The Benefits of Removing Alcohol from Your Lifestyle

Forty-four percent of the adult U.S. population are current drinkers who have consumed at least 12 drinks in the preceding year. 

Too much alcohol in the body can inhibit the immune system, decrease new bone production, cause heart and liver problems, disturb the digestive system, and result in abnormal insulin production. During pregnancy, alcohol consumption can lead to fetal abnormalities. These are just a few of the issues that regular alcohol consumption can have on the immune, skeletal, circulatory, digestive, central nervous, and excretory systems. 

Alcohol use and abuse also contribute to injuries, car accidents, and violence.

However, it is not only regular alcohol consumption that causes these health issues, irregular heavy-drinking occasions, or binge drinking (defined as drinking at least 60 grams of pure alcohol or five standard drinks in one sitting will markedly contribute to the associated burden of disease and injury [1, 2] 

Therefore, it’s worth exploring a life without alcohol for those looking to improve their overall health and well-being.

Here are the top benefits of an alcohol-free lifestyle:

Cancer prevention 

Alcohol consumption has been linked to several cancers, including cancers of the head and neck (mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus), digestive tract (stomach, colon, and rectum), and breast cancer.

Long-term alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, decreases your body’s ability to repair itself, thereby increasing the risk of developing certain cancers. Researchers have studied multiple ways alcohol increases cancer risk, including alcohol’s chemicals’ potential to damage DNA, proteins, and lipids.

According to a study led by Gary G. Meadows, Ph.D., professor emeritus for the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Washington State University, chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk for certain cancerous tumor growths and impacts immune response. [3]

Another study showed a 32% higher breast cancer risk among women who consumed more than one drink per day than among abstainers. [4] 

Weight Loss 

When you consume alcoholic beverages, your body becomes more focused on breaking down alcohol than burning fat. Moreover, alcohol can lead to weight gain because it can make you feel hungry, while alcohol-related decision-making impairment can lead you to make poor food choices. Alcohol is also high in energy content and has a similar caloric intake as cola. [5]

Improved Mental Health   

Approximately 14 million Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. More than 50% of American adults have a close family member who has or has had alcoholism.

But even with moderate alcohol consumption, there are implications on mental health. In a study on the correlation between alcohol consumption and mental health, findings suggest there is a significant association between the levels of alcohol consumption and anxiety and depression symptoms. [6] 

Experts find that people with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues often drink to alleviate stressful feelings and other symptoms. However, prolonged drinking may lead to brain dysfunction as it alters brain chemicals, which have been associated with poor decision-making, lack of focus, and sleeping problems. These can all ultimately impact mental health and exacerbate symptoms.  

Lowered Risk for Sleep Apnea and Better Sleeping Patterns

Relying on alcohol for too long and in excess may lead to more inferior sleep quality and heightens the risk for sleep apnea.

In a study on alcohol consumption and sleep apnea, researchers found that drinking alcohol reduces genioglossal muscle tone and potentially collapses the upper airway. [5] Therefore, removing alcohol from your lifestyle may lead to better sleep quality and longer sleep durations, and decreased sleep apnea risk.

Due to alcohol’s sedative effects, many people, especially people suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia, [6] turn to alcohol, believing it will help them sleep better and longer. It has been observed that initially, people do sleep faster and deeper after drinking. However, sleep after alcohol consumption reduces rapid eye movement sleep (REMS). REMS is crucial to mental restoration, and REMS disruption later causes poor focus, daytime drowsiness, and several behavioral and physiological abnormalities. Healthy sleeping patterns are then upset, leading to poor body functioning since the quality and quantity of REM sleep is essential for normal body physiology.[7] 

The problem becomes worse when people rely on alcohol as a sleep aid, leading to alcohol dependence.

Lowered Risk of Stroke

Among young people, long-term heavy alcohol consumption has been identified as a risk factor for stroke. Very recent alcohol drinking, mainly drinking to intoxication, is associated with a significant increase in the risk of ischemic stroke in both men and women aged 16 through 40 years. Also, a 40% increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke.

Lowered Risk of Liver Diseases

The effects of alcohol on the liver include inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis) and cirrhosis (progressive liver scarring). The risk for liver disease is related to how much a person drinks: the risk is low at low levels of alcohol consumption but increases steeply with higher consumption levels. Since the liver has a crucial role in the body’s overall health, regular alcohol consumption, even at low levels, will impede health in the long run.

Evidence also indicates that women are more susceptible than men to the cumulative effects of alcohol on the liver.

Lowered Risk for Accidents

Alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of injury in a wide variety of circumstances, including car crashes, falls, and fires. Research shows that as people drink increasing quantities of alcohol, their risk of injury increase steadily, and the risk begins to rise at relatively low levels of consumption. An analysis of risk concerning alcohol use in the hours leading up to an injury has suggested that the amount of alcohol consumed during the 6 hours before an injury is related directly to the likelihood of injury occurrence. The evidence showed a dose-response relationship between intake and injury risk and found no level of drinking to be without risk. 

Takeaway

Because of the negative impacts of alcohol, minimizing consumption proves to have many benefits, much more than the benefits of alcohol consumption. You will notice significant positive effects on your overall physical, emotional, and mental health and well-being. 

  • [1] Risky single-occasion drinking: bingeing is not bingeing. Gmel G, Kuntsche E, Rehm J. Addiction. 2011 Jun; 106(6):1037-45.
  • [2] Rehm J, Room R, Monteiro M, et al. Comparative Quantification of Health Risks: Global and Regional Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risk Factors. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2004. Alcohol use; pp. 959–1109
  • [3] Meadows GG, Zhang H. Effects of Alcohol on Tumor Growth, Metastasis, Immune Response, and Host Survival. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):311-322.
  • [4] Grech A, Rangan A, Allman-Farinelli M. Increases in Alcohol Intakes Are Concurrent with Higher Energy Intakes: Trends in Alcohol Consumption in Australian National Surveys from 1983, 1995 and 2012. Nutrients. 2017;9(9):944. Published 2017 Aug 28. doi:10.3390/nu9090944
  • [5] Tembo C, Burns S, Kalembo F. The association between levels of alcohol consumption and mental health problems and academic performance among young university students. PLoS One. 2017;12(6):e0178142. Published 2017 Jun 28. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0178142
  • [6] Hamajima N, Hirose K, Tajima K, et al. Alcohol, tobacco and breast cancer–collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 58,515 women with breast cancer and 95,067 women without the disease. British journal of cancer. 2002;87(11):1234–45.
  • [7] Simou E, Britton J, Leonardi-Bee J. Alcohol and the risk of sleep apnoea: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med. 2018;42:38-46. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2017.12.005
  • [8] Stein MD, Friedmann PD. Disturbed sleep and its relationship to alcohol use. Subst Abus. 2005;26(1):1-13. doi:10.1300/j465v26n01_01
  • [9] Robert P. Vertes (1986), “A Life-Sustaining Function for REM Sleep: A Theory”, Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews 10.
  • [10] Health risks and benefits of alcohol consumption. Alcohol Res Health. 2000;24(1):5-11.
  • [11] Jung et al. Alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk by estrogen receptor status: in a pooled analysis of 20 studies. Int J Epidemiol. 2016 Jun; 45(3):916-28.

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