Sober September, a post-summer take on Dry January that challenges you to ditch alcohol for 30 days, is picking up steam. If you’re someone who enjoyed their fair share of Aperol spritzes, cocktails and frosé during the warm season, Sober September is a chance to reset and refocus before the holiday season arrives.
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Instagram currently boasts more than 5,000 posts under #SoberSeptember from people hoping to lose weight, reduce anxiety, up their self-care game and more by going alcohol-free.
But does taking a monthlong break from booze actually boost your health? The answer is yes, especially if you approach it with the right intentions.
Why You Might Want to Ditch Alcohol
Based on the statistics, there are more than a few of us who can benefit from cutting back on alcohol. The government recommends that women limit their alcohol intake to one beverage a day and men to two. However, about 27 percent of adults admitted that they binge drank in the past 30 days, meaning they had more than four drinks for women and five for men in about two hours, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Not only does excessive drinking increase your risk of certain diseases like breast cancer, heart disease and stroke, it also disrupts your sleep patterns and can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Charles Passler, M.D., a nutritionist and life coach who’s worked with celebrities like Bella Hadid and Adriana Lima, tells LIVESTRONG.COM that it can also mess with your mood.
“Since alcohol consumption can negatively affect sleep quality, it also can reduce your ability to deal with stress the day after a hard night at the bar,” he says. “Your negative reactions to everyday stress can then be amplified, which leads to elevated emotional stress and, possibly, anxiety.”
The Perks of Going Sober
What can quitting alcohol for a month actually do for you? Though research on this topic is limited, several studies looked at people who took on the Dry January challenge and found that their health improved across the board.
One study conducted by researchers at the University College of London assessed 80 volunteers who gave up drinking during the month of January.
“We found that the ones who gave up drinking improved across almost all the domains that we could possibly measure. They felt stronger, they slept better, their concentration had improved, they lost weight,” Dr. Rajiv Jalan, a professor at the University College of London and one of the study’s authors, told LIVESTRONG.COM.
“So the results were pretty dramatic, where giving up drinking resulted in not only in subjective improvements, but also in many measures of health, including glucose control, weight control, liver tests and cancer markers.”
Study participants lost about four-and-a-half pounds over the course of the month and saw a reduction in liver fat, which helps to lessen the risk of liver failure.
Though some experts may be concerned that people will yo-yo or drink even more than usual once their sober month ends, a 2016 study from England’s University of Suffolk found that about half of those who participated in Dry January seemed to drink less in the six months that followed.
Results May Vary
Despite these findings, most people won’t see a huge difference in their physical health, according to Aaron White, Ph.D., senior scientific advisor to the director at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “One month is really not a lot of time for most people to notice major health changes, depending on how much you’ve been drinking,” he tells LIVESTRONG.COM.
According to Dr. White, the physical benefits of ditching alcohol really depend on how much you tend to drink regularly. Put simply: The more you drink, the greater the change. What’s more, research suggests that moderate amounts of alcohol may actually act as an anti-inflammatory and reduce the risk of heart attacks, meaning that those who normally drink a small amount may be missing out on potential benefits.
“But that’s no reason to start drinking if you don’t, and it’s no reason not to stop,” Dr. White says. Even if there are a few positive benefits at low doses of alcohol, they’re almost always outweighed by the negative.
The one time experts wouldn’t recommend taking on the Sober September challenge is when you have a severe dependence on alcohol, as it could be dangerous — even deadly — to go cold turkey on your own.
“If you really feel yourself struggling with symptoms like severe insomnia, agitation, anxiety or tremors, it’s important to see your doctor,” Dr. White warns.
How to Make the Best of Sober September
While the effects of a 30-day break from booze will differ from person to person, there’s one benefit that everyone who does the challenge will reap, according to Dr. White.
“The biggest benefit is checking in on how you’re coping with your life and how alcohol fits in,” he says. “And how alcohol fits in to how you’re having fun and discovering other ways to meet those needs.” In other words, swearing off alcohol for a month gives you the chance to step back and evaluate your relationship with drinking.
Some people try to go a month sober and find it to be more difficult than they expected. “You don’t have to have an obvious problem with alcohol to have an unhealthy relationship with it,” Dr. White says. In that case, he recommends exploring your options, whether that means using online tools like the NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking to learn more about alcohol-use disorders or paying a visit to your doctor.
In other instances, people might decide they want to go back to drinking a glass of wine every night or learn that they don’t need to indulge in two dozen beverages at a party to have fun.
Of course, one major no-no is planning a major celebration at the end of the 30 days. Your tolerance for alcohol will likely go down during the month, making binge drinking especially dangerous. As a result, it’s important to ease back into drinking with one or two craft beers, not six.
In the end, it’s all about intention. If you’re using Sober September as a way to somehow cancel out all the damage you did this summer, you’re not taking full advantage of the experience. Instead, think of the monthlong hiatus as a chance to assess your relationship with alcohol and to allow what you’ve learned to roll over into October and so on.