With the arrival of the new year, many people are following through on their New Year’s resolutions, including drinking little to no alcohol.
This resolution is common and often difficult to adhere to in a society where alcohol consumption is ubiquitous. While many people safely consume alcohol without becoming dependent, casual alcohol consumption can still be the cause of normal short and long term health consequences. Most people will remain unaware that alcohol is at the base of many of their chronic health issues. A recent study published in Preventing Chronic Disease found that many Americans who consume larger amounts of alcohol (for men, 15 or more drinks a week and for women, 8 or more drinks a week) are not dependent on the substance, but can experience a number of health benefits simply by abstaining for five weeks.
Short and Long-Term Health Benefits of Not Drinking Alcohol
In a small study conducted by the staff of New Scientist, a group of 14 individuals attempted to identify the health benefits of not consuming alcohol for five weeks. All participants provided blood samples and had ultrasounds to measure the amount of fat in their livers prior to starting the experiment. These measurements were taken again five weeks later. Ten participants completely abstained from alcohol while the other four continued their normal rate of consumption. The study found that those who abstained received numerous health benefits including two percent weight loss, five percent lowered cholesterol, 16 percent lower glucose and 15 percent lower liver fat. Staff also experienced 10 percent improved sleep, 9.5 percent increased wakefulness, 18 percent improved concentration and 17 percent improved work performance.
While there are many short-term benefits to ceasing alcohol consumption, the long-term benefits of abstaining from alcohol consumption are plentiful as well. Consistent alcohol use over a long period of time can increase the risk of developing a number of chronic diseases and neurological problems. These risks are increased significantly if alcohol consumption is excessive. Some problems that may develop as a result of excessive alcohol consumption include increased blood pressure, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, cancer, and liver disease. Biological factors and family history of alcohol abuse can put individuals at an increased risk of experiencing these health consequences. Abstaining from regular consumption can also decrease the risk of developing dependencies. As tolerance builds, it can become easier to consume excessive and even dangerous amounts of alcohol. An “overdose” on alcohol is known as alcohol poisoning and may cause some individuals to become unconscious, slip into a coma, and can even lead to death. When consumption escalates, it can be incredibly difficult to stop drinking.
Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction
For those who struggle with addiction, suddenly stopping consumption (going “cold turkey”) can be equally dangerous. While some withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting alcohol are simply uncomfortable, others can be life-threatening. Withdrawal symptoms may include sleeplessness, shakiness, convulsions, and hallucinations. It is important for those with alcohol dependency to withdraw in a medically supervised environment so that withdrawal symptoms may be addressed immediately. Entering a detox program can ease the discomfort associated with withdrawal, reduce the risk of dangerous side effects, and allow the body time to adjust to not having alcohol in its system.
Benefits of Long-Term Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Long-term treatment for alcohol dependence is incredibly helpful for individuals who hope to overcome the initial stages of withdrawal while building a sober foundation for the future. Many who struggle with alcohol dependency do so as a result of self-medication or as an attempt to escape stress. Long-term treatment helps individuals to identify the unique influences that contribute to the development of addiction and provides therapies that address the specific needs of each individual. Removing oneself from the environment and peer group that allowed you to develop a dependency significantly improves prospects for recovery and ensures that individuals are in a safe space throughout treatment. The longer one is engaged in a treatment plan, the more likely they are to maintain sobriety long-term.