Abstaining from alco­hol: how it boosts your health and well-being

Zwei Frauen sitzen auf Fenstersims, trinken ein warmes Getränk und geniessen die Zeit zusammen.

The idea of abstaining from alcohol is usually based on good intentions, for example after the festive period, when many people start to re-think their drinking habits: How much alcohol can I tolerate? How would I benefit from abstaining from alcohol? Experience reports and studies show that taking a break from alcohol gives you energy, lifts your spirits, and much more.

The idea behind a break from alcohol

Abstaining from alcohol for a certain period of time is nothing new. The idea has become a fixed part of global prevention campaigns and movements – but what’s the idea behind going without alcohol? After a short period of abstinence, the lessons learned allow you to take control of your drinking habits in the long term.

Break habits

The period of abstinence can help you break ingrained and unconscious habits. It's an opportunity to redefine your relationship with alcohol. And it reflects current trends: never before has there been so much promotion on social media for healthy eating, exercise and self-care as features of a desirable lifestyle.

What are the effects of abstaining from alcohol?

There are good reasons for abstaining from alcohol, as it brings many short- and long-term beneficial changes to your physical and mental health. Your organs recover surprisingly quickly, and more happy hormones are released to lift your mood. The effects in a nutshell:

Abstaining from alcohol: effects

After 1 week

  • Better sleep: sleep becomes more restful and deeper, dreams more vivid.
  • Skin health visibly improves. Abstinence enables the skin to regulate its moisture levels.
  • The stomach and intestinal mucosa recover.
  • Nausea and lack of appetite disappear.

Abstaining from alcohol: effects

After 2 weeks

  • Liver values improve. Stored fats are broken down: you feel more alert, fitter and more efficient.
  • The immune system begins to recover.
  • Lymph congestion is reduced.

Abstaining from alcohol: effects

After 1 month

  • A healthy weight: alcohol contains many calories that have no nutritional value. By taking a break from alcohol, the body can begin to break down excess fat.
  • Liver regeneration is possible within 4 to 8 weeks.
  • Significant improvement in blood values: lowering of cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • Mental health stabilises and improves (the balance of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin begins to normalise).

Abstaining from alcohol: effects

After 1 year

  • Blood pressure is lower: the risk of cardiovascular diseases like a stroke or heart attack is reduced.
  • Memory performance improves. Brain damage caused by alcohol is partially reversed.

Prevent high-risk alcohol consumption

In addition to the many positive effects, phases of strict abstinence from alcohol also prevent habituation to alcohol and the consumption of high-risk levels. Even short breaks have a significant effect. High-risk level consumers are advised by the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH to schedule at least 2 alcohol-free days per week.

After a short period of abstinence, the lessons learned allow you to take control of your drinking habits in the long term.

Health risks

In general, consuming alcohol means taking a certain risk with your health. The FOPH defines the following levels as low-risk consumption: “Healthy adult men should consume no more than two glasses and women no more than one alcoholic drink per day.” One glass is said to equal the amount of alcohol normally served in a restaurant. In other words, half a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a glass of schnapps.

Mindful drinking

Not only abstinence, but also mindful drinking corresponds to current mindfulness trends. This involves drinking alcohol mindfully and in moderation or, increasingly, abstaining from it altogether. A steadily growing range of non-alcoholic alternatives reflects the increase in demand.

Prevention campaigns

Global prevention campaigns are also raising awareness of the need to take breaks from alcohol and consume alcohol mindfully. For example, the Dry January campaign encourages participants to try to give up alcohol for a month. Feedback from Dry January participants shows that:

  • 69% of participants feel healthier.
  • 70% of participants sleep better at night.
  • 72% of participants also consume less alcohol in the long term after a Dry January.
  • 96% of participants experienced positive and supportive feedback from their social environment on their abstinence from alcohol.

Tips for abstaining from alcohol

  1. Consciously enjoy alcohol: going without alcohol doesn't mean going without pleasure. Try something new, such as home-made ice tea, hot punch or an exotic mocktail (a non-alcoholic cocktail).
  2. Community: involve those around you in your plan, exchange ideas or take part in prevention campaigns.
  3. Motivation: be aware of your personal motivation. What’s your goal – to gain more energy, rethink your drinking habits or get a glowing skin?

Risks of abstaining from alcohol

People who too often drink alcohol to ease stress and psychological pressure, regulate their emotions or overcome social anxiety can find themselves addicted. Suddenly stopping drinking if you’re addicted can lead to health-threatening symptoms. It’s therefore not advisable for people with an alcohol disorder to abstain without professional help.

Professional support

When people with alcohol-related disorders stop drinking, they experience psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, tremors or headaches. Their first course of action must be to seek professional medical advice and use services provided by addiction counselling centres such as the Blue Cross.

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