The Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
Despite the social, economic, physical and mental health problems that it causes to people in our communities, alcohol is mainstream due to our habits of consumption and normalisation of the addictive substance.
Not only is alcohol accessible everywhere in the United Kingdom, but it has also become more affordable than ever.
According to the NHS, alcohol has become 74% more affordable than it was in 1987.
While one might think that this would reduce the economic and financial problems that alcohol can pose to communities in the United Kingdom, its influence and effects have become more profound.
Because our society normalises frequent alcohol consumption and ‘binge drinking’ culture, its effects are drastically overlooked in our society.
With challenges such as Sober October and Dry January sparking much-needed discussion and spreading the health benefits of quitting alcohol, there are many more benefits to be had from abstaining entirely from alcohol.
While minimising our alcohol consumption or temporarily abstaining has a range of health benefits, here is why you should consider abstaining from alcohol entirely:
- Health Longevity: Reduced Cancer and Disease Risk
- Improved Mental Health
- Fewer Injuries and Accidents
- Improved Skin Health and Appearance
- Improved Sleep Quality
- Easier to Manage Weight
- Save More Money
- Less Susceptible to Being a Victim of a Crime
- Improved Sexual and Romantic Relationships
- Fewer Days Lost to Hangovers
1. Health Longevity: Reduced Cancer and Disease Risk
First and foremost, quitting alcohol reduces your risk of premature death.
If you consume alcoholic substances frequently or heavily, you are far more susceptible to developing illnesses which will not only lead to health complications but which can be the direct cause of death.
The statistics of alcohol-specific and related illnesses and deaths speak for themselves. According to findings by the English parliament, hospital admissions due to alcohol-specific conditions amounted to almost 350,000 hospital admissions in 2019 and 2020.
This means that out of each 100,000 people in England, 644 will be admitted to hospital due to alcohol-specific conditions.
Hospital admissions due to alcohol-specific conditions are defined as episodes where a subject is compromised due to an illness for which alcohol was primarily responsible.
This is not to be confused with alcohol-related conditions, which may include accidents and injuries while under the influence of alcohol.
This followed a pattern of increased alcohol consumption due to the pandemic. Additionally, there were almost 1,000,000 hospital admissions due to injuries and illnesses which were alcohol-specific and alcohol-related.
Physical illnesses related to or specifically caused by alcohol include cancers and diseases such as:
- Liver cirrhosis: Scarring of the liver can be a sign of liver cancer.
- Alcohol-related liver disease: The constant filtering of alcoholic substances in the liver can lead to the death of cells, which can lead to experiencing sickness, nausea, jaundice, vomiting or excreting blood, and more.
- Cardiovascular disease: A buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, it can lead to blood clots, high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks, and it is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United Kingdom.
- Cancer of the throat, liver, oesophagus, breast, rectum, and so on.
- Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas which can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting,
- Alcoholic Lung Disease: Acute lung injury and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, also known as ARDS.
There is strong evidence to suggest that alcohol is a carcinogen, which means that it is capable of causing cancer in living tissue. Studies show that the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to develop breast cancer, liver cancer, rectum cancer, and so on.
When a subject abstains from alcohol, their body will begin to repair itself in many different ways. Liver cells have the capacity to regenerate, blood pressure will lower, and more.
While it is possible that subjects may still experience these illnesses depending on their genetics, biological factors, and lifestyle habits, abstaining from alcohol consumption entirely will minimise the risk factors of developing these illnesses.
2. Improved Mental Health
Alcohol is a depressant. While many people may consume alcoholic beverages in order to celebrate birthdays, relax after work, and relieve themselves of anxiety, it has the capacity to worsen mental health in the long term.
Frequent and heavy alcohol intake can pose many mental health risks such as:
- Alcohol-Related Brain Damage (ARBD): Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Alcohol consumption may promote the release of dopamine levels in the brain, which will then have subjects feeling relaxed and elated momentarily. However, once their body is under the alcohol withdrawal stage, there is a deficit of dopamine in the brain.
This will make subjects experience emotions such as sadness and hopelessness. People often describe feelings of ‘hangxiety’, which means feelings of anxiety while hungover following a night of excessive drinking.
Ironically, people will turn to alcohol in order to overcome their feelings of anxiety, worry, hopelessness, and other negative emotions.
However, alcohol will eventually exacerbate these symptoms. Should subjects continue to drink, they may be required to drink higher quantities in order to feel relaxed, and their tolerance will keep building. This will exacerbate their negative emotions.
