I stopped drinking alcohol in August 2020.
It was originally intended as a one-month experiment. But several months on (at the time of writing), I’ve discovered so many benefits of quitting alcohol that I think there’s a good chance I will make it a permanent thing.
If you’re thinking of quitting booze – permanently, or as part of an initiative like Dry January or Stoptober – I hope that the information here can give you some support and motivation. My life has improved in so many ways since I stopped drinking alcohol. I truly never expected my “experiment” to lead to such profound change.
It could happen to you too.
Why I Stopped Drinking Alcohol
There are many reasons why people decide to give up alcohol. A lot of the time it’s not for a reason nearly as dramatic as “I was an alcoholic.”
The definition of “an alcoholic” is rather unclear anyway, and a lot of the time the label itself is reductive and unhelpful. One theory that has plenty of validity is that if you’re starting to wonder if it’s a problem, it probably is.
Put another way, quoting “Too Much Brandy” by The Streets, “Take it easy mate, you start to think you’re a state, you definitely are a state.”
Like literally millions of people, I noticed my consumption of alcohol increase during 2020’s Covid lockdown – both in frequency and quantity. It was a way to hide from the stress and anxiety, and to mark the end of yet another “Groundhog Day.”
But with another lockdown looming as summer drew to a close, I felt very strongly that I didn’t want to handle another one in the same way. I was gaining weight despite doing a lot of exercise, and knew that plenty of the calories were coming from beer and wine.
I planned to go on Weight Watchers and try to lose some weight before Christmas. Having followed Weight Watchers before, I knew I’d want to use my precious points for crisps and chocolate, not alcoholic drinks, so I figured it was as good a time as any to attempt a month off alcohol.
Quitting alcohol permanently wasn’t what I had in mind, but with every day that passes, it seems more likely. I should emphasise, however, that I’m not committing to that!
A VERY Important Note
If you even remotely suspect that you may be dependent on alcohol, even if you drink less often than daily, stopping suddenly presents serious and life threatening risks. Seizures are no joke, so if you’re in any doubt, please consult your doctor.
If you’re thinking about giving up alcohol or taking some time off, Alcohol Explained by William Porter is a must read. It teaches you things about drinking that you can never un-learn, in a very scientific and “non preachy” way. It’s THE number one reason I stopped drinking alcohol and haven’t started again.
15 Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
Since I stopped drinking alcohol, many areas of my life have improved dramatically. They’re what we focus on now.
Just quickly before we start, however, I should emphasise that not all the benefits of quitting alcohol come easy or emerge quickly.
Looking back at a diary I kept in the early days, I’d say the first week was particularly hard, especially in terms of disturbed sleep. I may write future articles about this stuff if this one proves popular, so get in touch and let me know if it would help you to hear more.
1. Improved Sleep
Many drinkers firmly believe that alcohol helps them sleep. It’s partly true but scientifically VERY wrong.
Alcohol certainly helps you GET to sleep. But it doesn’t help you sleep well. Ever woken up at 3am after drinking and found it hard to get back to sleep? That’s the cortisol kicking in as your body works to process the booze.
The thing that’s shocked me most since I stopped drinking alcohol is that you don’t need to “overdo it” for drinking to affect your life in all kinds of undesirable ways. Research has proved that just one drink is enough to seriously compromise your sleep.
As I’ve said above, my sleep was a complete mess for a week or so after stopping. I’ve always had some level of insomnia, and I do still have the occasional night where sleep eludes me. But generally speaking I now drop off naturally and sleep deeply and calmly. I recommend it.
2. Alert Mornings
That good quality sleep has its benefits. I’m not a true morning person but I now tend to wake up consistently early and without need for an alarm (although having two small children helps!)
But it’s not about the time I wake up, it’s about how I feel when I do. By the time I’ve stretched my legs and brushed my teeth I am ready to rock. My mind is alert and I feel consistently ready to tackle the day ahead. As many people on the popular Stop Drinking Reddit thread say, “you never regret waking up without a hangover!”
