Did you ever stop to think those happy hours were actually making you less happy? Alcohol has been linked to significant changes in people’s health, for both the better and the worse. So giving up alcohol—for even just one month—can make a big impact on your health and well-being. Not only can you make serious progress toward increasing your chances of weight loss after quitting alcohol, but what happens when you stop drinking alcohol also extends beyond dropping a few pounds. It can also include lowering your cancer risk, boosting your heart health, and even helping you sleep better.
If you drink alcoholic beverages frequently, you might be interested to know how your body may change if you cut out beer, wine, and liquor for a while. Whether it’s for a day, a week, or even a month, it can make a difference.
To give you an idea of what happens when you stop drinking, we’ve gathered the 14 benefits of not drinking alcohol you can expect to reap below. And while you’re making healthy changes, be sure to try out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Why does alcohol cause weight gain? The bulk of it can be attributed to excess empty calories, but there are other factors at play, as well. Research shows that drinking alcohol can also increase your appetite for high-calorie foods, both immediately and the next day. According to a study published in the journal Appetite, people who drank only half a shot of alcohol (20 grams worth) ate 11 percent more than those who abstained. The drinkers also experienced more cravings for high-fat (high-calorie) foods.
You may even overindulge a day after drinking. According to a 2013 study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, drinking alcohol results in shorter, less quality sleep, which caused study subjects to shift from eating carbohydrates to eating fats. And each 30-minute deficit of sleep caused the subjects to eat 83 additional calories per day, on average!
Though booze can make you fall asleep initially, it disrupts shut-eye. That conclusion was reached by a review of 20 studies on the topic. Another recent study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that drinking before bed increases alpha wave patterns in the brain. If you want restorative sleep, those waves don’t help. Once you give up alcohol, however, you’ll get better sleep and start feeling more refreshed and sharp.
Hangovers are draining. Luckily, if you don’t drink, you won’t have one! And with fewer hangovers comes more energy and less fatigue. As we just saw, when we drink, our sleep is disrupted. Naturally, this will affect your mood and energy levels the following day. According to a recent study published in Sleep and Vigilance, heavy alcohol consumption significantly increases daytime sleepiness the following day, with nearly 35 percent of participants self-reporting feeling slowed down and losing interest in remaining awake during a hangover whereas less than 5 percent of participants reported the same feelings on a regular day.
In 2013, 14 staffers at New Scientist magazine whose drinking ranged from eight to 64 12-ounce bottles of beer per week took a short-term break from alcohol. Ten people gave up the booze for five weeks. Another four didn’t. Doctors at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London tested their blood before and after, and discovered that the teetotalers’ liver fat—a predictor of liver damage—fell 15 to 20 percent! The abstainers’ blood glucose levels—a key factor in diabetes—also dropped by an average of 16 percent!
A study in the Nature journal found that booze can trigger cravings. How does that work? Agrp neurons, which are usually activated by starvation and result in intense hunger, were found to be triggered by alcohol consumption. If you want to curb your cravings in more ways than just cutting out booze, don’t miss these 12 Ways to Crush Your Unhealthy Cravings for Good.
Even in relatively small doses, alcohol can negatively affect digestion by altering the stomach’s secretion of gastric acid as well as its gastric motility: the ability of your stomach muscles to break down ingested food. It can also hamper the digestive enzymes’ ability to function and break down food. When these functions are impaired, your digestion suffers. Studies have shown that pairing alcohol with a meal can slow down digestion while the overproduction of gastric acid can irritate the stomach.
When you consume alcohol, your body has to focus on processing this toxin and eliminating it from the body. Like macronutrients, the ethanol in alcohol has calories: 7 calories per gram. However, unlike carbs or fat that can be stored for energy, alcohol is not stored in the body, and simply remains in the body until it can be eliminated. Skip the booze, and your body won’t waste time expelling alcohol, but it can burn carbs, then flubber.
RELATED: Learn how to fire up your metabolism and lose weight the smart way.
If you’re used to having a few brews or glasses of wine at home each night, you might want to stop drinking and replace the ritual with flavored seltzers or detox waters you make yourself. Plus, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it flushes your body of water through urine. Less alcohol means your body can retain the right amount of water for proper hydration and electrolyte balance.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which leeches fluids from your body. Booze also decreases the body’s production of the antidiuretic hormone that helps the body reabsorb water. That’ll show up on your face. After just a few days of abstinence, you’ll notice that your skin looks and feels more hydrated, and skin maladies like dandruff, eczema, or rosacea may also improve over the long term. Researchers have identified a close correlation between alcohol use and skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, spider veins, post-adolescent acne, and even superficial skin infections.
Per the American Heart Association, drinking alcohol can raise the level of triglycerides and harmful fats in the blood. That can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and heart disease. How? According to a study published in the journal Current Opinion in Lipidology, drinking booze is closely related to the ingestion of fat. Consuming one makes your hypothalamus signal that you’re craving the other.
Excessive drinking and binge drinking can lead to stroke and neuropathy. Why? The American Heart Association says that regular heavy drinking can raise blood pressure and cause irregular heartbeats over time. And according to the National Institute of Health, excessive boozing directly poisons nerves.
Long-term health risks of chronic alcohol use include exacerbating or inducing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, memory loss, problems with learning, dementia, and severely hindered mental functioning. However, it’s never too late to cut back on booze and save your brain.
In the New Scientist study, participants who quit booze for 30 days reported an 18 percent increase in concentration and a 17 percent boost in performance at their jobs. What happens when you stop drinking? Quit raising a glass and you’ll be on your way to getting a raise!
In the New Scientist study, staffers who quit alcohol found their blood cholesterol levels fell by an average of 5 percent in just 30 days! This is because abstaining helped their bodies sweep out those nasty, fatty triglycerides.
While a glass or two of wine or a few cocktails may seem to set the mood, it’s actually a depressant, which is the last thing you want in the bedroom. It can play havoc with a man’s ability to get and keep an erection, which can dampen the libido for women as well. And while all alcohol affects the liver’s ability to get rid of excess estrogen, beer contains phytoestrogens—plant-derived estrogens that dampen virility and fertility. Taxing the liver with alcohol can make it less effective at metabolizing hormones, which can convert androgens into estrogens, resulting in a diminished sex drive.
According to the National Cancer Institute, drinking booze has been linked to an increased risk for cancers of the mouth, liver, breast, colon, and rectum—and the risk increases the more you drink. You can guarantee you’ll lower your cancer risk in just 30 days. How? Replace your post-boozing McDonald’s menu with snacks and meals high in fibrous fruits, veggies, and legumes. In a 2015 Nature Communications study, scientists from Imperial College and the University of Pittsburg found that swapping a meat-heavy Western diet for a high-fiber one increased healthy, protective gut bacteria and lowered colon cancer biomarkers—in just two weeks! Wondering whether you should change your diet? Consider these 9 Warning Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Fiber.