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Giving up alcohol – what’s the point of going teetotal for a month?

Did you REALLY give up alcohol this January? Alcohol sales went up by ten per cent last month. Content Editor Sharon Walker talks to the experts about what’s the point of giving up alcohol for a month

Guess what? Alcohol sales went up by ten per cent last month. Bet you didn’t see that coming after the countless people who pledged to abstain from alcohol for Dry January.

The Sun have coined the term ‘Lie January’ after figures suggest that some so-called Dry January advocates were having a secret drink at home.

Gin sales specifically went up by 23 per cent and just over half of households bought booze in January.

Alcohol related deaths are at an all time high in England.

In other news, it has been revealed that alcohol related deaths are at an all time high in England. NHS data shows a six per cent rise in alcohol related deaths, and warns that someone is admitted to hospital every 30 seconds with drinking induced health issues.

The NHS Digital report, uses health service data and Office of National Statistics figures first published in December for the whole of the United Kingdom.

The NHS figures show that there were 5,843 deaths in 2017 where alcohol was the primary cause, with liver disease accounting for around 80 per cent of these deaths. This is a rise of more than six per cent on the year before, and an increase of 17 per cent in a decade.

Giving-up-alcohol-What-really-happens-when-you-go-teetotal-for-a-month

With these new statistics in mind, maybe there is a real point in going teetotal for a month, if you aren’t already teetotal like a growing number of the new Gen Z soberistas.

survey in the journal BMC Public Health shows that a full third of young people aged 16-24 say they don’t drink at all. The study all also suggested that fewer young people are drinking harmful amounts.

But for the rest of us, giving up alcohol completely, even for a month, can be a challenge. Alcohol is so much part of British culture it’s hard to avoid it, but there’s no doubt about it the excuse of Dry January provides a handy get out, especially if your mates are doing it with you.

With one in five adults drinking over the recommended upper limit of 14 units aweek, according to a YouGov poll this year, signing up for Dry January should surely be good news, but only if – and this is the reason these month-long ‘detoxes’ are sometimes criticised –   we don’t fall into the trap of rebound drinking, making up for lost time with double shots and Jagermeister chasers all round.

The short-term benefits of giving up booze

Recent research at University College London published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) earlier this year studied the effects of giving up alcohol for a month in 94 moderate – heavy drinkers who routinely consumed more than the government guidelines (average intake of 28 units a week).

Not only did the abstainers lose weight (just under 2kg/4.4lbs on average) their insulin resistance – a marker for type 2 diabetes –  improved by around 25%, while blood tests for inflammation and liver function showed a small improvement. They also saw a small drop in blood pressure and a reduction in cancer-related growth factors.

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So what does this mean? These results underline the fact that our alcohol intake does indeed influence all these risk factors. Though there’s no suggestion that a month off booze could reverse any serious damage. What’s more important is the amount of alcohol you drink in a lifetime, say the experts.

‘We found striking benefits from a month of abstinence, in these otherwise healthy volunteers,’ says the study’s lead researcher Dr Gautam Mehta. ‘The change in insulin resistance in particular was large, around 25%, and the cancer-related growth factors decreased in almost every participant.

‘What we don’t know is how durable these benefits are once people re-start drinking. However, our participants also felt a lot better, in terms of sleep and concentration. It allowed them to re-set their relationship with alcohol. Six months later, the proportion drinking at harmful levels had decreased by over 50%.’

What about ‘rebound’ drinking?

Is there any evidence to show that we go a bit crazy after a month of abstinence? In a word no. In fact, results from two further recent studies, would seem to suggest the opposite. After a month off alcohol most people re calibrate their relationship with alcohol and drink less after the detox.

Last July the BBC’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor  team paired up with scientists from University College Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital, led by liver specialist Prof Rajiv Jalan, for a programme to coincide with the start of Sober October, on October 3rd.

most of the people who entered the challenge were still drinking significantly less six months later

The study looked at the effects of giving up alcohol for a month in a group of 26 people and found the benefits were most pronounced in heavier drinkers, who regularly drank over the Government’s recommended limit of 14 units a week. While the light drinkers quickly bounced back to their pre-detox levels, three weeks after the dry period ended the heavy drinkers were still drinking 70 % less.

An earlier study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, in 2016, found that far from ‘rebound’ drinking following dry January, most of the people who entered the challenge were still drinking significantly less six months later and that this benefit was even seen amongst those who didn’t complete the dry month.

So if you didn’t sign up this October it’s certainly worth throwing your hat in the ring for a Dry January detox.

Weight-loss, better skin, better sleep AND more money – the long-term effects

Giving up booze short term certainly has its immediate benefits, but as the experts confirm the major benefits come not from the short-term taking a month off but by knock-on effects after the ‘detox’, whether that’s in October, or any other time of year.

‘People who do Dry January report sleeping better, losing weight and saving money. They say their skin improves, their eyes look brighter, and they can concentrate better. They tell us that they just feel better,’ confirms Dr Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Concern.