Over time, this can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Drinking habits which are extreme and persist for too long may even lead to Alcohol Related Brain Damage (ARBD).
This means that the subject’s brain has shrunk and that they might be suffering from memory issues, poor coordination, anxiety and depression, and much more.
3. Improved Skin Health and Appearance
Have you ever noticed that it is possible that someone looks like they consume alcoholic beverages frequently and excessively?
This is because alcohol can have a range of effects on someone’s appearance, particularly someone’s skin.
The skin is the largest organ of the body, and it requires care and treatment much like our other organs. Some of the effects that alcohol consumption can have on our skin include but aren’t limited to:
- Dry skin and dehydration
- Rosacea and psoriasis
- Broken capillaries on the face and nose
- Jaundice (associated with alcohol-related liver disease)
- Bloodshot eyes
- Looser skin and more wrinkles
Alcohol releases chemicals in our bodies which are toxic to skin and tissue, which can lead to the drying out and dehydration of our skin.
Furthermore, alcohol can increase the level of inflammation in the body, which can worsen symptoms of rosacea (which can also be caused by alcohol), eczema, psoriasis, and more.
When combining these factors such as dehydration, inflammation and the obstructive effect that alcohol has on absorbing valuable nutrients into our bodies, it can make us look older and significantly more unhealthy. Since people take much pride in their appearance, it may worsen their mental health.
So, an improved appearance is one of the many benefits of quitting alcohol. While it may not necessarily be as important to minimise the risks of cancer and disease due to alcohol, an improved appearance can optimise someone’s mental health significantly.
4. Improved Sleep Quality
The benefits of a good night’s sleep are immeasurable. Health.gov explains how a consistent healthy sleeping pattern can improve the immune system, memorisation, mood, decision-making, and it can also reduce stress and lower the risk of serious health problems, and keep someone’s weight under control.
Neurological clinicians and sleep scientists profess that not only does sleep quantity matter, but it is important that our sleep quality is also high.
Therefore, when someone begins consuming an addictive substance it can highly affect someone’s sleep quality, such as alcohol, it can not only affect their sleep but their quality of life.
While alcohol may make us feel tired, that is because they have a sedative effect. This doesn’t necessarily make us sleep more effectively, however.
Alcohol affects our quality of sleep significantly. It is estimated that heavy drinking decreases sleep quality by almost 40%.
What does this mean, exactly? It means that alcohol can cause sleep disruptions and even insomnia among drinkers. The lower the quality of sleep in a subject is, the lower their energy levels, memorisation and cognition, the more irritable they are, the lower their immune system is, and so on.
This means that an increased quality of sleep is one of the major benefits of quitting alcohol.
Subjects will feel more energised, they’ll be calmer and more composed, their immune system will be healthier, and their minds will function more optimally. This can help them make better and healthier choices throughout their daily life.
5. Easier to Manage Weight
Improved mental health and quality of sleep, with the support of being sober, can be contributing factors towards managing weight.
If someone is consuming enough alcohol which is affecting their mental health and their quality of sleep, they will be less productive, their cognitive abilities will be compromised, they’ll make worse dietary and health choices, and it will interfere with the circadian rhythm, all factors which can lead to weight gain.
Excess weight can impact our mental health and self-esteem, and mental health issues can lead to weight gain. There is a destructive relationship between the two, and when you factor in poor sleep, it can make weight management even more difficult.
So, by quitting alcohol, your cognitive awareness will be improved, you’ll be more productive, and you’ll be more inclined to make healthier choices.
However, even if we ignore these benefits, it is still worth quitting alcohol in order to manage our weight. This is because there are many calories in alcoholic beverages.
- One pint of 5% alcoholic beer has an average of around 230 calories
- One pint of alcoholic cider also has around 230 calories
- A 175 ml glass of red wine typically consists of 132 calories
- Even in a single 1.5 oz shot of vodka, there are around 97 calories.
In addition to the calories that alcohol has, people tend to mix spirits, for example, with beverages which contain high amounts of sugar and calories.
While weight gain isn’t necessarily bad, especially if people are already underweight or they are actively exercising and gaining muscle, gaining weight when it strictly comes from alcohol is bad.
While alcohol and alcoholic beverages may be calorie dense, they are nutrient deficient. Alcohol is made up of mostly sugar and starch, which are both naturally high in calories. This means that they do not offer many good nutrients for our bodies.
Because of this, people refer to the calories in alcoholic beverages as empty calories.
