It also serves as a reminder for people to evaluate their relationship with alcohol. Alcohol use of any kind can have important short- and long-term effects on mental and physical health. Alcohol addiction aggravates both, and it can lead to anxiety, depression, and more.
Giving up alcohol for even a short period of time can lead to some great health and lifestyle benefits. We’ve rounded up a list of the top 10 benefits below.
1. Reduced risk of cancer and other diseases
According to the CDC, excessive drinking, binge drinking, and long-term drinking all increase risks of breast, mouth, throat, esophageal, laryngeal, liver, colon, and rectum cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, and high blood pressure. In fact, a staggering 5% of deaths worldwide (approximately 3 million per year) are alcohol-related.
By quitting alcohol, even for a period of time, you can slow or even reverse these adverse effects, thus lowering your risk for cancer and other diseases. Of course, the longer you go without drinking, the greater the benefits—especially if you’re prone to excessive or binge drinking (e.g., more than four or five glasses in about a two-hour period).
2. Better mental health and stability
Improved mental health and stability are one of the primary ways that taking time off from drinking can significantly improve your well-being. As highlighted by well-known online mental health platform Talkspace, alcohol can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. Similarly, drinking to relieve those symptoms increases your risk of becoming alcohol dependent or succumbing to alcoholism.
Additionally, if you’ve ever felt particularly worried or anxious when you’re hungover, you’re not alone. Anxiety is a common side effect of excessive drinking. If you’re in peak mental health, you should be fine drinking a few glasses per week—but if you already experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, or any other mental health difficulty, alcohol is the last thing your body needs.
Sober October is a great opportunity to see how your mental health might improve if you stop drinking. You might find yourself feeling more stable, happier, and more in control. If so, consider extending your sobriety.
3. Reduced risk of accidental injury
Alcohol also plays an active role in many of the physical injuries that cause people to go to emergency rooms around the world. Somewhere between 10% and 20% of all ER visits are alcohol-related (a figure that increases by about 200,000 cases every year). This is because alcohol impairs both physical characteristics, like your coordination and balance, and mental characteristics, like impulse control.
Under the influence, you’re therefore more likely to take risks and less able to respond to dangerous situations—which can be a real recipe for disaster. So taking a break from drinking will definitely reduce your chances of accidental injury.
4. Improved sleep and energy
It may seem paradoxical since alcohol is technically a depressant, but drinking can have a serious negative impact on your sleep cycle. It reduces the amount of REM sleep you get, which is an essential component responsible for many of the restorative and curative effects of sleep.
Giving up alcohol, whether it's for Sober October, Dry January, or any amount of time, can greatly improve the quality of your sleep in both the short and long term. You may find yourself feeling more refreshed in the morning, or that it’s easier to sleep on a regular schedule—falling asleep and waking up at the same time, day in and day out. As a result of this improved sleep, plus a few other factors like better hydration, many people feel more energetic after they stop drinking for a period of time.
Difficulty sleeping and low energy can also result from poor mental health, though, so if you’ve taken alcohol out of the equation and still experiencing either of these things, you may want to use an online therapy service to see if there are other ways to improve your mental health and feel better.
5. Better results from exercise
Alcohol and exercise don’t mix, for a variety of reasons. Drinking before exercising reduces your reaction time, balance, coordination, judgment, and motor skills, all of which are essential for exercising properly and, of course, safely.
Alcohol also reduces the benefits of exercise. It takes longer to recover from exercise, and any gains in strength and endurance you make are less significant when you’ve consumed alcohol before, during, or after exercise, or even just on a regular basis.
These effects are variable, and scientists agree that the long-term negative effects of alcohol are more worrisome than lost gains in muscle or endurance. But keep in mind that improved sleep, energy, metabolism, mood, concentration, and all the other benefits of not drinking will also carry over to the gym (or wherever you get your sweat on).
6. Save money
The average American household spends roughly $500 per year on alcohol—but that number can be much higher for younger age groups, especially millennials. It may not seem like much, but an extra $40 or $50 in your pocket at the end of Sober October is nothing to scoff at. And for those with a tendency to “party hard” or those who live in cities where alcohol is more expensive, the savings can be far more significant.
Plus, the money you save can be put to good use by adding to your Sober October charity fund.
7. Improved metabolism
Alcohol has a complex relationship with our metabolism. It also comes in lots of different forms, from beer and wine to spirits and cocktails, each with its own ingredients.
However, alcohol abuse has been linked to a variety of metabolic disruptions. We also have a tendency to eat foods that are higher in fat and sugar and lower in nutrients when intoxicated, which can play with blood sugar levels. Plus, again, alcohol leads to dehydration, which can negatively impact your metabolism.
Finally, excessive drinking can wreak havoc on your microbiome—the ecosystem of healthy bacteria living in your gut that help your metabolism function properly.
Alcohol consumption is also associated with weight gain. This isn’t because alcohol is a sedative. On the contrary, it actually increases metabolic rate. Instead, it’s because alcohol itself, and most of what we mix it with, tends to be very high in calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, cutting out alcohol is one sure-fire way to help the process.
8. Improved concentration and cognition
Any improvements you experience in sleeping will also carry over to improved concentration and cognition. However, for heavier drinkers, the effects of Sober October can be even more significant. Heavy drinking has been linked to impairments in working memory, attention, decision-making, problem-solving, and planning.
On the flip side, low to moderate drinking has been shown to actually improve cognition in older adults. Like with metabolism, the relation between brain function and alcohol is complex, and you should consider your own habits specifically when deciding on any changes you might want to make, whether short-term or permanent. However, excessive drinking is always bad for brain function and should be avoided at all costs.
9. Stronger immune system
Like many of the items on this list, low to moderate alcohol consumption probably won’t have a strongly negative impact on your immune system, provided you don’t have any preexisting autoimmune conditions or deficiencies. However, excessive drinking from a night out or a particularly wine-soaked dinner party can play around with your body’s ability to fight off infection.
That said, the relationship between the immune system and alcohol is still poorly understood. One or two drinks per day may actually help boost the immune system, but that’s not necessarily true in all cases. One month probably isn’t enough for you to make a judgment about how your body interacts with alcohol, but if you find you don’t get sick throughout, try seeing how long you can keep that going without alcohol.
10. Raise money for a good cause
Sober October is, after all, a fundraiser! Macmillan Cancer Support offers free, confidential support to individuals living with cancer and their families and loved ones. An estimated 40% of all adults will receive a cancer diagnosis at some point during their lifetime, which makes cancer one of the most common diagnoses, while trachea, lung, and bronchus cancers together are the 4th leading cause of mortality in the world.
Sober October can bring all sorts of mental and physical health benefits for yourself, but it also serves to combat a disease that affects the lives of millions of people around the world.
Sober October, like Dry January, is a great way to take a break from alcohol while serving a good cause. You may notice improved sleep, mood, and energy, and you could be doing your metabolism and immune system a big favor. You’ll also be reducing your risk of accidental injury and many serious illnesses.
Finally, if you’re drinking more than 3 drinks per day or 7 per week for women, or more than 4 drinks per day or 14 per week for men, you could be at risk of alcoholism. Online therapy can be an appropriate solution for assessing your risk and finding treatment if necessary. Likewise, if you drink to ease or escape negative thoughts or feelings, it’s important you speak to a licensed professional so you can deal with the root problems and begin to feel better.