What Does Dry January Actually Do To Your Body?
New Year, new you, and all that shite.
However, if you're not me (i.e. have willpower), you may actually be able to turn over a new leaf or two in 2018.
For many people, that involves giving up the booze. For some, it's Dry January, for others it's a (theoretical) permanent departure from alcohol. Like the ending of Trainspotting, but instead of relocating to Amsterdam, you give up booze.
Though it gets a bad rep, alcohol serves a purpose for many people, and in moderation can help them relax, enjoy themselves and socialise. It even tastes nice, with some notable exceptions.
However, in excess, it also carries numerous physical and mental health risks. In 2015, there were 6,813 deaths related to alcohol, 65 percent men, 35 percent women, for example, while its wider health and social implications affect a far greater number.
But while most of us have an inkling of the risks and costs involved when it comes to the Fizzy Mistress, the Bubbly Lover, Bella Rossa and Señor Gin, most don't know what happens to the body when you give up alcohol.
In an article written ahead of Alcohol Awareness week last year, Dr Niall Campbell, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Group Roehampton, which helps people with addiction, wrote about the physiological benefits of ditching alcohol over various periods of time.
He said that within 24 hours your "blood sugars will normalise", while "your sleep patterns are likely to improve within a week."
Anyone who's ever set their watch to beers o'clock on a Friday night will know that alcohol and 'the stomach' aren't best mates. That's because alcohol is pain in the backside - literally.
"Alcohol is an irritant to the stomach lining and causes symptoms like reflux (where stomach acid burns your throat)," writes Dr Campbell.
Within two weeks of abstinence such problems should cease. The body starts to really notice changes after the three-to-four week mark, when 'blood pressure will reduce'.
But it's the post-first-month mark (i.e. after Dry January) where things start going next level on the change front.
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"Your liver will improve," says Doc C. "It can handle small quantities, but excessive drinking causes it to get inflamed - which is what we call 'alcoholic hepatitis', a silent disease. In the early stages, you can't feel that, but it can lead to cirrhosis, which is permanent. Drinking a couple of 175ml glasses of wine a day if you're a woman, for two or three weeks, and you're likely to develop 'fatty liver', when the liver turns glucose into fat.
"Alcohol affects the way the liver handles fat, so your liver cells just get full of it. The good news is your liver will start shedding the excess fat if you stop drinking. If your liver function has not been too badly affected by alcohol, it can recover in four to eight weeks."
And if you've managed to stop drinking for 12 weeks or more, you're likely to be 'more energetic and healthier all round'.
LADbible also sought out a liver specialist, William Alazawi of BMI The Sloane Hospital, in Kent.
"For most people, you'll see the benefits of cutting back on alcohol almost straight away," he says. "You'll sleep better, you'll almost certainly be eating better, you're more likely to take up some exercise, and you'll probably be thinking more sharply too. Your liver will appreciate the break and also start to heal if it's been feeling the effects of you drinking too much.
"In the longer term, reducing your alcohol intake will consolidate those benefits above plus add more. Alcohol contains calories and reducing your intake could have a beneficial effect on your waistline - not just because of the calorific aspect of the alcohol but also because you're less likely to eat all the snacks that inevitably go along with it. As I said, livers do heal and so if you've damaged yours, it will improve.
"You don't need to give up alcohol altogether, although a break for a period like Dry January is good. It's about having a sensible relationship with alcohol and drinking within the recommended guidelines.
"For people who are dependent on alcohol, I'd advise against just stopping without seeking the support of your GP or a hepatologist (the branch of medicine that looks at the liver)."
So, all in all, it seems like your body goes under a varied and wide-ranging transformation when you stop drinking alcohol.
For some, a period of abstinence may be good, others a more gradual reduction. For certain people, quitting completely altogether might be the best option, though in very few cases it's recommended to go cold turkey, as sticking to such a lifestyle long-term becomes less likely that way.
Whatever way you want to go about it, have a gander at the NHS. It's lovely, free (for now), and chock-full of advice on how to go about drinking, or not drinking, should that be your poison not poison.
Featured Image Credit: The Simpsons / FOX. The Barney Gumble method isn't recommended