The sugars in alcohol are difficult for our bodies to process. So, when they aren’t broken down effectively, much of it is stored away in our body as fat.
Additionally, alcohol can inhibit the breakdown and absorption of nutrients in our bodies.
So, not only are we increasing our calories through the alcohol we consume in addition to the food that we eat, we are unable to maximise the benefits of what we eat because of alcohol.
Increasing our calories, yet not satiating ourselves by absorbing important nutrients will make us hungry and experience food cravings, leading to more food consumption.
The average man burns around 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day, and consumes the same amount, whereas the average woman burns from around 1,600 to 2,400 per day. If you eat as much as you burn, you are at ‘maintenance’, which means that you aren’t losing or gaining weight.
However, should you consume three pints of beer or cider, on both Friday and Saturday, for example, subjects would be adding almost 1,400 extra calories per week.
NHS statistics show that consuming 5 pints of lager each week adds up to around 44,000 to 50,000 calories per year, which is equivalent to eating 221 doughnuts.
Would you eat 221 doughnuts per year, or a doughnut every other day? The NHS also estimates that drinking 4 bottles of wine per month adds up to a yearly consumption of around 27,000 calories.
Just for comparison, there are around 3,500 calories for each pound of pure fat. This means that per year, someone who consumes 4 bottles of wine in addition to their calorie ‘maintenance’ diet would gain almost 8 pounds of fat per year purely from alcohol.
5 pints of lager per year would lead to a weight gain of around 13 pounds of weight gain through fat.
Not only does excessive consumption of alcohol have the capacity to accelerate weight gain, but it may also give people the appearance of weight gain by causing bloating. This can lead to our faces looking puffy and our stomachs looking more bulbous than they actually are.
Alcohol causes bloating due to many different reasons. First of all, alcohol dehydrates us. This means that our body will try to hold onto as much water as possible.
Secondly, alcohol increases the level of inflammation within the body, causing organs within the body to swell.
Additionally, acid irritation in the stomach due to alcohol can cause stomach ulcers, which will also lead to bloating, among other illnesses and health complications.
However, bloating does not equal weight gain. Quitting alcohol for merely a few weeks would show significant signs of improvement in someone’s appearance even if they have not lost weight, simply due to the minimisation of bloating.
6. Fewer Injuries and Accidents
One of the most significant benefits of quitting alcohol is the myriad of ways that your physical health will improve.
Not only does the consumption of alcohol deteriorate organs and functions within our bodies which may lead to a range of illnesses, it also places us at great risk of injuries.
Heavy drinking can severely impact our coordination, balance, sense of judgement, and anything else which may lead to us making worse decisions or succumbing to injuries.
It is estimated that half of the hospital admissions on the weekend in London are attributed to alcohol-related conditions, whether they are illnesses, accidents, injuries due to antisocial behaviour, and so on.
Some of the most frequent alcohol-related injuries are related to falling, traffic injuries, and burning. Heavy drinkers are far more likely to hurt themselves than those who drink more moderately.
7. Save More Money
Not only will you look better, feel better, and reduce the risk of cancers by quitting alcohol, you’ll save much more money by not paying for alcoholic beverages.
Some studies estimate that the average household in the UK (2.4 people per house) spends around £916 only on alcohol per year.
Even if someone may argue that this is not too much when stretched over the course of a year (around £76.33 per month), drinking habits will add up and prove to be costly. Over the course of 10 years, someone who frequently drinks alcohol will have spent £9160 more than someone who does not drink alcohol.
Other studies have even claimed that the average person in the United Kingdom spends around £50,000 on alcohol throughout the course of their life.
8. Less Susceptible to Being a Victim of a Crime
Not only can alcohol make us lose our focus, coordination, motor skills and sense of judgement, it can place us in environments where others are also drinking excessively.
Alcohol can cause people to become aggressive and violent towards others, and it can provide people with a false sense of self assurance, which then leads to more people engaging in confrontations. It is estimated that 50% of violent crimes are alcohol-related.
Furthermore, people who drink excessively are far more likely to be targeted and victimised in one way or another. ‘Spiking’, where someone drugs another person without them noticing or consenting, happens mostly to those who are drinking alcohol.
This often happens to facilitate sexual assault where the victim has been made vulnerable due to the spiking.
9. Improved Sexual and Romantic Relationships
Alcohol can affect people’s sexual and romantic relationships profoundly. While alcohol consumption and the environments in which it takes place is heavily related to sexual activity, alcohol consumption can severely affect someone’s sexual performance and sexual dysfunction.
