3 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health & How to Stop Drinking It
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Why aren’t you drinking anything? That’s one of the most common questions asked if you choose to skip alcohol when out with friends, colleagues, or even family. Drinking alcohol is a societal norm for adults, and it has been for quite some time. Here’s why that thinking needs another look.
Did you know that 14.5 million people in the United States ages 12 and older had an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in 2019? What’s more, less than 10% of people with past-year AUD received treatment of any kind.
You may be wondering, what’s the harm in some alcohol? Drinking in moderation once in a while won’t harm you. Sipping cocktails on girls’ night out, drinking beer when watching sports, or toasting the start of the weekend at happy hour is part of our adult social culture. If you can keep your drinking habits moderate — you avoid binge drinking and abstain from alcohol more days than you drink — then your drinking shouldn’t derail your healthy lifestyle.
That said, if you start binge drinking often, the detriments of drinking alcohol far outweigh any pros of social drinking. That’s because alcohol has many harmful effects on the body and brain over time.
You may have heard about or even tried trends like “dry January” or “sober October,” and may be sober curious (dipping a toe in the waters of sobriety without committing to it completely). If this sounds like you, we’re here to help. We dug through the research and heard from the experts about how you can stop drinking alcohol for good.
What Alcohol Does to the Body
Alcohol affects many parts of the body, and an area that can sometimes get overlooked is hormone health. The endocrine system contains glands and organs that control the body’s metabolism, growth, energy production, and even the response to stress and mood. Alcohol throws off hormonal regulation in many ways.
Alcohol Disrupts Hormone Health
Alcohol, especially chronic alcohol consumption, creates hormonal disturbances that can be difficult to regulate again. Other effects of too much alcohol can even lead to cardiovascular abnormalities, reproductive issues for males and females, as well as immune dysfunction, and bone disease.
Too much alcohol raises hormone levels, including Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), and estrogen levels, all of which are necessary to keep hormones in balance. This is especially true for females because these hormones are essential for fetal development and menstrual regulation.
More ways alcohol consumption can affect hormone health:
Decreases bone metabolism and increases nutritional deficiencies
Interferes with production of Vitamin D (Vitamin D is essential for hormonal regulation.)
Disturbs hormones, which can result in changed cognitive and motor functions
Alcohol Changes the Brain
Alcohol consumption impacts the brain, impairing judgment, and can lead to loss of control. Memory, attention, and planning can change with acute or chronic alcohol consumption. Too much alcohol can even increase sexual risk-taking and aggressive behavior.
Because alcohol drastically affects the brain, it can be difficult for alcoholics to quit or enjoy it in moderation. Alcohol abuse is a disease, and there is a chemical reason many recovering alcoholics abstain from it altogether, says Elizabeth Essner, LCSW. Essner previously worked at Kaiser Permanente Chemical Dependency Recovery Program, and she specializes in substance abuse disorders among individuals and couples.
The synapses in the brain change after stopping alcohol, because alcohol changes many neurological pathways in the brain, and is a depressant of the central nervous system. It’s very hard for a former alcoholic to go back to controlled drinking — although it can happen.
Alcohol and the Body
Hormonal and psychological functions are not the only areas affected by repeated or chronic alcohol consumption.
Too much alcohol consumption can increase the chances of certain chronic diseases, such as:
High blood pressure
Certain cancers like breast, head and neck, throat, colon, and liver
Why Stop Drinking Alcohol?
Many people want to stop drinking or reduce their consumption of alcohol due to health reasons like the ones listed above. But there are many other reasons why someone may want to stop drinking alcohol.
Essner has seen a variety of reasons people stop, including custody and legal issues, repairing a marriage, rebuilding trust, and regaining employment, to name a few. Someone can rarely get pushed into treatment, but employment is a common reason someone may seek help, says Essner. If alcohol isn’t affecting your life on a larger scale, you may still want to cut back or stop drinking altogether if you want to manage stress better, lose weight, improve sleep, and increase mental clarity.
