There are so many health benefits of going alcohol-free! Many moms have no idea how much alcohol consumption and health are directly correlated and how it’s affecting how they feel every day, whether they are daily or weekend binge drinkers. We have those aches and pains, low energy, or that feeling of overall “blah” and just think it’s our normal. This is how we are supposed to feel, never realizing that is not normal, and life is too short to be feeling like we are fizzing out in our 30s, 40s, and beyond.
Before giving up alcohol, I never considered that my health would improve as much as it has, and I considered myself a healthy person back then! Because of this and my background in health & wellness, I am so passionate about this subject. It wasn’t until I gave up alcohol for good that I realized how much of my health it was sucking out of me, and once I was able to live this, it was a huge motivator for me to never want to put that poison in my body again!
While there are numerous health benefits of going alcohol-free, I am going to focus on eight that are probably the most common and that I have had experience with:
Improved sleep – Many underestimate the power of sleep when it comes to benefiting our health. Think of it as a solid foundation for yourself – when your sleep is strong and healthy, you will be strong and healthy. A good night’s sleep supports our mental, physical and emotional health in ways you may not even notice!
When we sleep, that is when our brain detoxes, and good sleep allows our brain to store memories and information we learned during that day. When you consume alcohol, you are essentially wrecking your sleep, plain and simple. This may be obvious to many. Others may use alcohol to help them fall asleep and they believe it is benefiting them in that way.
We go through many different stages of sleep during the night and the REM stage is where dreaming occurs and where the body essentially repairs itself. In a normal sleep cycle, there are 6 or 7 cycles of REM sleep. When a person goes to bed after consuming alcohol, they may only have 2 cycles. This will leave you waking up not fully rested and it may also throw your cognition and mood off the following day, possibly leading you to drink more the following day because you feel so down.
I believed I had insomnia since I was a teenager and always struggled with sleep through the decades. I knew alcohol affected my sleep on the nights that I drank, that was obvious to me and I understood that. But, I was also not sleeping well on the nights I didn’t drink during the week. When I finally gave up alcohol, after a few weeks, my sleep started to regulate to a normal sleep cycle and my insomnia started to dissipate. I was completely unaware of how much of a connection my poor sleep had to my alcohol consumption. What an eye-opener!
Weight loss – Alcohol can cause you to gain extra weight over time because your body processes the calories from alcohol before other nutrients that you consume. It’s your body prioritizing its job to get the toxins out of your body. Alcoholic beverages can be very high in calories and loaded with sugar. The nutrients from the alcohol that your body does not process and use are converted to fat and stored in your body. And have you noticed how when you start drinking alcohol, it also gives you the “munchies” and you end up eating more food than you normally do, adding in even more calories! Since alcohol stimulates your appetite, this can lead to not only drinking more than you may have originally planned out to but also binge eating unhealthy foods you wouldn’t normally eat.
I was primarily a weekend binge drinker, which would lead me to eat anything in sight. I would sometimes make chicken nuggets and French fries at 10:00 on a Saturday night for my husband and me to snack on or fry up a bunch of potstickers. I would wake up the next morning feeling even worse since not only did I overdrink again, but I ate a bunch of garbage, which made me feel like garbage. When I gave up drinking, my metabolism seemed to go back to a healthy baseline and I was able to drop those extra pounds I had been holding onto since I had my kids. They just started to fall off with me not putting any extra effort in.
Balanced moods – Since alcohol is a depressant, it will cause shifts in your mood and will affect your mental health. When alcohol is consumed, it temporarily boosts the serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain. When your blood alcohol level starts to drop, and your brain works hard to get back into balance, the anxiety sets in and this can lead to feelings of depression. Then what does that feeling of depression usually trigger us to do? Drink more!
Many think they have depression and they seek professional help and get a prescription for an antidepressant. I was in this category when I was in my 30s and early 40s. I thought depression ran in my family, so that is why I was depressed. I never took a moment to understand or learn how much alcohol might be affecting my moods. I didn’t realize my brain chemicals could still be unbalanced days later after I had a drinking binge, which made me believe that I had depression. Once I stopped drinking, my moods started to stabilize and I was able to wean myself off of my antidepressants.
Boosted immune system – A strong immune system is so important for good health, especially in this day and age! When you consume alcohol, it can have an immediate, negative effect on your immune system, making it less effective in its ability to fight off germs. This will make you more susceptible to catching something if you are around someone who is sick with a virus or infection. Alcohol can also decrease your body’s ability to repair itself when you have a physical injury that needs to go through the healing process.
