I Did Sober January And Here's What Happened


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Written By: Shannon Sweeney

For as long as I’ve been 21, every weekend plan I made revolved around alcohol — when we’d be drinking, where we’d be drinking, and what we’d be drinking. My entire social life revolved around it, and Sundays were dedicated to hangover recovery.

But my body isn’t the same as it was when I was 21. I don’t bounce back from hangovers as quickly as I once did (at one point I didn’t even get them). Now, hangovers are an all-day affair ridden with headaches, nausea, and overall grogginess.

I first heard about trying Sober January from a friend. The idea is simple: Give up drinking for an entire month, starting the new year fresh. I decided this year was the time to try — I was sick of spending my entire Sunday on my couch, I had put on some extra pounds due to my love of a glass (or two) of red wine with dinner, and I was spending too much money on drinks at the bar.

The quick summary: Sober January was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Here’s how cutting alcohol out benefitted my health physically, mentally, and financially.

I stopped making plans around alcohol

During January, I actually planned things around different events — my plans didn’t revolve around going out to a bar. I had a game night with my coworkers, I went to a Harry Potter trivia night, I went tubing for the first time since I was a kid — and I had an absolute blast.

I opened my mind to trying new experiences and said “Yes” to more weekend events knowing that I wouldn’t be hungover on Sunday. Knowing I wasn’t going to drink forced me to look at other things going on in my community, and I didn’t have to worry about how I would get there and how I would get home. Plus, I realized how great it is to spend a Friday night at home with a good book.

It was an added bonus not dealing with crowded bars, sticky floors, or being awake until 3 a.m. for that late-night pizza run.

My mental health improved dramatically

Alcohol is a well-known depressant, and the effects of alcohol can be felt in as little as 10 minutes. I also take Zoloft (an antidepressant) for anxiety, and mixing the two isn’t exactly recommended. There are warnings that mixing sertraline (Zoloft’s generic name) and alcohol can heighten feelings of anxiety and depression, and can even make you black out.

When I decided to cut out alcohol after researching this, I noticed a change almost immediately.

Some people with anxiety drink to unwind, as alcohol has a sedative effect. But for others with anxiety, this can backfire. Substance-induced anxiety can happen easily in those with General Anxiety Disorder (like me), and alcohol worsens some feelings of anxiousness, fatigue, and more. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that alcohol consumption can increase feelings of anxiety within just a few hours, and can last through the next day.

I first noticed a link to this while I was at a bar last summer. I had a few drinks and was feeling buzzed and relaxed, and out of a nowhere I had a severe panic attack. I all of a sudden couldn’t handle the flashing lights or the number of people around me, and had to leave the bar altogether. It was then that alcohol may have been making my anxiety worse, even though I was on medication.

Since I cut alcohol out in January, I noticed my anxiety has improved dramatically. I don’t wake up feeling anxious, and I can actually relax at the end of a long day.

I felt less bloated and lost a few pounds

There’s no doubt that alcohol makes you feel bloated. Within about a week of cutting alcohol out, I noticed that my stomach didn’t feel as bloated, and I didn’t feel overly full after I ate.

My body bloats easily, thanks to a mix of my diet with genetics. My weight fluctuates daily from anywhere between 2 and 5 pounds. But when I cut out the alcohol, I noticed that I almost didn’t bloat at all. Beer causes a lot of bloating in people because it contains carbon dioxide, barley, wheat, yeast, and more. So if you’re looking to bloat a little less, definitely start with cutting out beer.

In addition to bloating less, I even shed a few pounds. I didn’t go into this wanting to lose weight, I want to emphasize that, but I definitely noticed a change in my weight. Having a glass or two of red wine with dinner every night means I was adding 250 calories a day at least — and that doesn’t include what I was drinking on the weekends. That adds up quick!

Cutting out alcohol does more for your physical health than help you drop weight  — your skin can clear up, your blood pressure and cholesterol can decrease, and your sleep can improve.

I saved money by not buying drinks or bottles of wine

This is simple math — if you go out on a Friday and buy four drinks averaging $5, that’s $20 right there. And that doesn’t include bottles of wine during the week, or other alcohol you keep at home (or the late-night snacking after a long night out).

Instead of spending that money on alcohol, I was able to keep more in my pocket or put it toward things I needed.

Sober January has inspired me to keep going — I’ll have a drink here and there, but it’s really helped me improve my health both physically and mentally. Sober February, anyone?