What-really-happens-when-you-give-up-alcohol-for-a-month-Healthier

‘But really it isn’t about the benefits you experience during January. By doing Dry January, we reset our relationship with alcohol – learning when and why we drink, the situations in which we find it hard to refuse, and the techniques we need to take control of our drinking.

‘Over 70% of people who try a Dry January have lower AUDIT scores (a World Health Organisation measure of risky drinking) than they did before the month six months later.

That means that last year over 3.6 million people cut down – and it’s these long-term, healthier choices that are the biggest benefit of Dry January. When we drink less we reduce our chances of developing liver disease, six types of cancer and several mental health.

4 ways to support your body as you come off alcohol

Whether you’re mid ‘detox’ or generally looking to cut down, there’s plenty you can do to support the process especially if you’re someone who reaches a for a glass of wine when you’re stressed.

Take B vitamins Research shows that supplementing with B vitamins can help if you’re feeling the strain at work, moreover since alcohol can also deplete your B vitamins a supplement could help redress the balance. ‘Giving up alcohol is not an easy thing, so supporting your body with the right nutrients can really make the process smoother,’ says leading nutritionist Marta Anhelush.

‘Alcohol can deplete a lot of your nutrients, especially B vitamins, which are crucial for our nervous system and the production of key mood neurotransmitters such as dopamine or serotonin. Taking a good quality multinutrient, like BioCare’s Methyl Multinutrient, which contains a good dose of B vitamins, in the most bioavailable forms, alongside minerals such as magnesium, chromium and manganese, can not only help with mood, but also stabilise your blood sugar levels to avoid dips in energy or cravings.’

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Find a way to unwind that doesn’t involve wine o’clock If you’re one of the people who drinks to relax or help you to fall asleep, you might want to try unwinding in a healthier way with meditation, exercise or a yoga class to replace wine o’clock – that way you’re adding something lovely to your routine instead of only taking away…

Try some calming herbs ‘Certain herbs and nutrients can be very soothing, including theanine and lemon balm, as well as magnesium taurate,’ says Anhelush. You can these nutrients in BioCare’s NT Complex.

Increase your antioxidants If you’ve been regularly exceeding the recommended limits it’s a good idea to boost your antioxidants with a more plant-based diet (antioxidant rich foods include dark green leafy vegetables, purple and red berries and dark chocolate that is at least 70 per cent cocoa) or an antioxidant supplement as research shows this could help prevent damage to your liver.

‘Many plant chemicals can have very powerful antioxidant and protective properties, especially those that are rich in sulphur; from broccoli (e.g. indole-3-carbinol), pomegranate extract or L-theanine, ’ says Anhelush.

For an antioxidant boost Anhelush recommends BioCare’s Cysteine Complex with pomegranate and broccoli extracts, which have been shown to help with the efficient removal of alcohol from the body, as well as protecting from free radicals, which are created when alcohol is processed.

5 ways to drink less – from someone who knows

When journalist Helen Foster gave up drinking and wrote about it in her brilliant book Quit Alcohol (for a month), she discovered lots of science-backed ways to cut back on drinking without really noticing. Here are her top tips for going sober for October, or indeed any time.

Drink from a wine glass ‘The tip that helps me most is to drink everything in a wine glass – water, tonic, non-alcoholic beer – it just makes you feel like you have a drink in your hand,’ says Foster.

Our favourite non-alcoholic tipples for grown ups right now include, Chillio, Thomas & Evans, The London Essence Co., and Monte Rosso.

Put your glass down on a table when pouring a drink as you put less in it – 12% according to one study. ‘Old fashioned 1970s wine glasses will also immediately cut you’re drinking in half – they are made for a 125ml measure – not the 250ml plus today’s wine glasses hold.’

What-really-happens-when-you-give-up-alcohol-for-a-month-Old-Fashioned-Wine-Glasses

Know your triggers ‘If you drink in the same place, same time, every night you’ve developed a habit and you need to break it,’ says Foster. ‘Breaking a habit can mean changing one of three things – the trigger that sets you on the habit path.

So, for example, if you always have a glass of wine while cooking dinner, can you do a massive batch cooking session on a Sunday morning when you won’t want a drink and then just warm things up for a week or two to get you out of the habit of drinking.

‘You can change the action – if you don’t have any wine in the house you can’t drink when cooking, end of story!’

Or just change the reward – what does that wine give you while you’re cooking? Can you find that in another way? Maybe you hate cooking and it’s your treat for doing it – what else could you use to make you feel good – playing your favourite music really loud while you cook for example?

Get your excuse ready If you feel under pressure to join the ‘party’? Come up with a line as to why you aren’t drinking. ‘Antibiotics never fails but you can’t use it that often,’ says Foster.  ‘Training for a half-marathon is a good one as no-one wants to hear running stories.

It does need to be believable though – if you’ve never run a step in your life and you suddenly announce you’re running the London marathon to avoid a pint don’t be surprised if people query it or ask for a link to your Just Giving page.

More Healthista Content:

How to cook healthy with alcohol – the chef’s guide

10 ways to relax after work without alcohol or food

Does quitting alcohol mean giving up going out? Healthista’s Charlotte Dormon says ‘No’

Are you a functioning alcoholic?

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