When I was in high school, I read in an interview that Natalie Portman doesn’t think it’s possible to go through college without getting drunk. I thought to myself, “I could do it.”
Portman brought up a good point. Alcohol has permeated our culture to the extent that fun = booze. You don’t need to be at a frat party to appreciate this. Whether you’re relaxing at home at the end of a long day or enjoying a good ballgame, it seems natural to be accompanied by a glass of wine or a couple of beers. Clearly, “alcohol has an enormous reputation” in our culture, says Kevin Purdy of LifeHacker. But drinking has its disadvantages. It wreaks havoc on your liver, is high in calories, and depletes your body of B vitamins. On the flipside, losing the booze could mean improved memory, better sleep, and obviously, no more hangovers. Here’s why the benefits of laying off the alcohol might actually outweigh the perks:
1. Your Health Gets Better
According to Dr. Susan Blum, Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a pioneer in the holistic practice of Functional Medicine, “there are two things to consider when you drink. The first is your liver, and the second is the sugar.”
Your body sees alcohol as a toxic substance that eventually needs to be processed in the liver. The problem: your liver needs to work overtime in order to compensate for the toxicity. This stress can result in inflammation and cell damage, as well as scarring in the gut. Inflammation alone is responsible for nearly 30 different diseases, including various cancers and heart disease, as well as a myriad of less serious but equally pesky issues, such as allergies, eczema, and asthma.
2. You Lose Weight
Alcohol is filled with sugar. A bottle of wine can have up to 700 calories — more than a McDonald’s burger. Sugar can also lead to cravings for starchy foods and “drunk eating.” (I once ate 10 chicken nuggets followed by half a pizza). And let’s not forget about exercising. Think about how much time you’d have to work out if your weekends weren’t consumed by recovering from a big night out.
3. You Sleep Better
Although alcohol might help induce sleep, it often diminishes sleep quality. For one, drinking before bed reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is a restorative period of sleep during which people dream. According to Dr. Laura Martin, medical educator and Doctor of Internal Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, “disruptions in REM sleep may cause daytime drowsiness, poor concentration, and rob you of needed ZZZs.”
Alcohol consumption can also disrupt sleep patterns and induce sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, during which breathing is suppressed throughout the night.
4. Your Looks Improve
Alcohol dehydrates your skin, making you more susceptible to wrinkles, and your skin more vulnerable to premature aging. According to Lucy Rocca, founder of Soberistas, a social networking site for ex-drinkers, “Alcohol is [also] responsible for puffiness in the face, sunken eyes, and a dull complexion.” These occur as a result of increased blood flow to the blood vessels, causing them to dilate and even leak, (as well as worsen the appearance of spider veins!). Laying off the booze will help you maintain healthier, younger looking skin.
5. Your Brain Gets Stronger
It should be noted that alcohol is a depressant. For those of you who have dealt with mental heath issues in the past (i.e. depression, anxiety), alcohol should probably be consumed in moderation, if at all. Even if you haven’t had a history of depression, drinking alcohol can disrupt the balance of chemicals in your brain (such as lowering the level of serotonin), “affecting [y]our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes [y]our long-term mental health,” says Dr. Lisa McNally of Drinkaware. Drinking to unwind or to mask feelings of stress or anxiety won’t always have the effect you’re after. “While a glass of wine after a hard day might help you relax, in the long run it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with.”
Other brain impairments that are caused by excessive drinking are memory damage, significant brain lesions, and neuroinflammation, which plays a role in a number of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
6. You’re More Productive
When you stop drinking, you have more time to enjoy healthy pursuits such as outdoor recreation, art, and volunteering. You also have more physical energy to be active throughout the day, further increasing your productivity. Whether you spend these extra hours doing chores, studying, or developing a new hobby or skill, it’s hard to underestimate the time you will have gained as a result of sobriety. Not to mention, the quality of this time will also improve, allowing you to spend more time with family and friends, perform well at work, or even train for a marathon.
7. You Have More Clarity
“Alcohol has such a powerful effect on the body and mind that it’s impossible to find out who you are when you’re regularly getting sloshed,” says Rocca. If you want to experience true self-discovery, you may want to consider going alcohol-free. Getting to know yourself and having the chance to reflect on your life will provide you with the self-acceptance and confidence you need to celebrate your uniqueness, find out who you are, what you want, and how to achieve it!
Let’s face it: drinking alcohol can be a lot of fun. But raising your awareness about its negative effects on your mind and body can only be a good thing. Learning to decrease your alcohol intake (and take care of yourself) can be a huge commitment, but sometimes it’s worth it to sacrifice short-term gratification for long-term benefits. A life with no (or less) alcohol will keep you healthier, strengthen your brain, and keep your moods stable.
Need some suggestions for having fun without the booze? Take a look below:
• Go see a movie or a play
• Play a game of Frisbee or go hiking. Spend time outdoors.
• Take a class
• Play games
• Go rock climbing
• Rediscover the art of meaningful conversation
• Join a club or sport
• Find a hobby
• Do yoga
• Read a good book
• Learn a new language
• Test out a new recipe
• Check out a museum
• Ride a bike
• Go shopping
• Be a tourist in your own city
• Listen to a podcast
• Take photography lessons
• Go swimming
• Play guitar. Jam with friends.
• Go out for ice cream
Would you consider laying off the alcohol to see how you feel? Discuss!
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The Road Back – a Story of Recovery
Photo: Alice via Flickr