In times gone by, there used to be a misplaced assumption that moderate drinking could be healthier than being teetotal. It wasn’t long, however, before the studies making these assertions were exposed as flawed; it is indeed fact that any level of alcohol consumption is bad for your health. Of course, maintaining good health has never been the reason why drinkers drink, so such research that identified alcohol’s harmful effects was unlikely to deter consumers from continuing their habit.
Most people who start drinking at the legal age of 21 continue to do so for a lifetime, and for many, that is in a literal sense. A survey of 3,255 respondents over 21 by American Addiction Centers revealed that almost 1 in 5 drinkers (17%) in North Carolina admit they’ve never taken a prolonged break from drinking since they first started consuming alcohol – be it part of a sobriety trend, like Dry January, Sober October or #SoberCurious, or simply due to their own personal reasons. This compares to a national average of 19%.
Excessive drinking can have a negative impact on a person’s health (not to mention finances), so taking a break can have an overall positive effect. Studies show that regular drinkers who abstain from alcohol for a period of time have more energy, better sleeping habits and improved brain function. After a long-term period of abstinence, it also reduces the risks of developing cancer and heart disease.
Broken down by state, this figure was highest in Minnesota, where 32% of drinkers said they had never taken an alcohol break. Comparatively, it was lowest in Delaware, where it appears a significant number of people had, in fact, taken a break from alcohol since they starting drinking – just 7% said they hadn’t.
Infographic showing continuous drinkers in each state
For those who are habitual drinkers and might have a couple beers after work, wine at dinner or a nightcap before bed, it might be difficult to ditch the habit. When asked which kind of alcohol they’d give up for a month, the majority of respondents (42%) said they would give up beer – a choice that could be influenced by the calorie count. Nearly 1 in 5 (16%) drinkers said they would give up alcopops (sweet drinks with low alcohol content that taste of soda, juice or an energy drink), which makes sense given their high sugar content. Fifteen percent of respondents said they’d give up spirits, 13% would abstain from wine, and another 13% would quit cocktails for a month-long period.
Of those who said they had taken prolonged breaks from drinking alcohol, 58% said they stopped out of concern for their health and how alcohol could effect them. Alcohol has a negative impact on various parts of the body, including organs like the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. It interferes with the communication pathways in the brain, which can alter mood and behavior, potentially making it more difficult to think clearly and rationally. Drinking can also damage the heart and cause issues like cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke and high blood pressure. In the liver, alcohol consumption can lead to fibrosis, steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis. The pancreas is also effected and drinking can eventually lead to pancreatitis. Additionally, alcohol is known to significantly increase the risk of various of cancers, including:
- Cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx.
- Esophageal cancer.
- Liver cancer.
- Breast cancer.
- Colorectal cancer.
Respondents were asked if they were to quit drinking for a specific, protracted period of time, they would perceive the biggest benefit to be better brain function (30%). Another 30% said the best benefit would be fewer calories and 14% said a healthier GI system. Eleven percent said the biggest benefit would be better sleep, and 9% said it would be a better metabolism. Lastly, 7% said they thought the biggest benefit of quitting alcohol for a month would be a stronger immune system.
However, when asked if they were more likely to diet or quit alcohol for a one-month period, more than one-half (51%) said they would much rather diet than give up drinking for this time.
Finally, the average drinker admits that they can only drink for two days in a row before starting to feel a general sense of being unwell. Aside from the horrible hangover associated with drinking two days in a row, over time, drinking excessively can weaken your immune system, which makes your body an easier target for disease. Drinking excessively on a single occasion also reduces your body’s ability to ward off infections all the way up to 24 hours after having consumed alcohol.