As I said above, you don’t appreciate how much of an effect even a small amount of alcohol has on the mind and body until you remove it from the equation. I didn’t drink every single day, but I never felt like this in the mornings before.
And, most importantly, once you feel like that, you want to KEEP feeling like that.
3. Clearer Skin
Like the sleep thing, I had to wait a while after I stopped drinking alcohol before I saw the skin benefits.
In fact, for quite some time – and we’re talking weeks, not days – my skin truly rebelled. Random spots and eczema breakouts were a feature for a while, and researching this showed me that “quit zits” are incredibly common.
Eczema is still an issue for me, proving that quitting drinking doesn’t solve ALL of your problems! But it’s very clearly linked to stress and, well, there’s still plenty of that in all of our lives.
Generally speaking though, my skin is looking bright and healthy. Bright and healthy to the point that more than one person has commented on it. And that’s always nice.
4. Weight Loss
I’ve lost more than 30 pounds since I stopped drinking.
Now I did do Weight Watchers and Slimming World at the same time as quitting drinking, so some of it is clearly down to that. But at the time of writing this I’ve been both off the diets AND indulging in all manner of fattening seasonal treats for several weeks – and I’ve not put the weight back on.
There are a LOT of empty calories in alcohol. If you drink regularly and stop (and don’t replace it with binging on sugar!) it’s likely you will win yourself a sizeable weight loss dividend.
5. Better Focus
I never felt that drinking compromised my ability to achieve. I was never somebody who didn’t get my work done because of alcohol.
But…if I’m being honest with myself….I have to wonder what I would have achieved in my life if I’d spent my 30s developing a fondness for kombucha and sparkling water rather than beer and wine!
I’ve gone from ticking off everything on my “to do” list to writing three more lists and getting all that stuff done too. In the months since I stopped drinking alcohol I’ve launched a freelancing course, set up a blogging group, and even released a family children’s book, which was one of those “one day” projects that I never thought I’d make happen.
I still have the occasional unmotivated day where I’m just not feeling it. But at least 90% of the time I feel like a MACHINE when I sit down to work. Another reason why one month without alcohol morphed into two, then three and beyond.
6. More Free Time – To Do Whatever you Want With!
Many people on “stop drinking” forums and groups complain of being bored after quitting.
It certainly true that you suddenly feel like you have much longer evenings! The reality is that drinking can start to become a bit of a hobby in itself – and you need to find something to replace it with.
But that’s a wonderful thing. I’ve rediscovered gaming, reading, making music on my laptop. I’ve learned how to use Ableton Live and started a course on Adobe Creative Suite.
The irony here is that they are all things I’d long convinced myself I didn’t have time to do. Gaming and reading were things I’d look forward to doing on holidays, and it turns out I had time for them all along.
In fact, I’ve gone from feeling like I had lots of time in the early days to once again feeling like I wish I had more. I’m not sure I’d have time to start drinking again now!
7. A New Appreciation for Hobbies
I’ve touched on hobbies above, but they deserve a point of their own. Quitting drinking frees you up to do things you always wanted to do, and things you forgot you loved.
Take tinkering with computers and music equipment, and sticking at video games long enough to properly get into them. These are things I’d not found time for for years – certainly not since having children!
Rather more complex are the hobbies that used to go hand in hand with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. For me, cooking was the big one. I’m a huge “foodie,” and to begin with I didn’t think it would be the same without “relaxing” and popping open a bottle of something.
I’ll be honest: To begin with it wasn’t, and the first barbecue I had without throwing back a couple of Bud Lights at the grill was particularly joyless. But with time I came to realise that I enjoy these things just as much for what they are. The alcoholic drink was an accessory to it, NOT the reason it was enjoyable.
Sometimes I catch myself gabbling on to my wife about a new gadget I’ve bought for the computer, or a new Nintendo game I’ve found particularly enjoyable. It’s like re-finding a child-like enthusiasm for things. It’s great.
