Quitting Alcohol

Photo Credit: Vladimir Agafonkin

4 months ago, I quit drinking alcohol. I had one ‘relapse’ over New Years when I was on vacation, but other than that, I’ve been dry.

I’ve never been a big drinker. I usually consume 4-6 drinks per week over 3-5 days, but this is the first prolonged stretch I’ve had where I’ve quit completely.

Some of the benefits I’ve noticed:

  • Better sleep.
  • Not getting sick
  • Emotional stability.
  • Weight loss

The hard parts:

  • Beer is incredibly relaxing
  • Socializing

Better Sleep

The Wall Street Journal had an article about Dry January recently. They cite research documenting better sleep. Apparently booze allows you to fall asleep faster, but then it screws up your REM sleep, which is arguably the most important phase during the night. And these effects happen with as little as 1 drink.

I’ve found the research is correct. When I’m not drinking, I always wake up feeling great. And even though I never drank a lot each week, I was still drinking at least 1 beer on most days, meaning that I had degraded sleep almost every night.

Not Getting Sick

Getting sick was what originally motivated me to try not drinking. It seemed like I was coming down with something every 3 to 4 weeks. I socialize a lot, and I go to the gym almost every day. That plus working in an open office means that I’m constantly exposed to viruses and germs.

Since I quit drinking, I haven’t been sick once, even during the worst of cold and flu season, and having to travel. There were a few times where I thought I was coming down with something, but then I had a good night’s sleep, and it went away.

Coorelation isn’t causation, but it seems like not drinking has allowed me to stay healthy. The better sleep is probably what’s enabling this. In terms of benefits, I’d say this is the biggest reason for me to stay dry. It’s too hard to be consistently productive when you’re coming down with an illness once per month.

Ironically, when you look up studies on alcohol and cold incidences, the science doesn’t support anything I’ve said. If anything, drinking seems to have a protective effect on people from getting sick, at least during the short term.

So I might be experiencing a coincidence. But as time goes on, and I keep avoiding colds, this is harder and harder for me to believe. I also wonder about the studies. If you limited your study participants to neurotic people, then it’d be a much more accurate representation of me. And alcohol seems to affect neurotic people much more than people with normal dispositions.

I have friends who can deal with alcohol fine, even drinking way too much, they seem to never catch colds or have any ill effects. They even avoid most of the tell-tale signs of a hangover. But that isn’t me.

Emotional Stability

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’ve had serious anxiety throughout my life.

I can say without a doubt that alcohol makes everything worse. On the couple of times per year where I’d drink too much, I’d spend days as an anxious, depressed mess afterwards.

Even after having only 1 or 2 drinks on a normal night, I was definitely more irritable the next day.

Since I’ve quit drinking completely, I don’t have to worry about this anymore. I’m happier on a more consistent basis, and I rarely have to deal with anxiety.

Weight Loss

It’s hard to say if alcohol is the cause because my diet varies so much throughout the year, but I believe not drinking has allowed me to lose around 5 lbs.

Given that I would normally drink 4-6 drinks a week, this makes sense. I was usually consuming beer, and each would have around 200 calories. Over the course of a week, that’s 800-1200 additional calories, which is half a day of eating for a normal adult. Eliminate that, and give it a few months, and it starts to add up.

The Hard Parts

The hardest parts about giving up alcohol are that I used to use beer to relax, and socializing has become interesting.

When I used to watch a movie or a football game, I would use beer to unwind. Alcohol is an incredible suppressant, and thus very relaxing.

For the first couple weeks after quitting, I would crave beer a lot. As time has gone on, those cravings have diminished, and I find myself replacing them with the positive emotions associated with knowing I’ll wake up refreshed in the morning.

Socializing has been much harder. I’ve found that most people who socialize regularly also drink. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t. Usually the people who socialize the most are the ones who drink the most.

The peer pressure to drink can be intense, and it can be incredibly hard to resist. But as I keep resisting, the pressure has faded away. My friends have become habituated to knowing that I won’t give in, so they don’t bother.

It doesn’t mean it’s become any easier to be around a bunch of people who are drinking, but I’m getting used to it.

All in all, not drinking has been positive enough for me to continue. I actually think quitting caffeine has been much harder than quitting alcohol. If I ever succeed at that, I’ll make another post.

Have you had a similar experience quitting drinking? Let me know in the comments below.