Drinking alcohol is a big part of the social fabric in the United States. Just last night, my wife and I had friends over to our house for a drink before dinner. We were going to try a new restaurant that had gotten some great buzz. And the hype was well deserved, the food, atmosphere, and service were amazing. As part of the social activity of the evening, we had a drink before the dinner and another one at the restaurant.
Part of a very common social scene. But when drinking has become an addiction or is affecting your health, it’s definitely a good idea to quit drinking.
Here we will look at how to the consequences of drinking to much and how to quit drinking for a healthier body and mind.
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How much alcohol is too much?
This is a great question to ask in our discussion of how to quit drinking for a healthy body and mind. Let’s look at several definitions of how much drinking is too much and when it can become a problem.
A recent study that was published in 2018 says it has found the magic number. After analyzing data of 600,000 people who drank between zero and 350 grams of alcohol per week they came to the conclusion that 100 grams per week was the magic number.
People who drink more than 100 grams of alcohol per week, the equivalent to 6 glasses of wine, had increased risk of stroke, heart disease, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm.
There is also research that has been done that suggests a different number. In other studies excessive drinking is defined as either drinking too much in one sitting or over the course of a week.
For men the number is 5 or more drinks in one sitting or 15 drinks over the course of a week. For women that number is 4 drinks at one sitting or 8 over the course of one week.
According to this definition 29% of the population can be defined as “excessive drinkers” but 90% of those do not fit the definition of alcoholism. So even though someone is characterized as an “excessive drinker” by these studies, they don’t meet the definition of an alcoholic. Interesting.
I used to be neighbors with a guy that drank 12-18 beers a day and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and was never sick. I know another person who felt she was an alcoholic, quit drinking, and joined AA 15 years ago even though she never drank more than 2 glasses of wine at a time. I think it depends on the person.
If drinking is adversely affecting your life in some way, you are most likely drinking too much. It could be that you are too tired and hungover to do the things you like. Maybe you call in “sick” to work more often than you should. You speed through time with your kids in order to get to the beer quicker than you should.
Whatever it might be. If drinking is adversely affecting your life in some way, you might want to take a look at how much you drink.
Now on to exciting ways of how to quit drinking for a healthier mind and body!
What alcohol does to your body and mind
It’s pretty intuitive that alcohol probably isn’t the best thing for us. We’ve all read or heard about how alcohol in moderation can be good for us. There’s probably some truth to this but it’s best to seriously look at the research before putting too much stock in it. Many of these studies suggest that drinking in moderation equals 1 drink a day for women and 2 per day for men.
When you drink alcohol, what does it do to your mind and body?
When you first drink alcohol, it triggers the release of endorphins which are chemicals that produce feelings of pleasure. This is a good thin, right? Maybe, but alcohol also does other things to you.
Here are some things that drinking alcohol does to your mind and body:
Your body on alcohol
There are many ways in which alcohol affects your body in the short term. Let’s start with the always fun hangover.
A hangover is caused by several factors including dehydration, the fact that alcohol upsets your stomach lining and opens up blood vessels which leads to a greater chance of a headache, and the fact you don’t sleep very well after a night of drinking.
Other short term effects of alcohol on your body include dulled senses, lack of coordination, slurred speech, blurry vision, poor balance, dizziness, nausea, and bad sleep to name a few.
Let’s not forget that the lowered inhibitions can lead to making dumb decisions such as smoking which is bad for your body as well as doing really dumb stuff like driving when you shouldn’t. This puts not only yourself at physical risk but others as well.
Long term effects of alcohol on your body include stomach ulcers, immune system deficiencies, nerve damage, liver disease, pancreatitis, damage to the heart muscle, cancer, vitamin deficiencies and other cardio vascular issues.
Your mind on alcohol
When you first drink alcohol, you may feel more social and talkative. This is the classic “loosen up with a few drinks” feeling. And it’s true that many people become more vocal and outgoing while drinking alcohol.
It’s good to remember though that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. The depressive effects of alcohol can be seen when people drink too much and suffer from slurred speech.
The pleasant feeling many people get when they drink alcohol is due to the effect it has on the dopamine site in the brain. This is short lived. When someone continues to drink their short term memory becomes impaired.
If someone drinks too much, they may experience a “blackout” which is not being able to remember what happened. In general, short term effects on the mind are short term memory impairment and blurry thinking. As many of us know it also loosens inhibitions and of course there could be potential consequences of that.
If you a heavy drinker for years, there are long term effects of alcohol to the brain. One of the biggest ones is developing deficits in brain functioning.
Long term drinking can alter your brains hard wired ability to think, even if you have stopped drinking. In other words, it can cause permanent damage to your brain. The brains of long term drinkers can also diminish in size. Scary.
It’s important to remember that not all of alcohols effects on the mind, both short term and long term, are known. This is an area that is still being studied.
How your body and mind benefits from not drinking
Here’re several ways your body and mind benefit when you decide to quit drinking;
You will sleep better.
