Answering the most common questions about giving up alcohol

07 January 2019 . United Kingdom

After a month of indulgence, one in 10 drinkers – 4.2 million people in the UK – are planning to give up alcohol for a month, according to a recent poll. With any challenge or lifestyle change, there are many questions about the impact it will have both physically and mentally. To help those giving up alcohol for January, Dr Luke Powles, Clinical Director at Bupa UK, answers some of the common questions about the benefits, affects and offers some tips.
Dry January 2019

What happens to your body when you drink?

When you drink alcohol it's absorbed into your bloodstream which means it can affect every part of your body. As alcohol circulates around your body it slows down activity, including in the brain so may affect your vision, hearing, speech, coordination and memory. It can also affect your concentration and judgement. Alcohol is also calorific which means it can lead us to gain weight. While the risks of drinking in moderation are lower, excess drinking can lead to more serious conditions such as liver disease.

What happens to your body when you stop drinking?

An alcohol-free month has many benefits, both physical and mental. Drinking less can led to improved energy levels and mental state, and make you wake up feeling more refreshed. It can also have a positive impact on your appearance. It can help you lose some extra pounds and leave your skin feeling more hydrated. It can also reduce the risk of health problems, such as heart disease, raised blood pressure, and your liver will thank you as regularly drinking too much can cause fat to build up in your liver which can lead to health problems.

How long before I start seeing these benefits?

There is no set timeframe for when you will start seeing results as everyone’s body reacts differently depending on multiple factors including your genetics, how much alcohol you drink on a weekly basis and your lifestyle. While we might notice benefits within a month, one of the common things that I hear people say is that it helps them practice moderation in the future. It’s really important to take regular drink-free days, as these can have long-term positive impacts on our health.

Will giving up alcohol affect my mood?

Giving up alcohol improves mental state as alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and exacerbates mental health issues. It can lead to better tolerance of stress and better concentration.

Will I get withdrawal symptoms?

You will only experience withdrawal symptoms if you are alcohol dependent which can occur over time with heavy daily drinking. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms in those that have alcohol dependency include generally feeling terrible, nausea, shakes (normally hands), restlessness, agitation, sweating, craving alcohol and if severe – visual hallucinations and potentially dangerous seizures/fitting. If you are a heavy daily drinker, it is essential you seek professional help before starting rehabilitation to help you withdraw from alcohol safely.

Will giving up alcohol make me lose weight?

Many alcoholic drinks have a higher calorie count than we realise. For example, a glass of wine can contain roughly the same amount of calories as an ice cream, while a typical pint of cider is the same as a doughnut. Bearing in mind that people often have several drinks in one sitting, the calories do very soon start to tally up. Giving up booze for a month means you may well be reducing the number of calories you’re consuming. Just be careful not to replace the drinks with things like sugary or unhealthy snacks and drinks.

What are your top tips for giving up alcohol?

If your social life often includes pubs, bars and eating out, try something new to break the cycle of drinking. Take up a new sport to socialise with others, join a club, or learn something new. Have a dry home to reduce the temptation. And team up with a friend or partner to make the changes easier. You can keep each other going and support each other through any cravings.

How do I know if I am drinking too much and putting my health at risk?

Often there are no signals from our body telling us that we are drinking too much. Experiencing regular hangovers is not a good sign. Consuming any amount of alcohol is potentially harmful however keeping our weekly alcohol consumption to below 14 units, with a few alcohol free days in the week, will help minimise the risk.

How do I avoid temptation?

Giving up alcohol involves changing lifestyle habits so it’s important to identify your triggers and find ways to mitigate them. Enjoying a drink at a certain time of the week or in a particular situation, such as a drink after work or having a glass of wine with dinner, are habits that will need to be interrupted. It could mean socialising in a different way or place or swapping your usual drink order for a mocktail or alcohol-free alternative. It’s likely throughout the month there will be temptations, so it can also help to tell people you are doing a challenge. It means they will understand the changes you are making and offer invaluable support, as well as help you celebrate milestones.

We will be following the journey of Del Green, Digital Communications Manager, and Shirley Wilson-Brown, Customer Experience Consultant, from Bupa’s London head office as they give up alcohol for January.

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