Ahead of Alcohol Awareness Week (November 13-19 2017), I have shared my seven important benefits that you will experience if you give up alcohol in the run-up to Christmas - and beyond.
WITHIN 24 HOURS
The most immediate effect of excess alcohol is a hangover. You might suffer sweats or tremors, and in severe cases, a seizure. If you are giving up moderate drinking, your body will begin to clear the alcohol from your system and you can start to 'detox'. Your blood sugars will normalise and you can look forward to the multiple advantages that not drinking will bring you. You will feel more clear-headed, less depressed and you will have more money in your wallet. If you spend, say, £20 a week on 2 bottles of wine, you will save £1,040 by the year's end.
WITHIN A WEEK
Alcohol is very bad for sleep, leading to a fitful night. You may think it gets you off to sleep but you are likely to wake up and want to go to the bathroom. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages the body to lose extra fluid though sweat, making you dehydrated which means you will also wake up wanting water. The good news is that if you give up alcohol, your sleep patterns are likely to improve within a week.
WITHIN A FORTNIGHT
Alcohol is an irritant to the stomach lining and causes symptoms like reflux (where stomach acid burns your throat). Give up alcohol and this feeling will be a thing of the past.
You will also start to notice weight loss within a fortnight. The 'hidden' calories in alcohol are significant. Drinking a large glass of wine (250ml) with 13 per cent ABV can add 228 calories to your dinner. So two large glasses will add roughly the equivalent of an extra ham and cheese sandwich with mayonnaise a day. And we are talking empty calories, which means they contain no nutrition. If you stop drinking, and start eating healthily and exercising, you will lose weight.
WITHIN 3-4 WEEKS
If you drink too much alcohol, this raises your blood pressure over time. The calories in alcohol also make you gain weight, which also increases your blood pressure. By quitting alcohol, your blood pressure will reduce.
WITHIN A MONTH
You will look visibly better. Alcohol is toxic to your largest organ - your skin. The toxins make your skin less elastic and it is very ageing. Ageing through alcohol is something your best friend won't tell you about. If you stop drinking, you prevent premature ageing of your skin.
WITHIN 4-8 WEEKS
Your liver will improve. It can handle small quantities, but excessive drinking causes it to get inflamed - which is what we call 'alcoholic hepatitis', a silent disease. In the early stages, you can't feel that, but it can lead to cirrhosis, which is permanent. Drinking a couple of 175ml glasses of wine a day if you're a woman, for two or three weeks, and you're likely to develop 'fatty liver', when the liver turns glucose into fat. Alcohol affects the way the liver handles fat, so your liver cells just get full of it. The good news is your liver will start shedding the excess fat if you stop drinking. If your liver function has not been too badly affected by alcohol, it can recover in 4-8 weeks.
WITHIN 12 WEEKS
Heavy drinking causes blood cells to become larger and that makes you more tired because they are unable to transport oxygen efficiently around the body. After giving up drinking, your blood cells will start to renew within three months and you will feel much more energetic and healthier all round. Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver; and depression.
Priory Healthcare, part of the Priory Group, the mental healthcare experts, is running a campaign highlighting the hidden signs of alcohol addiction. They run 10 high street Wellbeing Clinics for outpatients, in the UK, as well as hospitals for inpatients, to help those struggling with alcohol addiction and its effects, including depression and eating disorders. There are in two in London, and others in Canterbury, Norwich, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Southampton, Edinburgh, and Oxford.
In England, there are an estimated 595,000 dependent drinkers, of whom only around 100,000 are currently accessing treatment.
Alcohol harms are estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5 billion annually and while the price of alcohol has increased by 36% since 2005, it remains 60% more affordable than it was in 1980.