Maybe your nightly glass of vino has turned into two or three. Or you're overdoing it on the beer and have the paunch to prove it.
Whether you want to clean up your diet or you're trying to nip a potential issue in the bud, giving up alcohol can be tough—but the benefits make it worth the effort, says Damon Raskin, M.D., a Los Angeles–based physician who is board certified in addiction medicine.
"Taking a break from drinking alcohol—even if it's just for a couple of weeks—is a good idea, especially if you're regularly consuming more than the recommended daily limit," Raskin says. (By the way, that limit is generally defined as a drink a day for women and two for men.)
Also, if your drinking seems to be affecting your work or personal relationships—regardless of how much hooch you're knocking back—it's time to consider taking it easy, he adds.
Here's what you can expect to happen, both short- and long-term, if you give up alcohol:
One recent study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found drinking before bed increases alpha wave patterns in the brain—a kind of cerebral activity that usually occurs when you're awake but resting. The result? Disrupted sleep. Another review of 27 studies found that while alcohol may help people fall asleep more quickly and deeply at first, it seriously screws with sleep quality after that initial restful period.
You may toss and turn a bit at first, but give up alcohol and the sleep you get will likely leave you feeling more refreshed and sharp the next day. The byproducts of better sleep: improved mood, concentration, and mental performance, Raskin says.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Nutrition, alcohol is one of the biggest drivers of excess food intake. That may be because alcohol heightens our senses, according to a new study published in the journal Obesity. Researchers found some women who'd received an alcohol "infusion" equivalent to about two drinks ate 30 percent more food than those who'd received a saline solution.
Even mild intoxication increased the women's brain activity in the hypothalamus, making them more sensitive to the smell of food and prompting them to eat more.
Sugar boosts levels of the "reward" chemical dopamine, which fuels feelings of pleasure, Raskin says. Alcohol does the same thing. So it's very possible that when you give up one substance that causes happy-making chemicals to float around your brain, you'll be more likely to reach for the other. "Don't be surprised if you try to get that same enjoyment or rush you used to get after a drink from something sweet," he says.
Alcohol has a sneaky way of increasing your daily calorie intake without you realizing it. One margarita may contain 300 calories or more—mostly from sugar. (A delicious piña colada might have 450 calories!) One study found men consume an additional 433 calories on those days they drink a "moderate" amount of alcohol. For women, it's 300 calories. Cut those from your diet—and don't replace them with desserts—and you'll start to lose weight without much effort.
Within a few days, you'll notice your skin looking and feeling more hydrated. That's because alcohol is a diuretic, causing you to urinate more, Raskin says. Alcohol also decreases the body's production of antidiuretic hormone, which helps the body reabsorb water. (Less water in the body equals parched-looking skin.) Ruddiness in your cheeks and around your nose may also start to fade, and other skin conditions—such as dandruff, eczema, or rosacea—may also improve, Raskin says.
Drinking—especially a fine wine or scotch habit—is an expensive undertaking. Take a moment to crunch the numbers, adding up what you spend for drinks both at home and out on the town (factoring in tax and tip). It can be an eye-opening—and motivating—exercise.
It's important to understand that there will be times when you feel like you're missing out—and it can make you pretty testy, Raskin says. "People often use alcohol as a lubricant for emotions, and when they stop drinking they may feel agitated and restless," he adds.
According to the National Cancer Institute, alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk for cancers of the mouth, liver, breast, colon, and rectum. The risk increases the more you drink. On the other hand, multiple studies have shown moderate alcohol consumption may lower your odds of heart trouble.
More research suggests your risk for stroke, diabetes, and mortality may all rise slightly when you give up booze—assuming you were a light drinker before you quit.