This benefits both your body and your mind. Even though alcohol is a depressant and makes you feel more tired in reality, you don’t sleep as well with it in your system.
The reason is it disrupts your alpha waves. When you quit drinking your body will rest better which not only improves your energy level but also your concentration, mood, and mental performance.
You’ll lose weight.
Alcohol is full of empty calories. An average beer contains approximately 150 calories. If you are a weekend drinker and typically have 5 beers Friday and 5 beers Saturday, that’s 10 beers and 1500 calories saved in a week. That’s pushing a full days worth of calories right there.
Not to mention losing the bloated feeling. When my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, I quit drinking as well. I lost 12 pounds in 3 months.
Your skin will look better.
Since alcohol is a diuretic, you urinate more when drinking on a regular basis. This causes you to be less hydrated than you should be. When you quit drinking, you’ll be more hydrated and this shows up on your skin in a positive way.
You are able to concentrate better.
Several studies have suggested that your concentration levels can improve up to 18% and your work performance can go up by 17% after a month of not drinking any alcohol. That’s substantial.
Your immune system improves.
Know how heavy drinkers are more susceptible to serious infections like tuberculosis and pneumonia? That’s because alcohol suppresses both the innate and the adaptive immune systems.
When you quit drinking, your body is much better at fighting off infections because the immune system is no longer suppressed.
Your head will feel clear and alert.
Alcohol can disrupt the way neurotransmitters work in your brain. You chalk up the foggy brain to a hangover but there’s more happening than that.
Your neurotransmitters aren’t working as well, especially if you’ve been a heavy drinker for a long time.
After you’ve put alcohol in the rear view mirror for several months, your head will feel more clear than it has in a long time.
Your muscles will thank you.
If you are someone who works out and enjoys staying in shape, your muscles could benefit if you quit drinking. For one thing you put a lot of hard work into building up muscle and staying in shape.
Drowning your muscles in beer and wine only helps add empty calories. There has also been recent studies that suggests that alcohol my decrease the production of human growth hormone which is a key part of muscle building and repair.
How to quit drinking for a healthier body and mind (Step-by-step guide)
So how to quit drinking? It’s all about changing habits.
Let’s review some of the major steps:
Step 1: Admit you have a problem.
Awareness is the first step in wanting to change any situation and it’s just as true here.
When you find yourself thinking more and more often that drinking is creating problems in your life, it’s probably time to admit you have an issue with drinking too much.
No shame in admitting it. Many people have issues doing too much of lots of things.
Step 2: Think about why you should quit.
When we think about the long term effects such as cirrhosis of the liver, it’s not usually enough to make us quit. The reason is because it’s not real yet.
Think about the very real short term effects drinking has. If you drink 4 drinks at a time, 3 days a week and each time takes 2 hours, you’ve “lost” 6 hours a week to drinking. Add in the cost of the alcohol, say $30 a week (and that’s being generous) times 52 weeks a year; you realize you’re spending over $1500 a year on booze.
And then toss in the things you miss out on by drinking it becomes much more real.
Step 3: Focus on being sober.
When you decide to quit drinking alcohol, that has to be front and center of your attention all the time. It has to be the driver of you day, the foremost on your mind.
Figure out how you are going to achieve not drinking and stick to it. It has to be the framework for your life until you get established as a non-drinker.
Step 4: Change your environments
This is a tough step. You have to change multiple things that have been central to the way you live your life. Probably the most important is some of the people you hang out with.
You can’t go to happy hour anymore or similar type situations. You’ll most likely have to not only cut certain people pretty much out of your life but also alter the places you go.
Step 5: Keep adjusting your attitude
When drinking is a big part of your life, it is difficult under the best circumstances to quit.
You will get mad at people who think they are “helping” you. You will most likely get down on yourself and beat yourself up internally. You might have trouble falling asleep and your mind will think about drinking a lot.
Keep pumping yourself up and know that you are working towards a goal that you know is right for you.
Step 6: Get help from rehab or support groups
Many people are not able to quit drinking on their own. If you find yourself unable to quit drinking on your own, you might want to consider checking into a rehab facility. Another option is joining a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
There a variety of support groups and rehab facilities that can help you on your road to quitting drinking.
Step 7: Keep on keeping on
If you decide to remove alcohol from your life for good, it will be an ongoing process. Once you get through the initial stage and then are a non-drinker, you will have to work on it as long as you want to not be a drinker.
This isn’t as bad as it sounds though. This is really true of any situation you want bad enough.
If you want to be in great shape, that takes ongoing commitment. If you want to make a million dollars, that takes consistent and ongoing hard work and hustle.
Any major life improvement is constant hard work.
The bottom line
We’ve taken a look at how to quit drinking for a healthier body and mind. It’s readily apparent how much alcohol is woven into the fabric of our society. Like everything else in life that’s a choice and there’s a lot of people who don’t drink.
If you decide that drinking isn’t for you, you are on your way to a healthier body and mind. And don’t forget another way that quitting drinking will benefit you — you’ll save money!
Featured photo credit: thom masat via unsplash.com