What Happens To Your Skin & Body When You Give Up Alcohol For A Month
Every year-end, like clockwork, many of us hunker down with a journal and carve out some resolutions for the next 12 months. Among our scribbles, it’s not uncommon to find a goal that says something like, “cut back on the alcohol” – perhaps inspired by December’s over-indulgence. Some even go so far as to eliminate booze completely during the first 30 days of the year, a seemingly fantastic way to kickstart the goal.
In anticipation of all those people planning a “dry January,” we thought it’d be fun to discuss all the ways it can impact your body from the inside out. For example, how does an extended period of time with no alcohol affect your skin and hair? Can it give you more energy? For answers and insights, we reached out to a few experts – including someone who was so serious about her dry January endeavors she wrote a book about it.
How (Too Much) Alcohol Affects Your Body, Skin, and Mind
Many of us are aware of the studies that say a glass of red wine is actually healthy for you. But what happens when you cross that line in the boozy sand?
Turns out, the unwelcomed hangover might be just the beginning. Alcohol can have a pretty profound impact on both your physical and mental health, especially if we’re talking about ongoing, excessive consumption. That’s defined as eight or more drinks per week for women, and 15 or more drinks a week for men. Drinks include 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, and 1.5 ounces of spirit.
Physiologically speaking, even a night of too much alcohol can cause inflammation throughout your body and dry you out (hence the headaches, puffy belly, and dry skin in the morning.). What’s worse, excessive alcohol consumption doesn’t give your liver a chance to filter your blood as well as it needs to, which means you’ve got toxins floating around in your body.
It can even lead to inflammation and scarring in your liver, which can create permanent problems, notes Dr. Shirin Peters, MD, founder of the Bethany Medical Clinic in New York. She adds, “Drinking can [also] damage or irritate the tissues in your digestive tract, making it hard to absorb vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Drinking alcohol also impairs circulation.”
These internal effects of too much booze can ultimately show up in the way you look. Think dull and dry skin, exaggerated fine lines/wrinkles from the dehydration, redness, bloodshot eyes and limp, lackluster hair.
Your body isn’t the only thing affected. Excess booze impacts your mental and emotional health, too. It can even interfere with your everyday life. For example, waking up late to get to work, impacting your desire to exercise/eat well, not giving 100% in the office or to your family, or simply just not being as present and involved with important, fulfilling facets of your life.
6 Surprising Effects of a Booze-Free “Dry January”
Our point in sharing all the above isn’t that you should never drink alcohol. As with most things in life, moderation is key. But if you’re a casual drinker (not addicted) who wants to give up the bottle for the month of January, here are some of the positive benefits you can look forward to:
1. Healthier Skin
Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge, has given up alcohol every January since 2017. She tells us that one of the first things she noticed was prettier skin.
“That first year, I noticed my usually dull and dry skin was more glowy, brighter, and it felt healthier – even in the dead of New York winter,” she says. “I even wore less makeup because I didn’t have to pile it on to cover up inconsistencies. There were fewer blemishes on my face throughout the month. Over the course of the past four years, I start to notice changes as early as a week to 10 days in. By the end of the month, the difference is evident.”
Skin texture and appearance often improve as circulation and nutrition improve, explains Dr. Peters.
2. A Drop in LBs
It’s no secret alcohol is calorie-loaded and causes fluid retention. What’s more, it can cause a decrease in energy, which means you’re simply moving less throughout the day. It might even trigger emotional or stress-induced eating. In that sense, drinking alcohol is a recipe for weight gain while cutting booze can make weight loss easier.
3. Improved Mental Clarity
Increased mental clarity and cognitive function is one of the positive side effects of nixing alcohol from your diet, says Kate Judd, a licensed advanced alcohol drug counselor (LAADC) at Shoreline Recovery Center.
Long story short, she explains that when drinking, the water-soluble ethanol in alcohol eventually makes its way to your brain. This can create a temporary “feel good” rush of dopamine, but it’s ultimately a depressant.
“Ethanol particularly binds to glutamate, a neurotransmitter that normally excites neurons,” she explains. “Ethanol doesn’t allow the glutamate to become active and this makes the brain slower to respond to stimuli. Ethanol also binds to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Unlike its stinginess with glutamate, ethanol activates GABA receptors. These receptors make a person feel calm and sleepy, so the brain’s function slows even further.”
4. Fewer Mood Swings
In addition to bolstering your mental clarity, alcohol can create a propensity for mood instability, including fluctuations in happiness and anxiety. “Eliminating alcohol allows for a more stable mood and serotonin pathways – the happy hormone – can be activated more easily,” explains Judd.
Sheinbaum confirms this as one of the most noticeable side effects of her dry January challenges. “Even when the sun sets at like 4:30 p.m., I don’t feel like curling up in a ball and feel much happier throughout the weeks, than say, when I’m drinking in December,” she says.
5. Better Sleep
While alcohol might help you fall asleep at first, it can actually result in low-quality sleep throughout the night. Booze ultimately reduces REM sleep. It also causes you to wake up periodically as your body metabolizes the alcohol. Sometimes it also creates an increased urgency to go to the bathroom mid-sleep, which can also wake you.
Sheinbaum says, “On the topic of rest, on average I was sleeping five hours each night prior to my first dry month. During my dry challenges, I was sleeping between seven and eight, which makes a world of a difference.”
6. Improved Relationship with Alcohol
Like we said: drinking isn’t an inherently bad thing. It can even be healthy for you in moderation. However, sometimes recalibrating our approach to booze is helpful.
“Dry months really offer a deeper look into what role alcohol plays in your life – and its absence might be something that changes your life even when your challenge is over,” notes Sheinbaum. “Completing dry months changed the way I socialize for the better. It even had a positive impact on my dating life, and ultimately my relationship, as a whole.”
Dr. Peters adds that it can increase your confidence, especially as you throw yourself into meaningful projects, goals, and relationships. If you’re eager to try it out, remember it’s only 30 days – what’s there to lose?
[Important note: If you are addicted to alcohol it is imperative to seek the help of an Addiction Medicine Physician who can help taper down your drinking in a way that will cause you the fewest medical side effects.]