by Rachel Allyn Ph.D.
The current trend towards choosing low or no alcohol might bring benefits.
- More people are taking a break from alcohol after relying on it during the pandemic.
- Younger generations have been leading the way with non-alcoholic alternatives.
- This can be a time to notice health patterns and whether alcohol has filled a void in your life.
- Finding other ways to self-sooth or let loose aside from alcohol can prevent dependency.
The new year in January holds the potential to shed old baggage and cultivate new habits. And often that includes new ways to take agency over our health. For example, the concept of having a dry month (abstaining from alcohol during Dry January) has become more prevalent.
Alcohol culture is pervasive, especially in social spaces. The way alcohol is glamorized in advertising also contributes to our collective hook. All that sugar (a drug in its own right), combined with the pleasure of feeling “buzzed” can break down our filters and release suppressed thoughts and feelings. This can lead to moments just as fun as what’s depicted in those alcohol advertisements. But just as frequently things can become sloppy, or take a detrimental toll over time.
The shift away from drinking began after the pandemic lockdown when people noticed they had replaced socializing with others with hanging out with one pal in particular, “Al Cohol.” Since then, people who never considered themselves alcoholic have nonetheless recognized they could benefit from scaling back or taking breaks from drinking.
Jen Gilhoi, the co-founder of Zero Proof Collective, gave a 2023 TEDx talk on why we should rethink drinking culture and believes that younger generations are leading the way: “It’s exciting to see these generations model mindful drinking by going alcohol-free for an evening or opting for no alcohol or low alcohol consumption for an outing. They’re more open to new alcohol-free products and they’re asking for them. Not drinking is more widely accepted and as a result, it’s inviting a growing number of people to question their relationship with alcohol and empower them to make sustainable lifestyle changes.”
A break from alcohol could lead to mental and physical benefits.
Whether you worry that you reach for a “spirit” more often than you’d like, or are just curious about feeling healthier, here are five reasons to consider a break from alcohol:
- This is an opportunity to discover how your mind-body health could improve. Keep track of any mental health changes such as improved mood, focus, attention, and creativity. Also, notice any physical benefits. Are you sleeping better, have more consistent energy, or wake up feeling refreshed? People often report improvements with all of the above. Granted, some of these changes might be felt quickly whereas others could take weeks, such as losing weight.
- Less sugar intake. Many people feel more addicted to sugar than alcohol. Just be careful you don’t replace alcohol with too many sugary drinks. Notice what you crave and when you crave it, and be aware of how it might not be much healthier. I’m all for treating ourselves, but if you replace your glass of wine with a tub of ice cream every night, you’re still stuck in a trap.
- Get clarity on the role alcohol has been playing in your life. What has your relationship been? Is it filling a void? How was it modeled when you were growing up? How old were you when you started drinking? This is a good time to recognize all the things you turn to as a way to “numb out.” It’s natural to want an escape from stress, especially at the end of the workday when we just want to put our feet up. However, not all self-soothing methods are created equal, and any of them can be a problem if we can’t handle life without them.
- Save money. Alcohol isn’t cheap. Most of the nonalcoholic beverages offered at bars and restaurants are 60 to 70 percent of the cost of those with alcohol. Notice your pocketbook before and after you abstain from imbibing. Chances are you’ll have more savings afterward. Think of all the other things you could spend the money on.
- Improved relationships. I’ve heard many stories from clients about fights with their partners or family members, and the ones that involve alcohol are by far the worst. We usually aren’t our best selves while deeply under the influence. We say and do things we regret and tend to be more reactive. When most people drink beyond a serving or two, they aren’t making conscious choices or giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Arguments go smoother and tensions are forgiven faster when we approach them with sobriety.
Consider trading in liquid courage for natural courage and find refreshed energy while pausing on alcohol. When you choose a substance to enhance moments in your life — rather than chase after it as a way to cope — you might find a personal liberation that tastes just as sweet.