8. More Money
Alcohol’s not cheap – especially if you live in the UK, as I do, and have a taste for the “nicer” bottles of wine!
Even if you choose cheaper booze and don’t drink that much of it, it all adds up. As such, you get a rather pleasing financial “upgrade” when you give it up.
I’ve certainly found plenty of ways to spend the money I save. I’ve developed a serious taste for spritzer waters like Loveau, and been buying lots of books and games and gadgets. But some of those things help keep me healthy, and others are things that hold some residual value for a future eBay clear-out. Beer ticked none of those boxes!
9. Learning the Art of “Sober Socialising”
About 10 days after I stopped drinking, a friend threw me a huge curve ball by popping round unexpectedly.
I’d not shared the fact I was going “booze free” for a while, and we would ordinarily have sat in the garden with a beer or three.
I won’t deny that the mere thought of sitting and “chewing the fat” without a drink in my hand felt oddly intimidating. But when it came to it we cracked open a couple of Lucky Saint alcohol free beers and – you know what? – it all felt exactly the same.
Just as I’d discovered with the booze-free cooking, it was seeing a friend, relaxing and having a chat that was enjoyable. It wasn’t enjoyable because we were having a drink.
I appreciate that this perhaps sounds a little more preachy than I’ve tried to be in this article. But by the time I’d done this and also taken part in a Zoom quiz, where I’d usually have had a glass of wine, I felt like a whole new world of sober socialising had opened up to me. We’re still in “Covid times” as I write this, but I can’t wait to explore it!
10. Improved Mental Health
I had mental health issues when I quit drinking alcohol.
And I still have them. So I’m sorry to disappoint anybody who might hope that quitting alcohol solves everything. But my mental health IS considerably better.
Alcohol and anxiety are closely linked, and the two things create a serious “chicken and egg” paradox. Alcohol DOES relieve anxiety and “take the edge off.” It’s a very valid reason why anxious people drink. But alcohol also directly causes anxiety, much of it caused by the cortisol your body produces whilst processing the alcohol.
I still have anxiety. I still have the occasional panic attack. But my background level of anxiety is definitely lower – MUCH lower.
I’ve always startled easily – something of great amusement to school bullies when they realised how easily I could be made to jump! However I’m noticeably less jumpy now, and it improves my life no end.
It’s a little too early to make a call on the impact on depression. I’m thankful that I’ve not had a spell of it in the months since I stopped drinking. But it can appear at random and it’s never something I’d dare be complacent about. I’m very seasonally affected and I’ve been OK for the start of the winter, which is a good sign, but I have a long way to go before I’d even dare say I’ve beaten the “Black Dog.”
11. Improved Digestion
Perhaps something for the “Too Much Information” column(!) but suffice to say my body works much better than I’d become used to.
I’ll just say this: If you think your stomach behaves in a certain way simply because it’s “always” been like that, don’t underestimate the difference that quitting drinking can make.
12. Appreciation for Simple Things
I’ve always been a sentimental soul – and it turns out that that’s just part of who I am. It’s been a relief and a bit of a surprise that I still “get the feels” when I hear a certain song or see my two young sons being kind and loving to each other.
In fact, I think it goes deeper than that. I’ve learned, thankfully, that I’m still almost entirely the same person without alcohol as I was with it. That could be good or bad news to those who know me!
I’m still amused by silly, childish things; I still get over-excited when I speak to a friend I’ve not spoken to for a while and garble endlessly without taking a breath; The right music at the right time still leaves me full of emotion.
I should probably mention at this point that 99% of the time I was happy drinker. The sound of me opening a can might have made my wife wonder what time I’d stay up until and what random music we’d be listening to, but it never would have made her worry that she needed to prepare for an unnecessary argument. Sadly that’s not the case in every household.
The key point here is that I may be rather more muted (and keen to get to bed at a reasonable hour – who wouldn’t when you sleep so well?!) But I’m still me – for good or ill!