Eliminating alcohol gives your immune system an almost instant boost and starts to immediately repair itself, strengthening your immune system to do its primary job, which is to keep you well. I have always had a pretty hearty immune system, but since giving up alcohol, I rarely have gotten sick, and when I have, it was very minimal and I recovered quickly. It feels great to be doing something to easily boost my overall health that also gives me peace of mind, and I am not worried about the next germ that comes my way.
Reduced breast cancer risk – Scientific research has found that alcohol consumption raises your risk of developing cancer during your lifetime. Breast cancer is probably the type of cancer that most moms worry about, I know I did. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women. Alcohol can raise estrogen levels in the body, which may explain some of the increased risk. Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day.
When alcohol is eliminated from your lifestyle, your cancer risk goes down, almost immediately. I was constantly worried about the fact that I would someday get breast cancer. With the amount of alcohol I was drinking regularly, I was honestly shocked I did not get it. It caused me so much mental anguish daily. Since I stopped drinking, I have also stopped worrying about it, and while I know I will never be “out of the woods”, I know I have drastically reduced my chances of someday getting breast cancer.
Improved heart health & cholesterol levels – Have you ever noticed your heart rate speeds up when you consume alcohol? Alcohol raises your blood pressure and makes your heart work harder and faster, even when you are not working hard, making it less efficient at pumping blood. It also raises your unhealthy triglyceride levels due to it causing inflammation in the body. Having high blood pressure and cholesterol levels can increase your risk of heart attack and over time can lead to the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can also lead to stroke or an irregular heartbeat.
Once you drop the alcohol, your heart rate and unhealthy cholesterol numbers will drop. My cholesterol levels have always been relatively healthy, but they improved even more once I dropped the alcohol. As for my heart – I was put on a beta-blocker when I was 36 due to the discovery of an aortic aneurysm and had open heart surgery when I was 40 to correct it. While my cardiologist never spoke to me about my drinking, I firmly believe that my heavy drinking caused my aneurysm to expand at a faster rate, needing to have the surgery sooner than I may have (or at all) if I wasn’t drinking at the time.
Enhance liver function – Any drinker knows alcohol can be detrimental to good liver health and that it is the first organ they worry about. Your liver works overtime to filter the toxins from alcohol from your body. Ongoing overconsumption of alcohol can impair your liver function and lead to fatty liver disease or even permanent liver damage. On the positive flip side, the liver has an amazing ability to repair itself, so it is possible to reverse a lot of the damage done from drinking. It is, however, important to take precautions to maximize your liver’s health such as either limiting or eliminating alcohol before serious damage is done.
While remarkably, I never had any negative health effects on my liver, I constantly worried about it. I go for an annual physical with my primary care physician every year. I would ask my doctor to check my liver enzyme levels when I would have my annual blood work, mentioning that I “drink more than I probably should”. Thankfully those levels always came back within normal range, but it could have ended up being very different for me, as it is for many others. I feel blessed to not have to worry about it anymore.
Improved memory – Alcohol can lead to short-term memory loss by impairing the communication between neurons and can greatly affect your overall brain function. Alcohol can also begin to alter your brain structure when you excessively drink it over an extended period of time. When your brain structure is altered in such a way, it can cause you to have difficulty learning new things and can also cause more severe long-term memory problems. Eliminating alcohol can help your memory improve and can help keep your brain working optimally.
When I got into my 40s, the number of blackouts I was having started to increase. I was noticing issues with not remembering things even during the day when I was not drinking. This was a huge red flag for me and it made me think about whether or not drinking alcohol was really worth it. Was it worth it for me to start to literally lose my mind in my 40s? I was way too young for that and it made me worry about what my future brain health would look like if I continued to drink like I was drinking! Since I no longer drink, I feel like my brain is functioning more as a 48-year-old brain should, and I do quite a few things regularly to take care of and protect it.
The 8 health benefits I discussed are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many others that I may touch on in the future. The main takeaway from this newsletter that I would hope for you to gain is to realize how just making one change in your lifestyle, can improve your overall health and wellbeing. You will also drastically improve your mental health by having so much less to worry about in life! When you take care of your body and mind, your body and mind will naturally take care of you with no extra effort!