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Tis the season of broken New Years' resolutions (how are yours going?). Some people bought a gym membership they've already stopped using. Some people started and stopped a juice cleanse, and some of us vowed to stop engaging in traffic-induced altercations. My resolution was to drink less, so I stopped entirely for about 3 weeks. Unsurprisingly, I felt great. It wasn't hard to stop drinking because I don't drink that much anyway. However, even a glass of wine at night was leaving me feeling foggy the next morning. Not shocking, since alcohol is technically a toxic substance.
When trying to make a change, I find it easier to cut something out rather than add something new. Or, to cut something out and replace it with something of equal or greater value. So, instead of drinking wine in the evenings, I'd drink herbal tea or sparkling water. When dining out, I wouldn't order a drink at all and easily save dozens of dollars. Drinking isn't just bad for the body, it's also expensive.
But, how bad is alcohol exactly?
Some scientists think that the main way alcohol causes health problems is by damaging DNA. When you drink alcohol, your body metabolizes it into a chemical called acetaldehyde that's toxic to cells. Acetaldehyde is both damaging to DNA and prevents the body from repairing that damage. Alcohol also creates oxidative stress, another form of DNA damage that can lead to higher blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Over the course of a lifetime, the damage to your DNA can be substantive, especially if you're a regular drinker.
More recent research has found that even low levels of drinking slightly increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and atrial fibrillation, which raises the risk of blood clots and stroke. And, alcohol is also a carcinogen. According to research by the American Cancer Society, alcohol contributes to more than 75,000 cases of cancer per year and nearly 19,000 cancer deaths (most commonly head and neck cancers, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer).
Alcohol doesn't just affect your body though, but your brain as well. Alcohol intake and depression are closely (albeit complexly) associated. Those who are depressed tend to drink more, and drinking more tends to lead to depression. Alcohol may provide a few hours of perceived relief, but leads to worsened mental health in the long run.
Finally, if your resolution was to shed a few pounds, giving up alcohol might help, so long as you're not replacing it with something that's even more calorie dense.
When I was in high school and college, I didn't drink much because I had better things to do. I was running competitively, studying hard, trying to recover from intense workouts, and working part time. But back then, all the most popular kids were staying out late, getting hammered, and bragging about it the next day. There was a degree of social capital to be gained by drinking, a side effect of youthful ignorance and misplaced perspective.
Now, there's a different kind of social capital to be gained by abstaining. The term “sober curious” has become part of the national lexicon in recent months; a wellness movement centered around being mindful of alcohol consumption. Rather than quitting drinking cold turkey, the key component of a "sober curious" lifestyle is to simply be mindful about when, why, and where you consume alcohol. In response to this movement, the non-alcoholic drink market is booming. Zero-proof bars are popping up in major cities across the country, and alcohol-optional bars are gaining in popularity as well.
I ended my dry January streak by having a bottle of Blue Moon on a Friday evening after a particularly long work week. I've since had drinks with friends, on a first class flight, and at dinner on a work trip. What I've noticed each time I've had a drink is that my sleep is less sound and I wake up feeling (and looking) dehydrated. Drinks can have their place is our day to day life, but cutting back will never be a negative thing. Your body (and brain) will thank you.
P.S. Read more about how alcohol impacts your brain and body here, check out these booze-free bars, or read a review of non-alcoholic drinks here.
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