Top Ways to Stop Drinking Alcohol
If you want to stop drinking alcohol, we’ve gathered the research and experts to help you feel confident about your decision. Essener has several proven strategies to quit alcohol that may be more accessible than you think.
One of the most important concepts is to understand when you need to get help, and that can be hard to admit. But the sooner you get help, the sooner you can get your life back, says Essner. Let’s dive into the top ways to stop drinking alcohol.
Get Community or Personal Support
Regular contact with a sponsor, mentor, or even a trusted friend or family member who doesn’t judge you is vital. It’s essential to have touchstones, because of potential acute withdrawal and Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Withdrawal can last from six months to two years and include changes in mood, sleep, cognition, and more. Because it can feel disorienting, support is an essential component. There are group support systems if you prefer that as well.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
This is the most common support group for recovering alcoholics, and it can be effective, but it is not the only way, says Essner. Many people feel this is the only option and may get turned off at the mention of God, for example, so there are many other resources.
SMART Recovery provides evidence-based addiction recovery by utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This can be an ideal option for those who don’t want to go down the 12-step route to recovery. There are many in-person and online meeting options available throughout the world. CBT can be very effective for substance abuse disorders. There’s growing research linking the impact of trauma on substance abuse disorders.
Recovery Dharma uses Buddhist principles and Eastern philosophy to build community and help others overcome addiction. This can be through meditation practices, Dharma talks, and more. Meetings are available online and in person. Mindfulness is a promising treatment for substance abuse disorders to help prevent future relapse.
LifeRing Secular Recovery
LifeRing is an abstinence-based program that focuses on sobriety and secularity, which means they are neutral regarding religion. They provide online or in-person meetings.
If you are looking for a more religious community support group, Celebrate Recovery may be a better option. They have many events and workshops available as well.
While there are many groups and tactics to seek out support and stop drinking alcohol, there are even more ways you can get turned off from the habit.
How You Can Get Turned off by Alcohol
Alcohol can affect many aspects of your life, and there are some ways to approach it as a turnoff instead of a go-to habit. Read on to see if anything resonates with you.
Log what you drink: Writing down everything you drink can be helpful for establishing a baseline, says Essner. You may surprise yourself with your notes. Even more, journaling or expressive writing can also have therapeutic benefits and assist in avoiding alcohol.
Make a pros and cons list: Here are some helpful questions and prompts to help with the pros and cons list: What aspects of your life are the most impacted when you drink? What are the positives and negatives when you stop drinking? Take an honest look at how alcohol impacts your health and reflect on anything that comes up. How does drinking alcohol affect your relationships, finances, sex life, and self-esteem?
Change your environment: Changing where and who you hang out with can help. Even adding some new alternatives can assist as well. Finding a new favorite nonalcoholic drink, especially when out with others who may be drinking, is crucial. That can be anything from sparkling water to iced tea or kombucha or whatever feels good. Revamping your life without drinking is hard, but you’re not alone in your hope for sobriety. Support and guidance are available whenever you feel ready.
Keep yourself busy: Pick up a new hobby or activity with friends or family that doesn’t involve drinking. Immerse yourself in a new task that stimulates the brain. Consider taking a class online, building something complex with your hands, or learning a new language. Hobbies decrease stress and can help redirect old alcohol habits.
If you’re thinking about quitting alcohol, you’re not alone. There has been an uptick in substance abuse cases since the COVID-19 pandemic, says Essner. Due to isolation, the pandemic encouraged many people to drink on their own, too. Since we have an alcohol-based culture, many people feel it might be hard to cope with everyone around them drinking. But fear not. You can get the support and resources you need to overcome anything.
Have you ever heard the saying, I have to hit rock bottom to recover? Although that can push someone to sobriety, Essner likes to tell her patients, “Your bottom can be any time you decide to stop digging.”