“In the end that was the choice you made, and it doesn’t matter how hard it was to make it. It matters that you did.” ~ Cassandra Clare
Life is full of choices, and the choices we make, make the people we become. The choices we make regarding our physical and mental health impact our long-term wellbeing. They impact our jobs, our social connections and ultimately the time we get to spend doing.
Making a choice to reduce your alcohol intake or quit drinking is another one of these life choices. For some it’s an easy choice and for others a painful one. But regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, it’s a choice that comes with some great benefits.
We want to take you through some of the improvement and progress that you can notice if you decide to quit or reduce your intake significantly. We want you to be informed of the things you can start noticing after a couple of weeks, all the way to 12 months down the track.
Quick disclaimer here – everyone’s experience is their own. What happens for one person may not be your experience. We would encourage you to hope for as many of these great benefits while keeping in mind that you are as unique as your fingerprint. Seek medical advice if you need guidance on what’s happening in regard to your health.
1 Month - Better sleep and other benefits
Research shows that one month in, some people start to feel a sense of achievement and control over their relationship with alcohol (O de Visser & Piper, 2020). It’s important to recognise the small wins and keep an eye out for the inner critic that might downplay what you’ve done well. Increased mental clarity often appears after a few weeks and partly this comes from better sleep. Sleep has an impact on so much of our everyday functioning and if it improves from a reduction in alcohol you might find that you don’t wake up as often and you experience more deep, restorative sleep than you did before.
Your liver gets a nice holiday at this stage and it doesn’t need to work quite as hard to keep you healthy. Relief on your liver gives it an opportunity to stay well and minimise any damage that alcohol might have been trying to cause. Research also shows that some people experience an increased libido after reducing or quitting alcohol. It can be a surprise for some, but alcohol rarely has a positive, long-term effect on people’s sex lives. As some of the areas above start to improve, it can result in an increase in your overall health and well-being. This is the time that withdrawal symptoms such as urges, cravings and thoughts around alcohol can start to reduce as well and become much more manageable.
3 Months - Continued liver restoration and broader health benefits
Hopefully, you’ve started to experience some of those benefits from the 1 month list and it’s ok if it took a little longer than a month to notice them. If you find that one aspect from that list is still something you’re struggling with, such as sleep or lack of mental clarity, we encourage you to seek medical support to see if there are other things in your life affecting that part of your health.
After 3 months, your liver will continue to experience that relief as mentioned above. Your sleep quality should continue to improve, and this (amongst other benefits) should provide an improvement to your overall health. At this stage your risk of experiencing cardiovascular disease and several cancers starts to reduce (World Cancer Research Fund, 2007; Roerecke et al., 2017). Many will notice that their blood pressure has lowered if it was high before making changes. This is similar to possible weight loss. For people who have experienced weight gain due to drinking excess alcohol, weight loss may be part of the AF (alcohol-free) experience. Finally, you may start to experience a boost in your overall mood and a less intense experience of anxiety or depression.
6 Months - Improved Focus
You’ve made it to 6 months! That’s fantastic! At this stage, you’ve continued to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. This is the point where some more intangible benefits start to appear. Some people find that their self-esteem improves and ability to be self-compassionate also increases (Collison et al., 2016). Because of these internal changes, relationships often improve or become more possible. For anyone dealing with mental health challenges before or while they were drinking, a reduction in alcohol or going AF often reduces the intensity of the experience of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety (Beyond Blue, 2020).
Many of the benefits listed above such as improved memory and ability to focus and concentrate, will continue. Increased quality of sleep can have some positive effects for many people. It might mean the ability to get up earlier and get more done in the day. For some, they find that meditation, reading or other activities such as a pottery class, become more possible. Sleep dictates our energy levels to an extent (SleepFoundation.org, 2020) so exercise or any form of movement can become easier and more enjoyable.
12 Months - Reduce Cancer Risk
Abstaining for 12 months is a massive achievement so celebrate your success whatever it may look like. By now you’ve improved your overall health, physically and mentally. You’ve also reduced your overall risk of having an injury or accident (Alcohol & Drug Foundation, 2020). Often people report needing fewer sick days from work, and your heart is a whole lot healthier than it was 12 months ago. Your immune system is also functioning better, and your liver is loving life at this point too. During this journey you will try lots of techniques, strategies and ways to change your relationship with alcohol. Figure out what works for you and leave the rest. Continue using the strategies, tools and support team that has helped you get this far and don’t hesitate to reach out for support when you need it to stay on track.
We hope this has been helpful, seeing some of the benefits you can experience over time. Remember that everyone’s experience is different and you might not see the same changes for yourself at the same time as others. It’s ok to make your own path and, where possible, be patient with the process. You’re not alone in this. Check out the supportive community on our Daybreak app or get some health coaching support to encourage you along this path.
Adf.org.au. 2020. Guidelines For Low-Risk Drinking – Alcohol And Drug Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://adf.org.au/insights/guidelines-for-low-risk-drinking/#:~:text=’To%20reduce%20the%20risk%20of,’&text=’The%20less%20you%20choose%20to,risk%20of%20alcohol%2Drelated%20harm.> [Accessed 15 October 2020].
Beyondblue.org.au. 2020. Beyond Blue. [online] Available at: <https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/drugs-alcohol-and-mental-health> [Accessed 15 October 2020].
Collison, Daniel & Banbury, Sam & Lusher, Jo. (2016). Relationships between Age, Sex, Self-Esteem and Attitudes Towards Alcohol Use Amongst University Students. Journal of alcohol and drug education. 60. 16-34.
de Visser, R. and Piper, R., 2020. Short- and Longer-Term Benefits of Temporary Alcohol Abstinence During ‘Dry January’ Are Not Also Observed Among Adult Drinkers in the General Population: Prospective Cohort Study. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 55(4), pp.433-438.
Roerecke, M., Kaczorowski, J., Tobe, S., Gmel, G., Hasan, O. and Rehm, J., 2017. The effect of a reduction in alcohol consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health, 2(2), pp.e108-e120.
Sleep Foundation. 2020. How Sleep Satisfaction Affects Your Energy Level Throughout The Day – Sleep Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/why-improving-your-sleep-satisfaction-can-increase-your-energy-level> [Accessed 15 October 2020].
World Cancer Research Fund. 2007. Alcoholic Drinks. [online] Available at: <https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/exposures/alcoholic-drinks> [Accessed 15 October 2020].