There’s nothing like a bad hangover to motivate you to stop drinking. We’ve all said it before in those moments: “I’ll never drink again.” Yet, eventually you start feeling better, forget the terrible feeling, reach for that glass of vino and the cycle begins again…
But a new trend seems to be emerging: going dry… forever. These aren’t people that have alcoholism, but healthy people that have decided to forego that conviviality associated with booze. I’ve certainly heard about Dry January or “Drynuary.” Ah, yes, the optimistic idea that society can cut alcohol for a full 31 days. I can certainly understand that, but foregoing alcohol for the rest of their lives seems like a formidable challenge.
Quite frankly, I never gave up booze for various reasons, although I’ve realized throughout my years that the hangovers get progressively worse the older you get. Moreover, hangovers lead to a series of negative issues: tiredness due to poor sleep, weight gain, headaches, poor performance and even increased levels of anxiety and stress. Then there’s this vicious cycle of being hungover and tired, so you drink more coffee. The caffeine makes you jittery and anxious and maybe at the end of the day, you need a cocktail to take the edge off.
How is this good for you? I realized it was high time that I try to go dry.
I initially decided to try two weeks. I was having sleep issues, and a friend of mine who also had sleep issues told me that he stopped drinking and his problems began to improve. The first week went by and my sleep didn’t really improve. Week two went by and I called my friend, completely frustrated, asking when I’d start experiencing those sleep benefits. He asked when the last time I went dry was. In all honesty, I told him it probably hadn’t been since college.
He told me that the longer you’ve consumed alcohol, the longer it takes for your body to acclimate back to being sober. It took him three weeks of being dry to start really seeing the sleep benefits.
Week three rolled around and, sure enough, my sleep improved. I track my sleep via my Fitbit and saw remarkable improvements in my REM and deep sleep cycles. It’s probably fair to mention that I often snore when I drink, so my wife seemed to be in a much better mood the next day, as well.
I noticed some other incredible health benefits like weight loss, decreased heart rate, better emotional well-being, and general less stress and fatigue. It’s interesting, too, that all these minute ailments (sore shoulders, pained knees, aching back) started to feel better.
After some research, I learned that alcohol causes inflammation in your liver and your pancreas. When you reduce your alcohol intake, you reduce your inflammatory response. But what I didn’t realize is that when there’s less inflammation, your body is in a better state to heal. Your body works so hard to expel and filter alcohol that it can’t spend as much energy on your other ailments.
The liver “converts the nutrients in our diets into substances that the body can use, stores these substances, and supplies cells with them when needed.” It also eliminates toxins from the body. Alcohol is considered a toxin, so if you’re spending most of your time heavily drinking, your liver can’t remove all of it. There’s simply too much. That excess alcohol then spreads all over your body, including to your brain and heart.
Additionally, when you drink, you impair your immune system. Your body is not able to fight off infection as well. Ironically, during what ended up being six weeks of not drinking, everyone in my family got sick. I was the last man standing, convinced that that I didn’t get sick because I wasn’t drinking. I think that hypothesis may have been correct.
One thing I really noticed were all the benefits from my booze-free six weeks. My mental clarity was significantly better, as drinking diminishes your vitamin B level, which can impact your energy and mood. My sleep schedule completely improved, as alcohol can also ruin full-REM sleep cycles.
But with the positives always come the negatives. On the social side, going to events sans-alcohol creates a new kind of anxiety: social anxiety. You’re at a social gathering, everyone is drinking (and loose because of it), and then there’s you: sober and definitely not “loose.” It creates a social friction.
I learned that socializing is like any other form of exercise: you have to work on it and build the social muscle.
Over my dry-run, I talked to a good friend of mine who hasn’t consumed booze for practically his entire life because alcohol just doesn’t agree with them. I asked him how he deals with being usually the only one not drinking in a social setting. He told me that, quite honestly, most people are really just worrying about themselves, so much so that they’re not evening paying attention to what you’re doing.
While others might not care about the impression you’re making, I noticed that they do care if you’re not drinking. Social peer pressure is alive and well, even as an adult. People would work diligently to press drinks on me. I ended up coming up with strategies to avoid this peer pressure. What was shocking was how much people cared about what I was putting in my own body. It’s my body— why should they care?
I think people become so focused on the idea of “let’s all do something bad (i.e. drinking) together.” When you’ve got partners in crime, the crime just doesn’t seem as bad.
One of the tricks I had to combat this was putting non-alcohol beer in a regular beer glass and immediately disposing of the bottle. I’ve tried many, but these are the only three that I view as even drinkable:
1. Heineken Zero – If I were at a concert, I might not even realize that this is non-alcoholic
2. Bitburger Drive
The thing that really annoys me is that bartenders always put a straw in a non-alcoholic drink. Is it a code or something? Why does my soda water with lime have a straw in it, but a gin and tonic, which looks exactly the same, doesn’t have one? At bars, I would get a soda water and specifically need to ask for it in a glass without a straw. But even that was a challenge. I would even get asked, “Is there something else that I can get for you?” I would get recommendations on the drink of the night or other random concoctions.
Throughout this dry journey, I realized that I was that jerk who would often ask people why they weren’t drinking. I consistently used to ask a friend of mine why he wasn’t drinking. It turned out that he never drank because he has been fighting cancer and didn’t want to do anything to compromise his immune system. He didn’t want to tell me he had cancer, and why should he? It’s really none of my business. This was a huge wakeup call. If somebody’s not drinking, they don’t owe you an explanation. That’s their business.
The verdict on my six weeks sans booze? Everyone should take a non-alcoholic holiday and try it out. I certainly felt refreshed and could see myself trying it again. There are other ways to have fun than being the bonehead at the bar making non-sensical jokes. You’ll wake up the next morning feeling great, while your former self would be wondering why you did that to yourself.