LIFESTYLE

How Giving Up Alcohol Affects The Body

It's worth it.

25/01/2017 12:26 | Updated 04 May 2017

When your mates are out boozing and you’re wrapped in a blanket at home sipping mint tea, it can be difficult to remember why you stopped drinking in the first place.

Thankfully, we’ve got all the motivation and justification you could ever need.

This year alone, more than 65,000 people signed up to do Dry January - where people pledge to go a whole month without drinking alcohol - as opposed to 50,000 last year. 

With growing interest surrounding the benefits of a booze-free lifestyle, we spoke to experts about how giving up alcohol affects the human body. 


Mental Health

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”While alcohol can have a very temporary positive impact on our mood, in the long term it can cause problems for our mental health,” Professor Paul Wallace, chief medical adviser to alcohol education charity Drinkaware, tells The Huffington Post UK.

“Having a drink after a hard day might help you relax, but in the long run it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with. This is because regular, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health.”

He adds that heavy drinkers are most likely to develop symptoms of depression.

 

Heart Health

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Regular heavy drinking can damage the heart muscle and can result in abnormal heart rhythms and high blood pressure, the latter of which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Some of us may be familiar with ‘Holiday Heart Syndrome’, which tends to come on after episodes of heavy drinking - usually at least 15 units, which is about seven and a half pints of 4% beer or one and a half bottles of 13% wine. 

This is where your heart starts to beat irregularly making you feel breathless, according to Drinkaware. Your blood pressure changes, increasing your risk of a heart attack and sudden death

When you stop drinking, the heart - and surrounding arteries - are given the chance to repair.

“Stopping drinking will improve your heart health, which can be further enhanced by exercise and eating a sensible diet,” Dr Nitin Shori, an NHS GP and online doctor for Pharmacy2U, tells HuffPost UK.

 

Liver Recovery

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The liver is the largest internal organ in the human body. It’s job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body.

This means that when you drink alcohol, it’s the liver’s job to remove the chemical from the blood.

“The liver is resilient and may be capable of repairing recent damage, although the process is not guaranteed and can take some time,” says Dr Shori.

While abstaining from alcohol for one month won’t be long enough for the liver to recover from any scarring caused by heaving long-term drinking, it will be able to kickstart the much-needed reparation process, he adds. 

 

Better Sleep 

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Alcohol can also affect the quality of your sleep and as a result the quality of your mood.

“If you’ve been drinking you’ll typically only have one to two cycles meaning you can wake feeling exhausted and irritable,” says Professor Wallace. 

Immediately after quitting drinking, you may experience a few nights of bad sleep, but experts insist this won’t last long.

“Getting your full six to seven cycles of REM sleep per night is the key to waking up feeling refreshed,” adds Professor Wallace.

 

Kidney Repair

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The kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood in order to make urine, releasing and retaining water, and removing waste.

“Alcohol can cause changes in kidney function and reduce the body’s ability to filter your blood effectively,” says Dr Shori. 

The kidneys are responsible for keeping the right amount of water in your body, however alcohol hampers their ability to do this. Additionally, because alcohol places strain on the liver, it has a knock on effect on the kidneys “which work harder to compensate”. 

Dr Shori adds that giving your kidneys a break from alcohol will allow them time to recover: “Providing you have done no permanent damage to your kidneys, they should start to heal as soon as you stop drinking.”

 

Aids Digestion 

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The digestive system can become battered by alcohol over time. According to Drinkaware, drinking “even a little” makes your stomach produce more acid than usual which can cause gastritis (the inflammation of the stomach lining).

This triggers stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in heavy drinkers, even bleeding.

Dr Shori says: “Abstaining from alcohol will give your throat time to recover, reduce the likelihood of acid reflux and an upset stomach, and leave you no longer needing to go to the toilet as often, reducing the risk of dehydration.” 

 

Weight Loss

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“Alcohol has a big impact on weight due to the high levels of hidden sugar that it contains,” Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, tells HuffPost UK. “This has a knock on effect for health both immediately and long-term.”

In addition to hidden sugar content, alcohol is an appetite stimulant.

“Stopping drinking may reduce calorie consumption at meal times, particularly if drinking before meals,” says Dr James Kingsland, Dry January ambassador for Alcohol Concern.

He explains that to lose 1lb per week, you’d need to reduce calorie intake by about 500 calories per day.

Half a pint of beer, or a glass of wine, can contain between 100-150 calories and a cocktail may have 300-350 calories, so you can easily figure out how many calories you’re removing from your diet. 

Dr Kingsland adds that if you’ve lost weight during Dry January due to cutting out booze, it could be “just the start” of your journey.

 

Healthier Skin

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Drinking alcohol can have multiple effects on the skin.

Not only does it lead to dehydration, which is thought to deprive the skin of vitamins and nutrients, but heavy drinking has also been linked to skin disorders like Rosacea and can lead to facial swelling, puffiness and weight gain.

“Stopping drinking supports proper hydration and is definitely beneficial for your skin,” says Dr Shori.

“Exposed red blood vessels in your face will start to constrict after a month of abstinence. Puffiness will also reduce, leaving you looking and feeling much better.”

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