Sober October: What happens when you stop drinking? How quitting alcohol can make you healthier and happier

two persons holding drinking glasses filled with beer
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This month, thousands of people will be signing up to Sober for October to raise money for Macmillan.

The campaign encourages people to go for 31 days without drinking a drop of alcohol.

Aside from being a great way to give back, there are plenty of other reasons why people are choosing to ditch the booze this month, from slimming their waistlines to saving some pennies.

We know that cutting alcohol from our lifestyles can help improve our liver and heart health, but what are some of the other benefits of going teetotal and how long before you see the effect on your overall health?

Here, Dr Fiona Sim, a former GP and medical advisor to Drinkaware, answers all of your questions about what happens to your body when you stop drinking:

What happens to your body when you stop drinking?

“Once you go sober, some of the health benefits will be noticeable straight away. For example, your raised blood pressure will come down and may return to normal. Your sleep pattern and quality will improve, so you’ll feel more refreshed when you get up in the morning.

“Your liver will be helped too but how much will depend on how much damage has already been done due to alcohol.

“It’s also worth noting that the initial effects of stopping drinking won’t always be positive if you’re a heavy drinker.

“You may experience nasty withdrawal symptoms such as trembling hands, headaches and nausea.

“If this is the case, you would probably find it better to cut down more slowly and steadily until you reach the low risk drinking guidelines or stop completely.”

Does alcohol affect mental health? What happens to your brain when you stop drinking?

“Alcohol is associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression, so, despite its popular image, it won’t help you feel relaxed if you’re stressed. It is also linked with self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

“In people who drink regularly and heavily, alcohol can cause your memory to be impaired and may put you at increased risk of severe mental illness (psychosis).

“When you stop drinking, your risks are reduced but if the damage has already been done to your brain cells, not all the harm can be reversed.”

How does going sober affect relationships, dating and sex?

“It’s a myth that alcohol is an aphrodisiac – it isn’t.

“In fact, alcohol can reduce your sexual sensitivity, meaning you enjoy sex less and can interfere with a man’s performance.

“For both men and women, alcohol can reduce fertility, so particularly if you are both heavy drinkers, it may be more difficult to conceive.

“As far as relationships are concerned, drinking heavily can lead to bad mood swings and aggression, an important catalyst for domestic violence. So all in all, going sober has a lot to commend it in the realms of significant relationships.”

What are the other benefits of stopping drinking?

“Going sober can improve how you look and feel.

“A lot of people don’t know that alcohol causes dehydration and dry skin – not a look most of us would choose! Plus, the calories in alcohol often go unrecognised and contribute to people being overweight and obese.

“Cutting out alcohol can also help prevent migraines and improve quality of sleep. Not drinking reduces your risk of several types of cancer, including breast and bowel cancer.

“And don’t forget how much money you’ll save and the positive impact you’ll have on those around you.

“If you have children, showing them that a normal life doesn’t have to feature alcohol means they are growing up in a healthier, safer environment.”

Source: Georgia Chambers, Evening Standard

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