drying-out powers.
In 2013, a team of magazine journalists tagged up with researchers at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at the University College London Medical School.
A total of 14 staff members from the magazine all underwent basic health exams and screenings. Then, 10 of the members were sober for 5 weeks. The remaining four drank as they normally would.
At the end of the study, the medical school’s researchers found that the 10 who had been sober had lower levels of fat on their livers (a precursor for liver damage), lower cholesterol, and improved blood sugar levels. They also reported better sleep and improved concentration.
The four who kept up their boozy habits did not report any benefits.
Another study from England found that participants in Dry January experienced benefits that went beyond the purely physical.
In the study from the University of Sussex, 82 percent of Dry January participants felt a sense of accomplishment, and 79 percent reported saving money.
Plus, 72 percent of participants sustained reduced drinking levels — they didn’t drink over recommended limits — 6 months after their initial sober period.
That’s because, according to the 2016 study, people were better — or more practiced — at turning down drinks and resisting the urge to return to their old beer-guzzling or wine-sipping ways.
This drink refusal self-efficacy (DRSE) skill, as the study called it, helped individuals have a healthier relationship with alcohol and also helped prevent a “rebound” effect after the challenge was wrapped.
Of course, sobriety might not come as easily for some individuals as it does for others. While the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that women drink no more than one drink per day, and men have no more than two per day, research shows not everyone adheres to this advice.
In fact, the National Institutes of Health reported that nearly 27 percent of people over 18 engaged in binge drinking in the month before the survey. Another 7 percent reported that they had consumed alcohol heavily in the previous month.
“People who drink on a daily basis may be at risk for alcohol withdrawal symptoms,” says Stephen Odom, PhD, an addiction treatment professional with more than 25 years of expertise in the behavioral health field, and chief executive officer and chief clinical officer of New Vista Behavioral Health, the parent company of Center for Professional Recovery, Avalon Malibu, and Avalon Integrative Wellness and Simple Recovery. “Sweating, increased heart rate, mild tremors, and nausea are some of the common indications that you should seek medical attention to determine the best plan to safely abstain from alcohol.”
For Richard Storm, a New York City-based photographer, a month of sobriety opened his eyes to another element of alcohol use he had not seen.
“It made me realize I use alcohol not only as a social lubricant, but as a way to self-medicate,” he told Healthline. “I drink when I’m happy, sad, or to kill time.”
Storm did a sober June and is back for another round in September.
“That may honestly spill over into sober for a good long while,” he says. “I think from here on out, since I stayed away from booze for a month or so, I’ll make a decision to either stay dry or try and curb my appetites. So far, the pluses far outweigh the effects.”
How to have a successful Sober September
Invite your friends. If your weeknights consist of after-work happy hours and cabernet by the cupful, consider shifting your priorities and plans. Encourage your friends to join you on the challenge — accountability partners are always a plus — and you can find new activities to do together, that don’t involve booze.
Remember the good you’re doing for your body. You might drop a few pounds, have more energy, and get better sleep, but some of the best changes of a Sober September is in places you can’t see — your organs. “One of the biggest benefits to your Sober September will be the positive effect on your liver. The liver is critical for our health and responsible for breaking down alcohol and other toxins,” Odom told Healthline. “The damaging effects of alcohol on the liver can lead to ‘fatty liver,’ the precursor to hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.” Odom points out that 30 days of abstinence can decrease liver fat by 15 percent.
Evaluate your cravings. “A drawback is that since quitting drinking also means reducing sugar intake, many of us will experience cravings for sweets,” Odom says. “Be careful not to substitute the sugar in alcohol for other sweet treats if weight loss is part of your Sober September goal.”
Try, try again. If Sober September doesn’t work, start again in October — or start any day and challenge yourself to the full 30 days. There’s no magic time. Start when you’re ready. If you reach 30 days, aim for 45. The longer you go without alcohol, the better your chances of learning to live without, or learning to limit yourself to healthful amounts when time comes for you to cheer with champagne at the office holiday party again.