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Underrated Benefits of Limiting or Omitting Alcohol

Every January, many people choose to start the year off with resolutions focused on improving their health and wellness. Whether their New Year’s resolutions include maintaining a regular fitness routine, adopting healthier eating habits, or making mental health a priority, recent years have shown an increase in popularity in reducing or abstaining from alcohol consumption.

The concept of ‘Dry January’ has become popular among US adults, serving as a month-long resolution to abstain from alcohol consumption. 

Dry January is seen as an opportunity to reduce alcohol intake after the holiday season. One follow-up survey on Dry January participants found that 59% of individuals who avoided alcohol during January stated that they drank less in the subsequent six months immediately after.

Dry January is also a chance to reap the benefits of limiting alcohol consumption, which research increasingly supports as essential to improving overall health. Data from WHOOP also supports the positive impact that can result from reduced alcohol consumption. 

Benefits of Decreasing Alcohol Consumption

In 2023, the World Health Organization published an announcement promoting the importance of abstinence from alcohol consumption, given the negative effects it has on lives. Recent research, including data from WHOOP, has begun to uncover the ways alcohol impacts wellness. These are some of the physical and mental health benefits to decreasing alcohol consumption: 

Physical Health Benefits

Data from WHOOP members who participated in Dry January in 2023 offers important insight into how altering alcohol consumption impacts different physiological metrics. This data helps highlights the aspects of physical health that can be positively impacted by limiting alcohol intake, including:

  • HRV and RecoveryMembers who tried out Give Dry a Try in the WHOOP January Jumpstart Challenge in ‘23 showed an improvement in HRV (heart rate variability) and Recovery as compared to non-participating members. Both HRV and Recovery are measures of how ready the body is to perform, indicating that reduced alcohol consumption can help prepare you to take on your performance goals. 
  • Resting Heart Rate — The related data from WHOOP also found that participating members saw improvements in resting heart rate. A lower resting heart rate is typically considered to be an indicator of enhanced cardiovascular health. It can also be interpreted as a sign of greater cardiovascular fitness.
  • Sleep Quality — WHOOP Give Dry a Try 2023 participants also experienced benefits to Sleep Performance, Consistency, and Restorative Duration, indicating that overall sleep quality was improved. Research has shown that getting enough good quality sleep is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. Sleep deprivation can disrupt daily life in a variety of ways, including by impairing cognition, disrupting memory processing, and reducing reaction time. It also increases the incidence of several health issues, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and inflammation. 

Mental Health Benefits

Limiting alcohol consumption is not just beneficial for the body — it also has important ramifications for mental health. These are some of the aspects of mental health that can be improved through reduced alcohol intake:

  • Mood and Stress Levels — It’s a common misperception that alcohol elevates mood and reduces stress. While these effects can temporarily appear to occur, in the long run, alcohol has a negative impact on mental health. Alcohol disrupts normal neurotransmitter activity in the brain, and can lead to unpleasant symptoms like depression, irritation, anger, stress, and low mood. Limiting alcohol intake is often associated with self-reported improvements in mood and stress levels. 
  • Overall Mental Well-being — Alcohol consumption can affect many aspects of mental health. For example, it impairs judgment, disrupts key cognitive processes, and can trigger symptoms of anxiety and depression. When alcohol consumption is reduced, overall mental well-being typically improves due to improvements in energy levels, mood, and cognitive function. 
  • Sleep Related Mental Recovery — Improvements in sleep quality have been associated with benefits to mental health conditions and mental wellness as a whole. Reducing alcohol intake can increase sleep quality and duration and benefit mental health as a result. 

Performance Metrics and Dry January

Alcohol consumption can significantly impair performance. When alcohol remains in your system at bedtime, the body must devote resources to processing it. As a result of this ongoing background activity, sleep is lighter and less restorative. Sleep quality is reduced, and recovery suffers.

Your body’s ability to take on strain and perform the next day is also negatively impacted. Both exercise performance and the benefits that can be expected to be seen from a workout are limited. Reducing alcohol intake increases the incidence of restorative sleep and boosts metrics that indicate readiness to perform like HRV and Recovery. Give Dry a Try participants are more likely to be able to reach peak performance and make progress in their fitness journey as a result. 

Navigating Social Situations & Community 

Making the commitment to reduce alcohol consumption can seem like a big step, especially if you’re worried about navigating social situations. Fortunately, there are plenty of tips that can help benefit your health while still staying connected to your community. These tips include:

  • Manage Peer Pressure — Given the notable, documented decline in drinking, especially with younger demographics, you may have already been around others who are considering minimizing their alcohol consumption. That said, it can be helpful to prepare ahead of time to manage potential peer pressure. Consider explaining to friends before you go out that you won’t be drinking or that you’ll be limiting your drinking, or find bars or restaurants that offer non-alcoholic options. 
  • Try Alternative Social Activities — Consider suggesting alternative social activities that aren’t centered around alcohol. Instead of meeting up at a bar at night, plan daytime outings to a local museum, hiking trail, yoga class, or escape room. 
  • Focus on Gradual Changes — You don’t have to completely overhaul your lifestyle overnight. It’s more important to develop sustainable healthy lifestyle adjustments. Gradual changes can be a great starting point. For example, you can begin by only drinking once a week or only ordering a single drink if you go out with friends. Limiting alcohol consumption has many health benefits, and you’re more likely to see the positive long-term impact of avoiding alcohol if you adopt healthy habits that you’ll actually be able to maintain in the long run. 
  • Be Flexible — Don’t be too hard on yourself when you’re getting started. Try to be flexible with how you define success. A successful Dry January month is not solely measured by complete abstinence but by positive changes in habits. If you end up ordering a drink when having dinner with your friends, you haven’t failed the challenge completely. As long as you’re making some progress towards limiting your alcohol consumption and are committed to continuing to make positive changes to your habits, you are succeeding. 
  • Stay Connected with Others — To set yourself up for success, it can be highly beneficial to rely on a supportive community. Consider sharing your goals with friends or loved ones. They can help you stay accountable, and might even be interested in participating as well. You can also join online groups, like a WHOOP team directly in the app, which can be focused on limiting or reducing drinking. 

Understanding the WHOOP Data

WHOOP offers comprehensive insight into key physiological metrics including resting heart rate, HRV, respiratory rate, and sleep performance. Based on your individual physiological data, WHOOP calculates Strain, Recovery, and Sleep scores that help determine how ready your body is to perform on any given day and what adjustments can be made to your routine to improve health and performance.

WHOOP data is highly reliable and lets you track trends in your metrics over time, so that you can see how lifestyle adjustments such as limiting alcohol consumption are associated with changes in your metrics. Viewing your monthly trends is a helpful way to see progress over time.