The most notable example of this is how alcohol can worsen symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Consuming alcohol in excessive or even moderate quantities can make it extremely difficult for male subjects to obtain or maintain an erection. Alcohol can interfere with messengers in the brain which help send blood cells down to the penis in order to become hard.
Sexual dysfunction can come in other ways, too. Some examples are premature ejaculationor low sexual desire. A study shows that excessive alcohol consumption is one of the most significant predictors of developing sexual dysfunction in one way or another.
Premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction can lead to other issues such as Sexual Performance Anxiety (SPA), where a subject has very negative thoughts about themselves and their sexual inadequacy in a way which then affects their sexual performance. This can then harm relationships significantly, or one’s ability to form a relationship.
In addition to sexual problems within relationships, alcohol can cause strain and relationship breakdown between couples. Couples which are unhappy or have issues may resort to alcohol consumption as a form of coping mechanism rather than directly addressing the problem and improving the relationship.
Since alcohol can severely compromise our inhibitions, relationship issues may erupt under the influence of alcohol, which may result in negatively heated and emotional exchanges.
Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to erratic behaviours which may lead people to become emotionally absent, or even aggressive and violent. It is estimated that in around 40% of cases of domestic abuse, the abuser is under the influence of alcohol once he or she abuses their partner
10. Fewer Days Lost to Hangovers
One of the main reasons that people decide to quit drinking alcohol is to avoid the discomforting hangovers that they experience following a night of drinking. With no hangovers, subjects can expect to be free from unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, headaches, and so on.
In addition to overcoming some of the physical symptoms that hangovers can bring, subjects will be far more productive and will lose fewer days to sickness.
Not only do businesses suffer due to lost work days and productivity, but it is also estimated that subjects who frequently drink alcohol lose hundreds of hours a year due to hangovers.
During this time, subjects can decide to be active by exercising or learning a new skill, or, they can use this time to sit back and relax peacefully during their free time without the unpleasant symptoms that hangovers bring.
With only two days off from the typical working schedule each week, one hangover can eat away at someone’s quality time.
What Happens When You Abstain From Alcohol
While you may be thinking that some of the benefits of quitting alcohol are long-term and take time to experience, some benefits are visible almost immediately.
Here’s a timeline of the benefits of quitting alcohol which subjects can experience:
- Within hours of not drinking: Your liver filters out the toxins that are in the alcohol.
- 24 hours after drinking: Your immune system will begin to function optimally again. However, if you are dependent on alcohol, you may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms in the form of headaches, nausea, anxiety, and more.
- 1 week after quitting alcohol: Your blood pressure will begin to drop, and you will feel much less stressed than when you were regularly consuming alcohol. Your appetite will also decrease, making it much more manageable to maintain your weight. Your body is able to effectively retain more water. This will improve your skin significantly. Sleeping patterns may also be improved during this time.
- A few weeks: The kidney will be restored to optimal health, and will be able to function effectively. It is also thought that the brain repairs itself and reverses the damage to grey matter due to alcohol.
- After 1 month of quitting alcohol: The liver will repair itself by regenerating tissue (however, liver scarring and cirrhosis cause permanent damage). The liver is very resilient and can heal itself significantly following damage due to alcohol consumption.
Abstinence vs Moderation: Which is Better?
When it comes to experiencing the benefits of quitting alcohol, abstinence, when done safely, is the most effective way. This is particularly the case for those who are dependent or addicted to alcohol.
This is because if someone is addicted to alcohol, consuming a single alcoholic beverage after time spent abstaining will be considered as a relapse. To effectively overcome the mental and physical health effects of alcohol, abstinence is the only way to ensure recovery.
While moderation should work in theory, people cannot be relied upon in enforcing their strict rules and moderation. One drink often leads to another, and before you know it, someone has broken their own rules by consuming more alcoholic beverages than they allowed themselves to.
However, moderation or temporary abstinence in the form of challenges such as Sober October or Dry January is better than not reducing your consumption at all, and there are many benefits to be had by even temporary changes in your consumption habits.
It is important to note that those who are severely addicted will need to reduce their consumption levels and abstain at a rehab facility where they are supervised by health professionals.
Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal depending on how severe someone’s addiction and withdrawal symptoms are.
How To Abstain From Alcohol
Some people believe that they simply do not have the capacity to abstain from alcohol. That simply is not true.
