If someone asked you if you could take a break from drinking alcohol, would you be able to do it? You may think it’s no big deal to take a month off from drinking, or you may think it’s a *huge* deal, as alcohol seems to be the center of many social events, from Happy Hours to parties to dates. After the holidays, I decided to take a break from alcohol for a month, and the results surprised me.
Before my break, I did not think I drank a “lot,” but, then again, what is a lot? If you go on a date for a couple hours and have a couple drinks, is that a lot? If you meet your friends for drinks after work and have three vodka tonics, from, say, 7 p.m. until midnight, is that a lot? And if you do these types of social events a few nights a week — a date, drinks with friends, a party — and drink alcohol each time, all those drinks may definitely add up to a lot. Again, this depends on how you define it. Well, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, moderate drinking for women is defined as one drink a day. *One* drink. On top of which, they consider high-risk drinking for women to be four or more drinks per day, or eight or more drinks per week. Surprising, yes? I thought so.
“Regardless of the reason, abstaining from alcohol can be very beneficial,” Dr. Jennifer Caudle, family physician and associate professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Bustle. "For some, it can be a good opportunity to take a step back and regroup, and for others it might be a good opportunity to reevaluate drinking habits altogether.”
Like Dr. Caudle says, regrouping is a great reason to stop drinking, and here’s what I learned by taking a one-month break from alcohol.
No One Cared That I Wasn't Drinking
Believe it or not, nobody cares that you’re not drinking alcohol. Yes, your date or your friend may try to get you to have a drink with them — “I don’t want to drink alone!” they’ll say — but, deep down, it doesn’t matter to them if that’s a vodka tonic in your hand or a plain tonic. Besides, they look exactly the same, down to the lime garnish, so unless someone starts sniffing your drink, they won’t even know what’s in your glass. Of course, it goes without saying that if they do care that you’re not drinking and don’t let up when you say you’re on a break because you’re tired of post-drinking headaches or restless nights, the real question becomes: Why do they care? They may see alcohol as a crutch for having fun, but that does not mean you need to. They may also think they could never take a break from drinking, which is another issue altogether, and more about them, not you.
I Had Better, More Authentic Dates
Though “going out for drinks” seems like a popular date activity, especially for a first date, my non-alcohol first dates proved to be much more fun. When you’re dating and not drinking alcohol, it’s time to get creative, and once you think of one date idea not involving alcohol, you’ll think of a bunch. One date and I took a long walk through a part of town neither of us had explored while another introduced me to his favorite coffee latte (with honey and cinnamon) in an eclectic café full of black-and-white photography and live music.
Plus, without alcohol, each of us were 100 percent present. In the past, I’d dated several guys with drinking problems, so it was nice to go out with guys who did not mind that there was no alcohol involved. Pretty soon, I even started meeting guys who didn’t drink — ever — it was as though the Universe sent them to me.
“At the end of the day, while alcohol may help a person lower their inhibitions, and they may believe they are a better dater, more carefree, and more likable when feeling tipsy, this is not a long-term solution,” Shlomo Zalman Bregman, Rabbi, matchmaker, and relationship expert, tells Bustle. “What is a person going to do — forever only date and interact with their significant other while under the influence?" Great question, right?
I Had Fewer Headaches
During my no-alcohol month, gone were the days of waking up with a headache, the kind I used to not attribute to alcohol. However, the fact that I had so few headaches during my non-drinking month definitely made me reevaluate my previous theory of alcohol not being their cause. While some people get headaches after drinking, others have serious hangovers and can’t even get out of bed the next day. Imagine a life without that: amazing.
“The effects of alcohol are more significant than some realize — it impacts brain function and neurochemistry,” Dr. Adam Lipson, a neurosurgeon at IGEA Brain & Spine, tells Bustle. “In my world as a surgeon, one hangover is too much.”
I Felt Less Anxious
Alcohol can make your anxiety worse because it changes your serotonin levels, as well as affects other neurotransmitters in your brain. And though you may hear that alcohol is a depressant, it’s also true — even if it makes you seem happy in the moment. By eliminating alcohol, I felt less anxious about things that had given me anxiety in the past.
I Slept Better
Although alcohol makes some people sleep like a baby, it also makes some people wake up several times a night. “Alcohol is notorious for disrupting sleep,” Dr. Caudle says. “A big benefit [of eliminating alcohol] is the possibility of improved sleep. Even though alcohol may make us feel sleepy and ready to ‘hit the sack,’ sleep is often interrupted and of poor quality when alcohol has been involved. So an immediate benefit of not drinking might be feeling more rested and getting better sleep at night.”
As someone with on-and-off insomnia, I was excited that I was sleeping better.
I Had More Energy
Since I was sleeping better, I found myself getting out of bed more easily rather than snoozing my alarm clock 101 times. In addition, I felt more alert all month versus months when drinking had been in the picture. Perhaps the lack of headaches had something to do with this also, but having more energy overall was definitely a big plus of life without alcohol.
Eliminating alcohol from my life was easier than I’d expected. Actually, I liked the break so much, I extended it through February, and now through March, too. Of course, to each their own — you may stop drinking alcohol and not have the same positive effects I did. But, like Dr. Caudle says, I think it’s worth a try.