5 Benefits of an Alcohol Break, Backed by Science
We’ve all needed a break from time to time. Breaks from work, the daily grind, and even our kids are all necessary to promote overall well-being and prevent burnout. At some point along the way, you might have also taken a break from meat or sugar to rebalance gut health or given up social media and streaming in an effort to give your mind a break.
Each of these breaks offers mental or physical (or both!) health benefits, which is why we take them in the first place. Taking a break from alcohol—even a short one—also provides a wealth of benefits.
If you’ve been questioning your relationship with alcohol or wondering if a break might yield anything positive as far as mental and physical health are concerned, the answer is yes. We’ve compiled some of our favorite science-backed reasons for taking a break, and if after reading you’re curious about taking a break, check out our free app.
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1. The Liver has Time to Recover and Rebalance
The liver is as necessary as the heart and is responsible for filtering all toxins out of the blood before circulating it through the rest of the body.
When you drink alcohol, you’re adding an extra toxin into your body that the liver must dispel. This is quite the task for the liver, especially if drinking is a regular or daily occurrence and the extra work can cause long-term issues.
“Drinking alcohol excessively taxes the liver and could cause liver cirrhosis over time,” says Tempest Clinical Advisory Board Member, Ruby Mehta, LCSW. That said, even a short break from alcohol can help the liver recover. “Since the liver is a regenerative organ, taking a break from alcohol allows your liver to recover and liver enzymes to rebalance.”
Piedmont Health, a network of nonprofit medical centers in Georgia, asserts that the liver has the ability to start healing in a few days to a few weeks—so long as it isn’t already in a state of acute cirrhosis—if one takes a break from alcohol.
2. Decreased Chance of Heart Disease and Some Cancers
Drinking more than the recommended amount, which according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is one drink per day for women and 2 drinks or less per day for men, has long been known to cause heart issues and certain forms of cancer.
According to Johns Hopkins, “Excessive alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. Excessive drinking can also contribute to cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle.”
The American Cancer Society states that drinking has been linked to a number of cancers, including mouth, throat, liver, esophagus, and breast cancer. When it comes to breast cancer, the American Cancer Society warns that “drinking even small amounts of alcohol is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women.”
“Even taking a break or cutting back on alcohol could reduce your chances of these conditions,” says Mehta.
Cutting back to the recommended amount per day could make a big difference, but for those with a history of heart conditions or cancers, and for women, who are at disproportionately high risk of breast cancer, taking a break from alcohol altogether could make a big difference.
3. Improved Mental Clarity
There’s one thing we do daily that has a huge impact on mental clarity: sleep.
If you’ve found that you can’t concentrate like you used to, are forgetting things that were normally easy to remember, or are struggling with productivity, and you get less than six hours of sleep per night, then there’s like a correlation, says Barry Krakow, MD, medical director of Maimonides Sleep Arts and Sciences, Ltd. in Albuquerque, NM, for WebMD.
Though you might think that alcohol is the stress reliever you need to help you get to sleep at night, the opposite is actually true.
“Alcohol disrupts sleep cycles,” says Mehta, “And sleep is incredibly important to mental clarity.”
Though alcohol does make it easier to “pass out” as it’s called, it disrupts the natural rhythms of our sleep patterns, making it harder to get the restful sleep during the REM cycle that’s imperative to mental clarity. According to James B. Maas, Ph.D., a professor and former chairman of the psychology department at Cornell University for the American Psychological Association (APA), “During REM sleep, the brain busily replenishes neurotransmitters that organize neural networks essential for remembering, learning, performance, and problem-solving.”
Taking a long enough break from alcohol to restore the body’s natural sleep rhythm could make a big difference in your mental clarity and function.
4. Feeling Physically Better
If you’ve ever woken to a hangover, feeling shaky, lightheaded, and nauseous are likely some of the symptoms you’ve experienced. An excruciating headache might be another you’re familiar with. You might even notice that some of these feelings happen while drinking.
“Excessive alcohol use can cause blood sugar fluctuations and dehydration that might leave you feeling shaky or lightheaded,” explains Mehta.
Likewise, over time, the body becomes dependent on alcohol to function normally, because long-term alcohol use actually has the power to alter the body’s chemistry, as mentioned above.
Alcohol withdrawal (even mild forms) can result in nausea, headaches, and restlessness, so an alcohol break that extends past any potential withdrawal period means you’ll start to feel physically better overall.
It might take a little time to get there, depending on how often you drink and how much, but feeling physically better will come after all of the toxins are out of your system.
5. Improved Mental Health
Alcohol has a big impact on mental health. Whether you’re accustomed to simply dealing with the daily stressors of life (which can be a lot!) or managing one of the various mental health disorders, drinking alcohol can have a negative impact, and an alcohol break can make a difference.
“Quitting alcohol can improve mental and emotional health,” Mehta says. “This is because excessive alcohol use disrupts our natural levels of endorphins and dopamine. When we drink alcohol, our body produces elevated levels of endorphins and dopamine. As the alcohol leaves our body, these ‘feel good’ chemicals are actually depleted and stress hormones are released, which leads to fluctuations in our mood.”
This means that if we’re already in a precarious position of managing mental health disorders, drinking can make the symptoms worse. Likewise, if you’re managing the everyday stressors, a reduction of your brain’s baseline chemicals can make those stressors a whole lot worse. It might make it harder to get through the day, even when the events of the day are pretty benign. You might also find that you lose interest in the things that make you happy.
“If we get used to drinking frequently, our bodies might become reliant on artificially high levels of endorphins and dopamine so that we do not feel any pleasure unless we are drinking,” she says. “If we quit drinking, our bodies come back to homeostasis over time and we are able to find pleasure in natural activities again!”
Mental health is another aspect of life that’s pretty dependent on sleep as well, which we already know is impacted by drinking. When it comes to mental health, the Sleep Foundation states that lack of sleep can actually intensify anxiety, and for those dealing with a variety of other mental health conditions, getting enough sleep is already hard, says Harvard Health, and yet, lack of sleep exacerbates symptoms of everything from depression to ADHD.
So in essence, when it comes to mental health, which is deeply affected by sleep, and both mental health and sleep are affected by alcohol consumption, an alcohol break really does a lot of good in both areas.
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A couple of days, a week, a month… taking a break from alcohol, no matter how long, has far-reaching benefits. You might consider giving a Dry January or Sober October a try the next time you think about taking a break, but always remember that you don’t need a specified day or month to take a break. If you want to, that’s reason enough.
If you’re curious about taking an alcohol break, download our new app: Rethink with Tempest.