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Can Dry January Improve Your Health?

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Water in a wine glass

Dry January is a popular choice for people who want to take a break from alcohol and give their body a chance to rest and recover. But can temporary abstinence really make a difference? The short answer is yes.

Whether you’re an everyday drinker or an occasional imbiber, a month of abstinence can benefit your liver and your health in more ways than one.

How Does the Liver Process Alcohol?

The primary job of the liver is to filter blood and break down toxic substances so they can be eliminated from the body. This includes alcohol, which the liver converts into acetaldehyde, a chemical that is toxic to cells and damages DNA.

When the liver is busy metabolizing alcohol, it’s less effective at removing other toxins from the body. Alcohol also creates oxidative stress, which increases the production of free radicals and other harmful substances that can contribute to heart disease, cancer and accelerate aging. Finally, alcohol directly damages liver cells and may lead to the development of scar tissue over the long term.

All of these factors combine to make the liver less effective at doing its job when you drink alcohol.

The Liver Can Heal Itself

Like the skin, the liver has a remarkable ability to heal itself, repairing and replacing dead cells when you stop drinking. Light or occasional drinkers will see the most benefit from temporary abstinence, but even heavy drinkers will experience health improvements, including:

  • Less fat in the liver
  • Improved blood sugar levels
  • Weight loss
  • Younger, healthier looking skin
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Brighter, whiter eyes

The longer you abstain from alcohol, the more noticeable these benefits will be.

Is One Month of Abstinence Long Enough?

Recent research has shown that any amount of alcohol may be harmful to your health. However, many people enjoy moderate drinking as part of their lifestyle – defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

Even small reductions in how much you drink will help your health and give the liver time to recover. This includes drinking on fewer days of the week. Just remember that if you abstain from alcohol during the week and drink on the weekends, the daily drink limits still apply. It’s not an average of drinks consumed over the course of the week.

For light or occasional drinkers, one month of abstinence will give the liver time to heal. Heavy drinkers may need more time to see improvement. If alcohol abuse has been long-term, liver damage may be irreversible, but stopping drinking can slow disease progression and related symptoms of abdominal pain, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and swelling of the legs and ankles.

Tips for Success

If you’ve made the decision to go dry in January (or any other month), here are a few things you can do to prepare yourself:

  • Cut down gradually. In the weeks before, gradually reduce how often and how much you’re drinking.
  • Think positively. Look at the month ahead as an opportunity to feel better, save money and create new habits.
  • Avoid temptation. Thank about where and when you typically drink alcohol and try to change up your routine.
  • Drink more water. Water is one of the best ways to detox the liver.
  • Eat a liver-friendly diet. In addition to getting lots of fiber from whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, consider supplementing your diet with raw vegetable juice.

You may want to take a photo of yourself on the first day of the month and compare it to a photo you take at the end of the month. The visible improvements you see may inspire you to extend Dry January into February or even longer. The more time spent alcohol-free, the more health benefits you will experience.

Explore Your Relationship with Alcohol

If you experience excessive thoughts about alcohol or can’t stop after one or two drinks, a temporary break from drinking might not be enough. Start a discussion with your primary care provider to discuss your concerns. If blood tests reveal liver damage or disease, your doctor can discuss lifestyle changes and medications. Counseling may also be recommended.

Related Links:

University Hospitals offers comprehensive care for those struggling with addiction to alcohol and other substances. Our programs take a multidisciplinary approach to address the physical, psychological and psychosocial elements of addiction so individuals can improve their health and regain their independence from substance abuse.

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