There are so many reasons one might decide to abstain from alcohol for a month. You might want to jumpstart your weight loss journey, feel healthier, detox your body, or you might be curious if you can do it because you have a feeling your relationship with drinking is starting to change, and not for the better. Whatever your reason, I commend you for choosing to take on this challenge!
Should You Take a Month Off?
Most people don’t have an alcohol addiction and can easily take a month off with no issues aside from the increased demand to be more creative in their weekend plans. But other people aren’t so lucky- withdrawal from alcohol can be mild to severe and should be taken seriously. A few months before I quit drinking for good I did Dry January and my withdrawal symptoms were mild to moderate- irritability, shaking, brain fog, headaches, anxiety, and major FOMO (fear of missing out). Annoying but livable, and certainly not deadly. For others, withdrawal symptoms can include seizures, vomiting, high blood pressure, tachycardia (increased heart rate), and/or DTs (delirium tremens) which includes uncontrollable shaking, confusion, and hallucinations. If you suspect your symptoms could be more serious than some irritability and FOMO please seek medical support/intervention.
What If It’s Too Hard?
A few weeks after I succeeded in my month-long break I attempted to do another month because once I started drinking again after I was “allowed” I went right back where I started- at the level of drinking that comes with severe anxiety the next day, shame, depression, meltdowns, and blackouts. This second attempt of a month off only lasted 2 weeks because it was just too hard.
This was a clue that I had a bigger problem than I originally thought. If this happens to you it’s a great opportunity to really look at the reasons why you fell short on your goal. You can’t automatically jump to “OMG I must be an alcoholic!” because humans are way more complicated than that.
Maybe you didn’t have coping mechanisms in place for bad days and your first thought was to have a beer after work to destress. Now you know for next time you should have other activities already in place so your first thought isn’t to drink.
Maybe you went out to dinner with some friends and everyone else was drinking and you thought you’d feel too out-of-place and awkward if you didn’t drink. I totally get it. It can feel super weird and vulnerable when you’re the only sober one. First of all, most people don’t notice if you’re not drinking, and if they do, most people honestly don’t care. So really think about this- WHY did you feel the need to order a drink because everyone else did. Did you feel the need to be buzzed to feel a part of the conversation or to be likeable? Did you feel the need to drink to feel normal? Answers to these questions can point to an underlying alcohol problem that you’ve either never looked at or have been in denial about.
There really is something powerful about making a promise to yourself and keeping it. When you constantly break promises to yourself, even if they’re small, there’s a part of you that feels shame and that will slowly whittle away at your self-worth. I used to think saying “yes” to myself constantly was self-care. I WAS SO WRONG. Sometimes the healthiest, most loving thing you can do for yourself is to say “no”.
Think you need some help getting sober? Check out the resource page for places to contact.
Sober City Resto/Bar Guide
Heading out for after-work drinks with the team? Going to your sister’s bachelorette part? Taking yourself out to a solo date? Use my guide to help you make the decision on where to go that has the best selection of mocktails or non-alcoholic beer. You can also check if a place carries alcohol first before heading out to mentally prepare yourself.
What To Expect – The Timeline
WEEK 1 – OK HERE WE GO!
Fewer Calories Consumed
Say you have a glass of wine every few days after work, partake in “wings and beer” nights every Thursday, have Friday night drinks, and Saturday night drinks. Add that up and you have at least 2000 calories consumed per week- that’s the number of calories many people eat in a day. Remove those liquid calories and you can start to see bloating and weight go down.
Alcohol is a diuretic- which means it causes you to urinate a lot more than if you were drinking non-alcoholic beverages. So if you drink 200mL of beer you’d assume you’d pee out 200mL, right?! Nope- you’d urinate about 320mL. Alcohol interferes with the brain mechanisms that regulate the water level in the body and it reduces how much ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) you make, which increases the amount of urine you produce. Sure, there’s usually hydrating liquids mixed into boozey bevvies but that’s usually not enough to offset the dehydrating effects of alcohol so it’s super easy to become dehydrated when drinking.
When you drink you generally fall asleep super quick and your body goes straight to “deep sleep” state, rather than hanging out in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage first.
Healthy sleep has between 6 and 7 REM cycles but after a night of drinking, you might get 1 or 2. Why is this bad? Skipping the REM sleep stage is associated with memory problems, higher risk of obesity, and increased inflammatory responses (which can wreak havoc on your entire body and mind). So during the first week of sober sleep, you’ll probably notice you’re more productive in the daytime and you can concentrate and problem-solve a lot better. Sleep also helps to balance hormones, is huge in regulating appetite, and helps with sticking to a specific diet and exercise regime. Your emotions and behaviour will probably also improve and become easier to control.
WEEK 2 – STARTING TO FEEL PRETTY GOOD
Digestive Issues Improving
Heartburn and acid reflux will probably be gone at this point due to the stomach lining healing and stomach acid production stabilization. Alcohol irritates the stomach lining and the chances of gorging on heavy, carb-loaded, greasy food after a night of drinking are usually much higher than a sober night which can also mess up your digestion.
If we go back to the previous example of a glass of wine every few days after work, partake in “wings and beer” nights every Thursday, have Friday night drinks, and Saturday night drinks that equal anywhere from $100-200 per week. You’ll probably notice your bank account looks a lot healthier in week 2 so either keep saving or buy yourself something as a treat for making it halfway through your goal!
WEEK 3 – HAPPY BRAIN, HAPPY BODY
Weight Loss and Increased Energy
As mentioned in week 1, you’ve eliminated all those liquid calories so clothes will probably start to fit better. All that quality sleep and no hangover morning have probably also increased your energy levels. Amazing!
Blood Pressure Reduced
Alcohol use can cause your blood pressure to rise slowly over time so after 3 weeks of not drinking, you might notice your blood pressure starting to come back down.
Reducing your BP decreases your risk of heart problems and stroke, improves kidney health, and avoids other serious health problems.
WEEK 4 – THIS ISN’T THAT BAD!
Due to being properly hydrated (or at least not experiencing bouts of moderate to severe dehydration) your skin will start to change for the better- premature ageing is prevented, your skin increases cell turnover process, and you appear brighter and healthier.
Your Liver Thanks You
If your liver isn’t too badly affected by your alcohol use, it can recover its function within 1-2 months.
The liver plays a role in over 500 vital processes like helping fight infection, storing minerals and vitamins, removing contaminants, and maintaining hormone balance so giving your liver a rest for the month will allow it to do its job better. Liver fat can also be decreased by 15-20% a month after your last drink.
Once you’ve conquered your Sober October goal you’ll definitely notice that money saved so buy yourself something as a reward! After the month is up your liver and stomach will be happier, you’ll probably be a bit lighter/carry less fat/bloating, your body and brain will work better, and your energy levels and productivity will be increased due to better sleep. Seriously, everyone should take at least a month off a few times a year just for this level-up. You might feel so great that you decide to keep going and cut out drinking altogether or only make drinking a monthly thing or a special occasion event.
And if you go back to regular drinking like you’ve always done, I hope you go back into it with new perspective- that not every situation requires drinks and you can be creative in making alternate social plans. Honestly, it all comes down to ‘are you, and your loved ones happy doing what you’re doing?’ and if the answer is yes, carry on my friend and live your life!