The whole package – How a month off alcohol benefits your mind and body

January 2024 | 11 minutes

If you’ve taken part in Dry January®, you may have already noticed some changes in the way you feel both physically and mentally. Some effects may have been quite clear to you, like better skin or a sounder night’s sleep but others may have been harder to put your finger on.

In this blog we’ll look at the possible effects of taking part in Dry January® holistically and go through the full package of benefits you could expect to experience as you progress through your month-long challenge.

Take a look through and see how many you recognise.

Your skin is clearer and brighter

Not only does a few weeks off booze reduce the size of facial pores, but it can also lead to soft and plump skin. As alcohol reduces the production of anti-diuretic hormones, you lose water and sodium more quickly when you’re regularly drinking. This low tissue water content makes for a poorer complexion and having a break from drinking can restore your skin’s peachy glow.

You’ve lost some weight

With more than 200 calories in a standard pint or large glass of wine, after a couple of weeks of going dry you may start to see the pounds drop off.*

You’re sleeping better

Although taking part in Dry January® improves sleep for many of those taking part, this might not be the case at first. If you’ve come to rely on a nightly tipple to help you fall asleep, your brain will be adapted to expecting the regular sedative effect.

Once you’re used to the new bedtime routine without alcohol in your bloodstream, you’ll be sleeping more deeply and get that refreshed feeling when you wake up in the morning. For some, vivid dreams during Dry January® or other alcohol-free periods can be common. Studies suggest this could be due to increased rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the stage of sleep during which we dream.

When we drink, REM sleep is suppressed which is why many of us can still feel really tired the day after drinking, despite how many hours kip we’ve managed. By this point in your challenge, you will have reset your reliance on booze to get yourself to drop off and should be well on your way to regular and refreshing nights of sleep.

Your liver health is improving

Along with any other tasks in your body, your liver is responsible for processing alcohol in your bloodstream. By cutting out booze for a while, you’re giving your liver a well-earned break and may even helping reduce some of the early signs of liver disease.†

Your blood pressure is improving

If you’ve got high blood pressure, there’s a good chance it’ll start to come down after a month off alcohol. Research has found that just four weeks without a drink can be enough to start lowering both blood pressure and heart rate.+

Your diabetes risk has lowered

In just four weeks without alcohol, your risk of type 2 diabetes has already started to reduce. Although the relationship between alcohol and type 2 diabetes is a little complex, what is clear is that the high number of calories found in alcohol can lead to weight gain and being overweight is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

You’re in a better place with your mental health

If you’re one of the many people in the UK that struggle with mental health problems, regularly drinking too much can actually worsen symptoms of things like anxiety and depression. What’s more, when it comes to depression and drinking alcohol, these two in fact have a mutually reinforcing relationship – meaning either condition can actually increase your chances of experiencing the other. By taking time off alcohol for a while, you can reduce the symptoms of any pre-existing depression, as well as reducing your chances of developing it in the first place.

Your cholesterol levels have lowered

After a month off the sauce you can also expect cholesterol levels to start lowering.††

Your immune system is boosted

Alcohol suppresses your body’s immune system, so after a few weeks alcohol-free you’ll start to notice that you’re able to fight off a few more of the common coughs and cold that you’d usually succumb to. And when you do get ill, you’ll find you’re able to recover that bit quicker too.

Your risk of preventable cancer has lowered

Alcohol creates cancer-causing proteins in the blood. By drinking less, you’re reducing the presence of these nasties in your bloodstream which can only be a good thing!**

You’re feeling more energetic

Now you’re sleeping better, you’re bound to have more energy. One of the lovely benefits that many Dry January® alumni have raved about is the amazing feeling of waking up on a Saturday morning feeling refreshed and eager to face the day.

Your exercise routine is finally paying off

As alcohol is a muscle relaxant, drinking regularly can reduce muscle development. After a few dry weeks, you may now feel your exercise routine is finally paying off. And if you’re not much of a gym bunny but have been thinking about getting more active, now could be the perfect time.

You’re feeling calmer

Many people drink to get that initial feeling of calm. The problem with that is that this initial sense of serenity quickly fades, often leaving you feeling worse than before. By taking a break from drinking you will have banished the habitual looming ‘hangxiety’. Plus, as you’re no longer masking your feelings with booze, you may start to notice clearer patterns in your moods helping you identify times when you may need to pay more attention to your mental health and putting you back in control.

Your memory is better

After three weeks alcohol free, you may even be noticing improvements in short-term memory and some improved focus.

So, now you’ve seen the whole package, how many of the benefits do you recognise? With any luck, you’ve experienced quite a few already! But don’t panic if you’re not quite there with all of them just yet. We’re all different and it’s important to recognise that not everyone will experience the benefits of being alcohol free at the same rate. By the same token, just because you aren’t experiencing some of the more obvious benefits at the moment doesn’t mean you’re not doing your body a whole lot of good in the process. Stick at it and wait for change at your own pace – you’re already doing brilliantly by making it this far.

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* Breslow, R. A., et al, 2013, ‘Diets of drinkers on drinking and nondrinking days: NHANES 2003-2008’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 97(5), 1068–75.

† Mehta, G., et al., 2015, ‘Short term abstinence from alcohol improves insulin resistance and fatty liver phenotype in moderate drinkers’, Hepatology 62(1), 267A

+, †† Teresa Aguilera, M., de la Sierra, A., Coca, Antonio, Estruch, Ramon, Fernández-Solà, Joaquim, Urbano-Márquez, A., 1999, ‘Effect of alcohol abstinence on blood pressure: Assessment by 24-Hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring’, Hypertension 33, 653-7.

** Wood, A. M., et al., 2018, ‘Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: Combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599,912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies’, Lancet 391(10 129), 1513–23.