Since the launch of Sober October for Macmillan Cancer Support in 2014, an astonishing £25million has been raised in sponsorship for those giving up alcohol for one month. 2020 has been a year like no other and in recognition of what a tough time it has been, Sober October has been adapted so you can go sober (ish) for 14, 21 or 31 days.
Research by Opinium for Direct Line Insurance has revealed that most Britons increased their alcohol consumption during lockdown so no matter how long you choose to go sober for, you can raise some money and give your mental and physical health a boost with some alcohol free time.
Alcohol has a detrimental effect on brain function. A blow-out night of having five or more drinks can affect our cognitive function for up to three days. Long term, heavy drinking can also shrink the frontal lobes of the brain, ultimately inhibiting the brain’s ability to repair itself.
It’s not just the additional calories in drink, alcohol actually slows down the metabolism. If we have alcohol in our system, it slows down our body’s processing of what we have consumed so if you have a drink and then a late night kebab, you will retain the fats and sugar of the food
Alcohol prevents our bodies absorbing vitamins and minerals, something that is crucially important now to keep our immune systems healthy. Alcohol kills the cells in our stomach lining and intestines and can also inhibit the transportation of nutrients into our blood stream. Heavy drinking can ultimately lead to depleting the body’s stores of vitamins and minerals, leading to health complications. What’s more, alcohol irritates the digestive system, causing the stomach to increase acid production making you prone to indigestion and diarrhoea and worsening the symptoms of IBS.
You may think a drink or two helps you to fall asleep but according to the experts, it can disrupt the two most important parts of our sleep; slow wave sleep, which is the part that refreshes us the most and REM sleep, which is the part that helps us learn and remember.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it affects the kidneys and makes you need the loo more than usual. It also affects the kidneys’ production of the hormone vasopressin, which encourages your body to re-absorb water. Ultimately this leads to dehydration causing headaches, dull and lifeless skin and dark circles under our eyes.
Give your liver a lift
Just one month off the booze can lead to a 15% decrease in the amount of fat in your liver. This can help us feel less sluggish and more importantly, prevent diseases including liver cancer. Plus, skin often reflects the quality of our liver so you should see any pimples or blemishes clearing up.
Reaching for a drink after having a bad day is all too easy to do. Although it may make us feel better in the short term, alcohol is in fact a depressant, which means it changes the delicate balance of chemicals in our brain. Heavy drinking interferes with the neurotransmitters that are responsible for our mental health and has been found to lower the levels of serotonin in our brain which is what we need to help regulate our mood. So it is no surprise that we may feel particularly moody after a big night on the booze.
Support your immune system
Alcohol can start depleting our immune system just twenty minutes after that first drink and excessive drinking inhibits the functioning of our monocytes, making us all the more susceptible to winter viruses and colds. Giving yourself a few weeks off the booze can really kick start your immune system to cope with the long winter months ahead.
Unwind without the wine
So we know that taking a break from the booze will be good for us mentally and physically but it can be hard to break the habit. Whether you give it up entirely or just reduce your daily consumption, there are some tips for staying on track.
Train your brain – focus on the feelings of being alert in the mornings and plan an activity that you’ll enjoy on an alcohol-free day so you begin to associate this time with pleasure.
Buy smaller glasses – they may look cool but the trend for large wine glasses means that we are often consuming more than we realise. One glass can equal half a bottle in these huge size glasses.
Buy less - if you don’t have it in the fridge, you can’t open that second bottle. Make a conscious effort to only have one bottle in at a time.
Free from – three times a week, switch to an alcohol-free alternative. Drinking is often just a habit so find a substitute that you enjoy.
Start later – try putting the time you have a glass of wine an hour back, leaving you less time to consume and making you more conscious of drinking slowly and consuming less.
Beat the stress without the booze
In times of stress, it is all too easy to reach for the bottle. Finding different coping mechanisms will help you achieve some alcohol-free days, helping you look and feel better in the long run.
Go for a walk – walking away from the thing that is stressing you out is very powerful and can often give you a clear perspective on it.
Listen to music or a podcast – music is a great stress reliever helping you to take your mind to a different place. A podcast is like connecting with friends and is great company while going for a stroll.
Be thankful – it’s all too easy to get hung up about what is wrong with your life rather than what you have. Keeping a gratitude journal or just writing out what has been good in your day, can help to remind you to change your perspective on life for the better.
Enlist some friends – tell your drinking buddies what you are doing and that their support is really important to you. Some may even want to join you.
Set yourself a target – rather than giving up the booze for life, set yourself mini targets that are achievable. If you are saving lots of money, buy yourself a present to congratulate yourself.
Plan your social life – if your nights out often revolve around alcohol, then in the early days, plan activities that don’t tempt you to fall off the wagon. Keep yourself busy and avoid finding yourself with nothing to do when the impulse to drink can kick in.