Everyone has the capacity to abstain from alcohol and change their lives for the better.
However, the addiction spectrum is wide-ranging, and one subject may be mildly dependent on alcoholic substances whereas another may be severely addicted.
Those who are severely addicted to alcohol should seek the support of health practitioners and an alcohol addiction rehabilitation facility.
Below are a few tips on how to abstain from alcohol:
1. Seek Professional Help
First and foremost, you should always seek professional help if you think that you are suffering from alcohol dependence. Once you receive an official diagnosis from a health professional, you will be referred to a rehab provider and treatment facilities in order to undergo your treatment back to sobriety.
2. Take it One Step at a Time
If you want to quit drinking alcohol and reap the health benefits of being sober, there are many ways that you can make it more easier and manageable for yourself. One thing you can do is try to take it one day at a time.
While abstaining from alcohol entirely is the most effective way to overcome alcohol dependence and optimise your health, even abstaining for a week to a month will present you with a range of health benefits. This is why challenges such as Sober October or Dry January are encouraging and beneficial for people.
These challenges only require a commitment of a short time frame of abstinence from alcohol, but it also provides people enough time to understand and experience some of the health benefits of quitting alcohol.
Additionally, there is a social aspect to the challenge. Sober October and Dry January are popular among people in the community, even drinkers, and the social element can encourage social reinforcement in order to allow our bodies to rest from alcohol consumption.
And should someone fail on their second or third week of Sober October or Dry January, at least they abstained for longer than they would have without the challenge.
3. Find a Community of Abstainers
It is estimated that around 15% to 20% of adults in the United Kingdom do not drink alcohol and are ‘teetotal’. For those who are in search of a community that can support them throughout their efforts to abstain from alcohol, they can find a support network through fellowship groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery.
These fellowship groups offer support sessions which can be attended in-person or online for those who want to share their experiences with others and gain insight into dealing with addiction and recovery.
These fellowship groups also practise the 12-Step Facilitation Therapy in order to optimise people’s lives in their quest for recovery.
The benefits of attending support sessions through fellowship programmes are immeasurable. Some studies show that out of all patients who leave rehab, those who continue to attend support sessions with fellowship groups are 600% more successful in sustaining recovery than those who do not attend support sessions.
How Can I Know If I Am Addicted to Alcohol?
There is a range of tools available for people who may be wondering whether they are suffering from alcohol addiction or not. Unfortunately, many people will downplay or turn a blind eye to their alcohol dependence.
Some may dismiss it that they ‘can quit alcohol at any time’ but do not ‘because it is fun’. However, if you need to rely on alcohol consumption in order to have fun, then it is possible that you are suffering from a form of alcohol dependence.
One of the most popular forms of alcohol screening test is the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, or AUDIT. It is simply a questionnaire which focuses on the consumption, dependence, and consequences of a subject’s alcohol drinking habits.
It is used by health practitioners and clinicians in order to diagnose alcohol addiction among patients.
However, it is also available for use by non-health practitioners. While non-health practitioners are able to use the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, they should not use it as an official diagnosis unless it was conducted by a licensed health practitioner.
Subjects should always seek an official diagnosis conducted by a licensed clinician.
There are only 10 questions which subjects need to answer. Once answering them (with complete sincerity), they will receive a score which reflects their level of alcohol dependence.
The scores and their meanings can be divided as follows:
- Lower than 8 points: The subject is mildly addicted to alcohol, or they may be susceptible to falling into addiction.
- 8 points or higher: The subject is moderately addicted to alcohol and should seek treatment.
- Higher than 13 points: The subject is severely addicted to alcohol, and they require treatment at a residential rehab as an inpatient.
Subjects can act according to the scores that they receive. If they underwent the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test with a health professional, they will take the necessary steps in order to diagnose the subjects and refer them to a rehab facility which specialises in addiction recovery.
 Part 7: Expenditure and Affordability – NHS Digital https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-alcohol/2020/part-7
 Alcohol Statistics: England https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7626/CBP-7626.pdf
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 What’s the Link Between Alcohol and Violent Crime? https://fullfact.org/crime/whats-link-between-alcohol-and-violent-crime/
 How Alcohol Affects Your Sex Life and Fertility https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/physical-health/alcohols-effect-on-the-body/sex-life-and-fertility.html
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 Go Sober for October https://www.gosober.org.uk/
 Alcoholics Anonymous https://www.aa.org/
 SMART Recovery https://www.smartrecovery.org/
 Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) https://auditscreen.org/