As someone who has spent the last five years working in bars and restaurants, I have always been surrounded by alcohol. Whether it was because I was serving it or because I felt like I deserved a treat for successfully getting through a stressful 12-hour shift.
Alcohol is a big part of the university culture, especially during Fresher’s Week and reminiscing of mine five years ago, I remember spending most evenings in the pub next to the university, getting to know the people who would down the road become my second family.
I wouldn't say I abused alcohol, but I did realise that my self-control needed work and that my liver needed a rest. So, in September 2020, I decided to avoid alcohol for six weeks. Mostly because I had the worst hangover of my life following a wild night in a Prague bar and couldn't bear the thought of drinking again. And after those six weeks, my alcohol consumption and tolerance were lower than before.
The turning point
The real change however happened when I stopped drinking for two months last November. Earlier that year I’d started eating healthier, cut down sugars and carbs, but still indulged in the occasional gin or tequila. I thought if I gave up chocolate, pasta and bread, I’m not going to let go of the only thing that brings me some sort of pleasure. But did it really?
The decision to take a longer break from drinking came after I had a cheat week after visiting home. I only had a few drinks during those few days, but I realised it didn't bring me any joy, so why drink? So, I set a goal for myself to abstain from alcohol until Christmas. Could I really go more than three months without drinking? To be honest, I couldn’t.
The decision was difficult to stick to in social settings, especially when I went around my friends who bought loads of alcohol as they expected I will be drinking. While I had a good time, I also spent the majority of the night turning down tequila shots and feeling like a buzz kill. However, it really demonstrated my determination and self-control. If they had asked me months ago, I would have already poured another round of shots and asked no questions.
People thought I was insane, and no one could understand why I decided to stop drinking entirely rather than just limit the amount of alcohol I drank. I felt like my body needed a full detox to get rid off everything bad and start over.
Stopping drinking has many short-term as well as long-term benefits. Stating the obvious, but you can say goodbye to hangovers, nausea and headaches after a night of heavy drinking. Other benefits are better mental health, improved energy levels and better sleep, as well as better looking skin and possible weight loss.
Obviously, everyone is different and so your experience with how your body will respond to giving up alcohol could be different too. Withdrawal symptoms usually begin within the first 24 hours after you’ve had a chance to sober up, but you may not experience those at all. They however typically include anxiety, shakes, sweating and headaches as well as feelings of tiredness and depression. I’ve experienced all of these over the years, especially after I’ve been on a week-long bender.
Physically and mentally, there were quite a few benefits of my “little” break. My quality of sleep increased, and I finally have some sort of sleeping pattern. My mood has also improved, and I felt less tired and more productive, and I got rid off of my acid reflux which would keep me up at night as well because alcohol irritates your digestive system.
I also noticed was how much more hydrated my skin feels. It’s no longer dull, puffy or blotchy, which is probably the best part for someone as skincare obsessed as myself.
I don’t think I am ever going to stop drinking completely, but I can understand why it would be a good choice - drinking even a little increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and gut problems among others.
But would I take a longer break from drinking again? Definitely! I am not doing dry January (as it’s already too late for that), but as I am restarting my healthy lifestyle after indulging in as much food I could over the Christmas period, by the time you’re reading this, I have already stopped drinking again. Hopefully this time, I’ll reach the three-month mark, even though I’m risking hate from all my friends yet again.
If you’re considering reducing your alcohol intake or stopping completely, it could reduce the risk of developing many serious alcohol-related diseases. According to research, alcohol is linked to many types of cancer including bowel cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer and mouth cancer. Giving up drinking could also reduce the chances of developing liver disease, unless it’s already been irreversibly damaged.
If you need confidential help about your own or someone else's drinking, there are different alcohol support services in your area:
Drinkchat - available 9am - 2pm on weekdays
Drinkline - call 0300 123 1110 9am - 8pm on weekdays, and 11am - 4pm on the weekend