Go Sober for October: addressing your alcohol use during COVID-19 lockdown
More people have been drinking harmful levels of alcohol since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, data recently published by Public Health England has shown.
We spoke to Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton and one of the UK’s leading experts in alcohol addiction, to find out the following:
- The effects heavy drinking can have on a person’s health and wellbeing
- How an alcohol-free month like Go Sober for October can help people to rethink their relationship with alcohol
- Why people with a physical dependency to alcohol should not stop drinking alcohol without seeking medical advice first
The effects of heavy drinking
When a person drinks harmful levels of alcohol, they are in danger of damaging their whole body. Alcohol has a particularly toxic effect on the liver and brain, as well as on the heart, stomach and pancreas. It can seriously affect a person’s mental health too.
Heavy drinking can also impact on a person’s work and home life. Relationships with good friends and close family can start to fracture. Work performance may also suffer, especially if the person is unable to keep up with responsibilities and is taking days off after drinking.
Rethinking your relationship with alcohol through Go Sober for October
An alcohol-free month gives people the opportunity to think clearly about their recent drinking habits. It can help you to recognise the impact alcohol has been having on your health and wellbeing, and gives you the chance to think about how you want to change your relationship with alcohol going forward.
If you are taking part in Go Sober for October, Dr Campbell has outlined the week-by-week benefits that you can expect to see:
Within one week
You will sleep better. When you drink, you typically fall straight into a deep sleep and miss out on important rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As a result, you only get one to two cycles of REM sleep after drinking, as opposed to the recommended six to seven cycles a night. As you stop drinking and your sleep improves, you will notice that you are more productive and have better control over your emotions and behaviour.
You will also be more hydrated. When drinking alcohol, you typically lose around four times as much liquid as what you actually consumed. During your month off alcohol, your improved hydration levels will result in you having fewer headaches and more energy throughout the day.
Within a fortnight
After two weeks off alcohol, you will continue to reap the benefits of better sleep and hydration.
Also, as alcohol is an irritant to the stomach lining, you will see a reduction in symptoms such as acid reflux, where stomach acid burns your throat.
You may start losing weight as you give up alcohol’s empty calories too. If you were to stop drinking six 175ml glasses of wine per week, you would save 1920 calories in the first two weeks, and 2160 if you’d stopped drinking around six pints of lager.
Within three weeks
Drinking too much alcohol can cause your blood pressure to rise. After three to four alcohol-free weeks, your blood pressure will start to reduce. This can help to lessen the risk of health problems occurring in the future.
Within four weeks
Your boosted hydration levels will start to have a positive effect on your skin as more water is being absorbed rather than wasted. This can help to reduce skin problems such as dandruff and eczema.
Removing alcohol from your diet for four weeks can also help to improve your liver function. You liver will start to shed excess fat and if your liver function is not too badly affected by alcohol, it will recover within 4-8 weeks.
By the end of Sober for October, you are likely to have reduced your calorie intake by 3840 for the month if you used to drink six glasses of 175ml wine a week, or 4320 calories over the month if you used to drink six pints of lager a week.
Important information for people physically dependent on alcohol
While Sober for October can help certain people to rethink and readdress their relationship with alcohol, Dr Campbell warns against people with a serious alcohol problem taking part: “For anyone who is physically dependent on alcohol, cut down rather than stop.
“I also highly recommend that you seek professional support to make sure you remain safe and well as you give up alcohol, whether that is through Alcoholics Anonymous, an addictions therapist or a rehabilitation facility.”