The practice of abstaining from alcohol for the first month of the year—called “Dry January”—has become increasingly popular over the last few years. If you participated this year, it’s possible that your decision to partake indicated your awareness that your relationship with alcohol isn’t a healthy one. It’s possible that what you need is a sober lifestyle, not just a sober month.
More and more people are trying Sober January each year, and invariably, many are pleasantly surprised by the great benefits they achieve from just one month on the sobriety wagon.
If such a short period without alcohol can bring about noticeable positive results, just imagine the benefits one might experience from forgoing alcohol for a longer period.
In my role as the clinical supervisor at Luminance Recovery, I see some of the tragic consequences of an unhealthy reliance on intoxicants daily. But even those who aren’t addicted to alcohol can still be abusing it and suffering negative consequences. Here are five reasons why it can be a good idea to choose a sober lifestyle for longer than a few weeks or a month:
1. Endless Health Benefits
One of the reasons Dry January has become a thing is because it coincides with the beginning of the year, when many of us are looking to start the New Year on a good foot, making resolutions for weight loss or pursuing better health. Staying sober can give you a strong assist on this front. It’s common for people to consume more calories than they might realize from an alcoholic beverage – from the booze itself and from sugary mixers such as soda and juice. But on top of the calories, alcohol may actually make it harder for our bodies to burn fat. The health benefits from abstaining from alcohol are endless, and include things like decreased irritability, a better mood, high productivity and weight loss.
2. Maintain Healthy Relationships
Speaking of health, staying sober can help us maintain the health of our relationships, too. Drinking inhibits how we communicate and connect with our loved ones, affecting multiple aspects of our emotional functioning. It can exacerbate existing mental health issues. But even for those who don’t have preexisting mental illness, using alcohol can cause behaviors that are damaging to relationships. Psychologically, alcohol is a depressant that may serve to temporarily mask our anxieties and emotional pain. If these issues are allowed to build, unaddressed, we may be setting ourselves up to be overwhelmed once this floodgate of emotion overflows. Additionally, alcohol abuse increases incidents of domestic violence—both emotional and physical abuse in relationships. In both romantic relationships and relationships with friends, consumption of alcohol can lead to us mistreating our loved ones, and a ton of morning-after regrets.
3. More Energy, No Hangovers
Without alcohol, you’ll have more energy and zero hangovers, which can be a boon to following other healthier pursuits. Physically, alcohol can leave drinkers dehydrated, which can drain energy and lead to listlessness. It also decreases our quality of sleep, so even if we stay in bed the usual number of hours—or more—we can awaken feeling less rested. Cutting out alcohol, could improve your energy levels allowing you to accomplish more in the day. Think about it: how likely are you to go to the gym hungover, work on your passion project hungover or clean your apartment hungover?
4. Give Your Wallet a Break
Ask yourself a fairly simple question: How much money do you regularly spend on alcohol? Is it $10 a week? $20 … $50? Think of what you can do with that money when you’re not giving it to your local bartender or liquor store. You can start (or add to) a savings account—it’s recommended to have six to nine months’ of expenses socked away in an emergency fund. Or, if you do have your emergency fund filled, use the money you’re saving on not drinking to purchase something on your wish list, to take a trip to somewhere you’ve wanted to go or to contribute to a cause that’s important to you.
5. Discover New Social Circles
By living alcohol-free, you’ll cultivate friendships that are based on other hobbies and activities, or shared likes and beliefs that have nothing to do with drinking. These can lead to deep and fulfilling connections with people that may enrich our lives in countless ways. You could meet hiking buddies, join a sports team, or meet entrepreneurial friends who encourage you to aim higher.
In addition to the above five ways that sobriety can improve your life, here’s a bonus: Another relationship that for many of us can use some attention and fine-tuning is the one we have with alcohol. Almost all of us can use some time not drinking to examine alcohol’s role in our lives. Even if you’re not addicted, could you be becoming dependent on it during certain scenarios? Could you be abusing it? Would abstaining be better, either for us or our loved ones (or both)? Having a clear head to answer these tough questions will only benefit us in the long run.
This article was contributed by Howard P. Goodman, licensed psychotherapist, addiction specialist and clinical supervisor at Luminance Recovery.