I went sober for a month – here’s what happened

Oenone Forbat

Oenone Forbat on why Dry January should be a no-brainer

02 January 2019 16:39

I love wine. I really, genuinely, love wine. I think about it a lot, sometimes wholly inappropriately, like at 9am on a Tuesday. However, like anything we love, sometimes we have to let it go – although it can be difficult. Last year I tried to do Dry January and, as I was sipping contently on my Malbec, I realised it was, in fact, the third of the month. I hadn’t lasted three days.

October rolled around, and I once again made a half-hearted pledge to forego alcohol, with the assumption that I probably wouldn’t go through with it (but it doesn’t matter because I don’t drink that much). However, whenever I mentioned to my friends that I was considering this drastic lifestyle change, the reaction I received was incredulity – ‘As if you’ll do it!’ So then, of course, I did it.

To my delight, it was not only a smug-inducing endeavour, but genuinely enlightening too. As I said before, in the grand scheme of things I don’t drink excessively, and, apart from those times when I do go out – until so late that it’s also early – I would say I am a healthy individual. What I learnt from a month sober, however, was that the prolonged action of not drinking at all, not even one glass here and there, had much greater repercussions than I had imagined.

Once I got through the first dinner sans alcohol, feeling just as merry as my friends, it dawned on me just how easily I fell into the trap of thinking that you have to drink whenever it’s an option, sometimes even when I didn’t want to. This actually resulted in me attending more social events than I had previously planned, with the knowledge I could avoid both FOMO and a hangover – absolute game changer.

 

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We all know that drinking isn’t the best for our health, but realistically most people (especially those of us who live and work in cities) have at least one alcoholic drink per week. Alcohol is massively disturbing for our sleep, so even if you have been in bed ‘sleeping’ for a good eight hours, you may not have actually reached deep sleep. Even if you were only to have a few drinks spread across a whole week, that may impact how much rest you’re getting. With more and more research being put into sleep, we now know that lack of sleep (anything less than eight hours per night) can put us at risk of a plethora of illnesses, as well as shorten our life expectancy… I thought I’d start with the lighter stuff.

Come January, many people are looking to start a ‘new year, new me’ regime in the hope of losing weight. This usually consists of a fresh gym membership, perhaps a detox tea subscription, or other drastically outdated and unfounded dietary advice – often from a sponsored article on an outlet such as the Daily Mail. Whilst I encourage regular exercise, I am no advocate of diet culture and detox teas that simply don’t work – that’s what your liver is for.

However, I will say this: whilst I would never normally encourage anyone to cut out a food group or vilify any one thing we consume, alcohol really has no nutritional benefits. It is empty calories. With that in mind, since we certainly have enough over the Christmas period, Dry January seems somewhat of a no-brainer. Not only can we avoid the excess calories in alcohol, but also the excess calories in the alcohol-fuelled binging that often ensues after a night on the town. I definitely noticed myself feeling leaner throughout October, especially in the facial region – I’m certain (with no scientific backing or evidence) that alcohol calories go straight to my chin.

Whilst we’re on the topic of faces, our skin can also take a bit of a hit when we’re drinking excessively. Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible, tells us that, ‘chronic excessive alcohol intake can deplete the body of key nutrients including vitamins A, B, C and zinc which are all vital components of healthy skin,’ and that, ‘sugary drinks such as cocktails taken in excess may have the possibility to drive acne in some people.’

However, it’s not just our bodies and physical selves that take a battering with too much booze – alcohol can frequently put stress on our mental health. I would count myself as someone with mostly good mental health. However, post-alcohol consumption, I am much more prone to feelings of anxiety or to having a generally low mood. These states are ones which, otherwise, I very rarely feel. Websites such as Drinkaware note that, ‘Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health.’

With this in mind – no pun intended – it seems even more worthwhile to allow yourself a little respite from letting your hair down. Raise your glasses (filled with water, naturally) to a Dry January.