Cutting out alcohol completely can have benefits for your health but it can be difficult to know what to expect.

Whether you’re stopping for good, or just having some time off, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the changes you may see.

*If you think you have a serious drinking problem and are experiencing any of the associated symptoms of alcohol dependence, you should consult your doctor or another medical professional about it as soon as possible.

There are also a number of national alcohol support services that you can go to for advice.

Short term benefits 

Sleep better

If you stop drinking completely one of the first things you notice should be improved energy levels.

Regular drinking can affect the quality of your sleep making you feel tired and sluggish. This is because drinking disrupts your sleep cycle.1

When you drink alcohol before bed you may fall into deep sleep quicker. This is why some people find drinking alcohol helps them drop-off to sleep. But as the night goes on you spend less time in this deep sleep and more time than usual in the less restful, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.2

This can leave you feeling tired the next day no matter how long you stay in bed. 

But having alcohol-free days can help. You should be sleeping better and find it easier to wake up in the morning. 

Look better

Drinking less alcohol can also have a positive impact on your appearance.

Alcohol is a diuretic meaning it can make you urinate more causing you to be dehydrated.3 This can cause your skin and eyes to look dull and lifeless.  If you reduce the amount of alcohol you drink your skin and eyes should look brighter. 

Alcoholic drinks are also full of calories so not drinking at all is likely to make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. 

Long term benefits

Alcohol and cancer

Alcohol is linked to seven different types of cancer including breast cancer and mouth cancer.4 Cutting alcohol out lowers your risk of getting cancer.

Fatty liver

Giving up drinking will have a big impact on your liver and should reduce the chances of developing liver disease.

Regularly drinking more than the recommended alcohol units of 14 units a week for both men and women can lead to fatty liver.

The liver turns glucose into fat and sends it around the body to store when we need it. Alcohol affects the way the liver can handle fat so that it gets stuffed with fat and becomes swollen.

At the early stages, fatty liver doesn’t often cause any obvious symptoms, so you might not know that your liver has been damaged. 3

However, as the damage to the liver increases, you may feel uncomfortable and you may lose your appetite.4 A blood test can confirm you have fatty liver.

Good news

The good news is that if the liver is not too damaged after four to six weeks of not drinking the liver will usually return to normal.5

However, if there is too much damage the liver will not be able to recover and cirrhosis of the liver, or liver disease is likely to develop. If that happens, you must stop drinking and seek medical help.

Lowered health risk

The more you drink the higher the overall risk of developing health problems including:

  • Liver cirrhosis6
  • Stroke7
  • Mouth cancer8
  • Breast cancer9
  • Heart disease and high blood pressure10
  • Sexual dysfunction11

But if you reduce your alcohol intake it can make a real difference. The less you drink the less risk there is to your long term health.

The alcohol unit guidelines advise that people should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week to keep long term health risks from alcohol low.

Alcohol dependency 

There are different types of alcohol dependency and there is a sliding scale of how serious that dependency on alcohol can be.

Someone who is drinking alcohol regularly may find it hard change their pattern and cut back.

This can be the need to ‘break the habit’ of their usual behaviour. Breaking the drinking cycle is an important way to test for – and tackle this kind of behaviour.

Symptoms of dependency

The symptoms of alcohol dependency can be physical and/or psychological. And you don’t always have to be drinking alcohol to extreme levels to become dependent on drinking.

More serious alcohol dependency can lead to alcohol affecting every aspect of life including relationships, family, mental health, work and health.

If you’re dependant on alcohol, you must seek medical help before you stop drinking as you can experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop.

Take our Alcohol Self-Assessment test

If you’re concerned you may be alcohol dependant take our confidential Alcohol-Self Assessment test. It can tell you if you should make changes to your drinking.

Also your local GP can also offer you help and advice.  

Ready to stop drinking?

If you want to experience the positive benefits of drinking less, a good way to ease into it is to try having alcohol free days.

Just a few days off a week could be enough to help you see the positive benefits so you’ll be more likely to reduce your intake over a longer period of time.

If you’re worried not drinking will make you stand out at parties or in bars, mocktails are great way to blend into the crowd and get all the taste without the alcohol. If you’re hosting the party, we’ve got some great mocktail recipes for alternatives to classic cocktails.

We offer lots more useful hints and tips in our How to reduce your drinking section.

References

(1) Roehrs, T. and Roth, T., (2001) Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol research and Health, 25(2), pp.101-109.

(2) Ibid

(3) HOBSON, R.M. and MAUGHAN, R.J., 2010. Hydration status and the diuretic action of a small dose of alcohol.Alcohol and Alcoholism, 45 (4), pp. 366-373. ISSN 1464-3502

Available at: http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/content/45/4/366

(4) Bagnardi, V., Rota, M., Botteri, E., et al. (2013). Light alcohol drinking and cancer: a meta-analysis. Annals of oncology, 24(2), pp.301-308.

(5) Robert S. O ’ Shea  ,  Srinivasan Dasarathy   and     Arthur J.  McCullough. Alcoholic Liver Disease  Am J Gastroenterol 2010; 105:14–32; doi: 10.1038/ajg.2009.593;

Available at: http://www.nature.com/ajg/journal/v105/n1/full/ajg2009593a.html

(6) Savolainen, V, T, Liesto, k, Mannikko, A. et al. (1993) Alcohol consumption and Alcoholic liver disease: evidence of a threshold level of effects of ethanol. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental research. 17, 1112-1117. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-0277.1993.tb05673.x/abstract

(7) Xin, X, He, J, Frontini, M. et al. (2001) Effects of alcohol reduction on blood pressure: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Hypertension, 38 (5), 1112-1117. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-0277.1993.tb05673.x/abstract

(8) Bagnardi, V, Rota, M, Botteri. Et al. (2015) Alcohol consumption and site-specific cancer risk: a comprehensive dose-response meta-analysis. British Journal of Cancer, 112, 580-53.

Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25422909

(9) Ibid

(10) Roerecke, M. & Rehm, J. (2010) Irregular heavy drinking occasions and risk of ischemic heart disease: a systematic review of meta-analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology, 171, 633-644.

11 Anderson, K, Nisenblat, V. & Normanm R. (2010) Lifestyle factors in people seeking infertility treatment – a review. Australian and New Zealand journal of obstetrics and gynecology.

Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20218991