Start the Year with a Booze Break
By January, many people are saturated with the parties, get-togethers and drinking that comes with the holidays. Odds are at some point in the 2019 holiday season you had a bit of a hangover from too much champagne, egg nog or cocktails. In comes the dry-January trend to help bring in the new year by putting a brake on alcohol for the whole month. We turned to NYC neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez for insight into the benefits of taking a month-long booze-free challenge for a fresh start to the new year.
Research shows that a month-long respite from alcohol can significantly benefit one’s mental and physical health. Here are some of the benefits, according to Hafeez.
Save money on alcohol
According to Fortune magazine in 2018, overall price averages for alcoholic beverages increased thanks to craft cocktail trends. The same can be expected for 2019. A survey by OnePoll last year estimated that Americans’ social spending around the holiday season more than doubles and alcohol is part of that spending. So if your wallet has felt the alcohol as much as you have this season, the math could be reason enough to pause the drinks and close your tab for a month.
“Think of the stress you could take off your back by cutting back on the money you spend on alcohol during January,” said Hafeez. “An average person could hit the bar twice a week, spending about $30-$75 depending on what drinks you are purchasing. Add tip, and your expenses for a night of drinking could reach or surpass $100 easily. Throughout a single month, this could cost you a good chunk of change.”
Add more money saved if you are also a weekend social drinker. Add way more money if you are inclined to purchase bottles in the VIP section for hundreds of dollars.
In the absence of alcohol, your skin rejuvenates
While alcohol consumption doesn’t directly cause acne, it destabilizes hormone levels and immune functions, which lead to dull skin, breakouts, flushed complexion and puffiness. If you like to “rosé all day” or consume mixed drinks with more sugars, syrups and other additives, you can start seeing the toll of these habits on the texture and tone of your skin.
“A part of being successful when reducing alcohol intake is the compliments you receive, the energy you feel and the changes you see in the mirror. These can all be fuel to help you live a healthier life in the new year,” said Hafeez, a faculty member at Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and clinical director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services in Manhattan and Queens.
Get a headstart on your weight loss resolution
Research in the Journal of Obesity says people who don’t drink, eat less, simply because alcohol heightens the senses and numbs reasoning. It makes the sauce and cheese on a pizza or those late-night tacos tastier. When you remove alcohol intake, it diminishes the calories you consume. Think about three beers or glasses of wine at about 150 calories each. Those calories add up.
Hafeez explained that “any person seeking help with weight management has heard the advice ‘don’t drink your calories,’ alcoholic beverages are some of the drinks that most easily overwhelm your caloric consumption. Drinking less, or not at all for a month, will leave you with improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels and help optimize your organ function, which will help you be more active and in a better mental state.”
More energy, more creativity, more endurance
The last thing you want is to be tired into the new year.
“One great benefit of going alcohol-free is renewed energy. You will not be giving up your day to recover from last night’s drinking. Waking up earlier will help you establish better morning habits that prime your brain for productivity and creativity,” said Hafeez. “You will also see improved concentration and endurance as the day goes on because your energy level will not be in a deficit before the day even begins.”
Less alcohol can lead to improvement in depression
Depression is a mood disorder that can cause feelings of sadness, rage, grief and emptiness. More than 16 million Americans suffer from Major Depression Disorder while anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American.
“The problem comes when depression and anxiety, even at the mild levels, begin to be alleviated momentarily with alcohol. This can become dangerous because it will work in a negative cycle. Alcohol intake will get worse which will heighten the depression which will cause the person to drink more,” explained Hafeez.
She said that alcohol is actually a depressant and it affects the neurotransmitters in the brain. “Seratonin is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel joyful and stabilizes our mood. Drinking alcohol can temporarily boost serotonin levels, therefore making you feel upbeat, but the long-term excessive consumption of alcohol can actually lower serotonin levels, and therefore either cause or worsen depression.”
Alcohol affects your sleep pattern by inhibiting your REM sleep and affects your circadian rhythm.
“REM sleep is incredibly important to the quality of your rest. When blocked by alcohol, you could lose out on the most restorative part of your sleep, which can affect the way you think, concentrate and process information the next day,” Hafeez explained.
Another issue with alcohol is that it makes you wake up during the night to go to the bathroom. “Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning an agent that prompts the passing of urine. This means that at nighttime, instead of sleeping throughout the night, you may need to get up repeatedly to relieve yourself. This will make it even harder to get the rest you need. In the absence of alcohol, your sleep is more comfortable and energizing,” she said.
More time for yourself and new friends
“It is important to note that when our friendships and relationships rely on social drinking, a booze-free month can affect how those interactions happen. While we have more time and energy, we might need to invest it in ourselves or new friends. This is not to say that you have to break up with your friends when you pause the alcohol, but it means you can try new activities and endeavors with new people and plant new friendships as well,” Hafeez said.
The NYC psychologist also talked about the opportunity to focus on you, explaining that “self-care is important yet often neglected over a good night out for drinks. Suddenly, happy hour is not an option, but a fitness class after work is or a workshop on a topic that interests you. The time will add up, and you can use it to promote your self-confidence and personal development.”
A cautionary note
“One thing to consider is that people who label themselves “social drinkers” may feel these improvements within days. Meanwhile, people who battle with alcoholism can often cause harm to themselves if they decide to stop drinking cold turkey. If you are a frequent/binge drinker, speak with your physician before abruptly ceasing alcohol consumption.
Committing to going without alcohol may reveal there actually is a bigger issue going on. “If someone can’t last the week without alcohol and feels physical repercussions like nausea, headaches, night sweats and tremors, or insomnia, consulting a doctor would be an important next step,” cautioned Hafeez.