9 benefits of a break from alcohol

Taken on 28 alcohol-free days for FebFast? Here are some of the benefits you can expect to enjoy.

Taking a break from drinking alcohol can be tough to say the least. The best way to keep on track is to focus on what you’re gaining, not what you’re missing out on. Here are some of the top benefits of giving up drinking…

1. Slimmer waistline

Alcoholic drinks are full of empty calories that contribute to weight gain – so your waistline will thank you for taking a break! A beer can contain up to 250 calories, which is around the same as a small block of chocolate. According to FebFast, you would need to do 45 minutes of dancing, half an hour of cycling or an hour of moderate walking to burn that energy off. To work off the calories in a glass of wine, you would need to walk for just over 2.5 km, or do Melbourne’s Thousand Steps four times! Drinking alcohol can also cause your face to look puffy and your stomach to bloat, making you look and feel more unhealthy. Taking a break should have a positive effect on helping you slim down.

2. Better sleep

Having a drink at night might make you feel relaxed and sleepy – but once you nod off, alcohol actually interferes with your sleep cycle, resulting in poorer quality of sleep. Research at the London Sleep Centre suggested this is because alcohol disrupts REM sleep – the deepest sleep stage – which can result in a restless, wakeful night that leaves you feeling unrefreshed in the morning. The more you drink, the worse the impact on your sleep.

3. Clearer skin

Alcohol dehydrates the body – and that includes your body’s largest organ, the skin. Studies suggest that drinking in excess can also deprive the skin of vital vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin A, which is essential for cell renewal and turnover. This can result in the skin having a dull, grey appearance. When your skin is dry, it is much more likely to wrinkle and make you look older than you are. Plus, alcohol increases your blood flow, which can cause blood vessels in the face to dilate and burst, leaving behind red spots. Staying hydrated means smooth, supple skin that makes you look bright, young and fresh. Much better!

4. Reduced risk of cancer and other serious diseases

A World Cancer Report released by the World Health Organisation suggested that alcohol is responsible for 5.4 per cent of all cancer deaths, including mouth, throat and breast cancer. The Cancer Council Australia says that women who drink just one glass of alcohol a day increase their risk of breast cancer by 6 per cent. Heavy drinking can also make the blood platelets more likely to clump together into clots, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, and can cause the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells to drop, resulting in anaemia.

Plus, there are links between alcohol and seizures, gout, dementia, depression, high blood pressure, infectious diseases, nerve damage, liver disease… the list goes on! The simple act of reducing your alcohol intake may be one of the kindest things you can do for your body long term.

5. Improved relationships

Do you have friends you only spend time with when you’re drinking? Try spending some alcohol-free time together and you may be surprised by the more meaningful levels of interaction you can reach. Instead of meeting for a drink, why not organise a walk followed by a healthy breakfast, or perhaps a trip to the beach or a museum? Spending quiet and peaceful time with the people in your life can be a nice break if you’re used to shouting at each other over the noise of the pub.

6. Less stress

Drinking does seem to help you unwind after a stressful day, but there are some suggestions that drinking regularly can make it more difficult for you to cope with stress. This is particularly true if your body is still processing last night’s alcohol. Alcohol affects the way signals are received by the brain, which can interfere with routine cognitive tasks and sap your motivation.

7. Better mood

Again, it seems counterintuitive – for a lot of us, drinking seems to help us loosen up and have fun. But many experts believe that too much alcohol can affect the part of the brain that influences mood, making you more susceptible to feeling down or even developing symptoms of depression. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt the delicate chemical balance of the brain, affecting thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes long-term mental health. A study at the Australian Centre for Addiction Research found that participants’ mood was improved by learning to modify their drinking patterns to consume less alcohol.

It is also important to recognise if you are using alcohol to mask your feelings – the only way to really feel better is to deal with whatever issues are troubling you directly. Check out the resources at beyondblue.org.au if you think you might need help.

8. Money saved

How much would you normally spend on a night out? $30? $60? $100 or more? Think of all the things you could put that money towards… And it doesn’t mean sacrificing on fun, either. There are plenty of cheaper (and sometimes free) ways you can spend a night with friends, and the change might be refreshing. Why not try organising a game of beach volleyball, or a sushi-making night, or a home movie marathon. Think outside the square and just watch the extra money pile up in your bank account.

9. No hangovers

What’s that? A Sunday morning where you can bound out of bed make use of the day? One of the benefits of taking a break from alcohol is the extra time you’ll have that would otherwise be wasted nursing a hangover. Weekends suddenly become much more rich, expansive and enjoyable when you spend them feeling energised and vital!

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