13. Feeling More “Zen”
One thing I’ve learned since I stopped drinking alcohol, which I’ve hinted at here a couple of times, is that it’s really not just about the times you drink “too much.”
You quickly realise that the after-effects of alcohol last way beyond the part when you feel you have a hangover. And I know this because of how calm and resilient I’ve been when life has thrown me challenges.
A few weeks after my last drink, I launched my freelancing course. I’d been working on it for over a year, and had invested a huge amount of time and soul into it. My email provider made a complete mess of the launch, losing me thousands in the process.
Both my wife and my mum said these exact words: “I can’t believe how calm you’re being about this!” The only response I could muster was “nor can I!”
I still get stressed, annoyed, irritated, anxious. But things bounce off me much more readily now. It’s one of the many reasons why I feel no desire to start drinking again, despite never originally intending to stop for more than a month.
14. Better Health Overall
One thing that was very much instrumental in encouraging me to stop drinking was the desire to enhance my immunity and resilience to bugs. My children were due to go back to school, and illnesses shortly after term begins are depressingly standard, as every parent surely knows.
Obviously with a pandemic going on, catching a bug because you can’t resist an extra glass of red wine isn’t a good look. Alcohol is terrible for your immune system, and there have certainly been occasions in my 20s and 30s when I’ve caught something after a run of “big nights!”
I really don’t want to tempt fate by saying “so far, so good.” Giving up booze doesn’t make you immune from all illnesses, after all, and I obviously hope and pray that we will all remain healthy through the winter.
Knowing you’re doing the best you can for your body can only be a good thing. Getting ill is one thing. Getting ill when it’s kind-of-your-fault is worse.
15. Improved Self Esteem
I’ve never liked myself all that much. But nowadays I feel a little more capable of giving myself credit for things. I stopped drinking alcohol, lost a bunch of weight, got fit, and achieved a load of work-related things. I’ve started plenty of blogs, but I never thought I’d be writing a post encouraging people to have a go at stopping drinking!
The best way of summing this up is that when you’re not drinking you don’t doubt yourself nearly so much. There’s much to be said for knowing that every decision you make is made with total clarity.
So What Now?
If you’re thinking about having a break from drinking, I hope this list of the benefits of quitting alcohol gives you some encouragement. I stopped at 15 benefits, but think I could have easily come up with more and made this article even longer.
It’s hard not to go “full on evangelical” about topics like this. I never thought I’d end up contemplating a permanent divorce from alcohol, but the changes have been so profound I simply have no desire to go back to it right now.
I’m not saying it’s forever. In fact, there have been plenty of occasions where I’ve “allowed” myself to drink but just decided not to. I took a week-long staycation where I intended to drink, but when it came to it I just didn’t fancy it. And to my surprise I had a perfectly enjoyable break – something I’d have never thought possible a year ago!
I’m writing this just before Christmas 2020, and I recently completed all our online grocery orders for the holidays. Again, I’d wondered about having a few drinks at Christmas, but when it came to it I simply didn’t feel the desire to add anything alcoholic to the cart.
I’ve seen how many other things are better without booze, and I’m curious and excited about what Christmas could be like. I DO have plenty of alcohol free beers and spritzers stocked, however!
I’m not saying it’s forever, but for now I’m confident that life has improved since I stopped drinking. That could be the case for you too – but you won’t know unless you try. And that’s as preachy as I will be. 🙂
Here are some things that have really helped me:
- The “Stop Drinking” Reddit group: A very lively thread that’s free of trolling and bad vibes. I still lurk there from time to time, and posts often remind me why this is a lifestyle choice I want to stick with.
- Alcohol Explained: Seriously – complete game changer – and I’ve read a LOT of “quit lit” books that have annoyed me and done nothing to encourage me to quit drinking.
- This Naked Mind: Another book that I enjoyed that promotes the benefits of not drinking in a non-preachy way. The podcast is good too.