Hi, my name is Tara and I’m NOT an alcoholic (Hi Tara!)
I did decide to abstain from drinking alcohol a few months ago, though… and I want to share what happens when you stop drinking.
Unlike most people who aren’t drinking now, this isn’t a Dry January thing. I quit in October, over three months ago now.
And the Why is a little complicated and odd, since it wasn’t having the normal effects on my health one might expect when most people decide to stop drinking.
We’ve all been told, by professionals even, that drinking alcohol in moderation is harmless. “Occasional drinking has been said to improve health,” is the mantra doctors love. Perhaps this even has some basis in fact. And I believed it. I had used wine to relax and beer to unwind. I had used alcohol based tinctures to combat anxiety. I had seen the proof.
Honestly, I haven’t touched hard alcohol in years. Liquor has never sat well with me and I highly doubt it ever will. I was very much a champagne and red wine kind of girl, with the occasional organic, light, gluten free beer thrown in during warm summer months.
A few months ago, though, something inside of me switched.
It was eye-opening.
It was crazy.
It was …. Weird.
Instead of getting buzzed when I had a glass of wine, I would just get increasingly more and more sleepy. Sometimes I’d end up with a wicked belly ache or a crushing migraine. NOT. The desired effects I was after. At all. I had spent years in withdrawal, fighting nausea and insomnia and blaring migraines. So, bringing those unpleasant effects upon myself seemed insane.
On top of this, I had straight up lost the ability to get drunk. My body had replaced that drunken feeling with a general and severe physical unpleasantness.
Of course, instead of accepting this right away, I challenged it. After so many years fighting to be able to eat and drink what I wanted to, I thought I deserved to drink. I justified it.
MAYBE if I drink a ton of water before I drink alcohol, it won’t happen (nope).
Maybe if I drink a different kind of alcohol it won’t happen (nope).
Maybe if I drink alcohol without gluten or sulfites it won’t happen (nope nope nope).
Why I didn’t stop drinking right then and there, when this not-able-to-get-drunk-but-somehow-able-to-feel-sick phenomena started, will be a question I’ll ask myself for a while. Likely, I was still chasing the days I could get a nice little buzz on. I used to enjoy it. I am a silly, happy, even a creative drunk. I mean, hell – I’m an author. Isn’t this kind of our THING?
Whether I was fighting a bad tummy ache or I ended up getting super sleepy, I would almost always fall asleep after drinking. And when I woke up in the morning, I would almost always feel like total shit. Not EVERY time, but looking back, probably 70-80% of the time I drank, I regretted it in the morning.
I had to admit that if I wasn’t even getting buzzed anymore, alcohol had almost completely lost the effect that myself – that most people – are after when they drink. Instead, I found myself disappointed and a little confused.
Fuck, I found myself saying.
What the hell is wrong with me?
The bottom line was that alcohol didn’t make me feel good. Some other people can drink hard liquor and tolerate it; some can even manage to drink it and not feel like shit. Some people can enjoy one glass of wine and not get a headache. Some people can enjoy two beers and feel unaffected.
I am not one of them.
While I may not even have gotten buzzed, drinking alcohol did have the same effect on me just about every time I ingested it: in some form, during some part of that day (or the next), it always made me sick.
Mid-last year, these effects didn’t yet have a name, but I was waking up to them.
It turns out, I was becoming completely intolerant to alcohol.
Alcohol intolerance occurs when your body doesn’t have the proper enzymes to break down (metabolize) the toxins in alcohol. It can cause immediate, unpleasant reactions after you drink alcohol. The intolerance is genetic, and the only way to prevent alcohol intolerance reactions is to completely avoid alcohol.
I didn’t know this yet, but intuitively, I was already doing it.
I had been cutting down on drinking for a few months already.
A bottle of wine, which would normally be gone in a week, lasted about two months.
A bottle of champagne stayed unopened, but ready to pop, in my fridge for half a season, and then finally got put in the garage for “a special occasion.”
I started passing by the alcohol aisles when I went grocery shopping.
I started brewing myself sleepy time teas at night to get to bed, instead of taking out my wine glass.
I stopped ordering alcohol when I went out to eat.
I started replacing alcohol based tinctures with their non-alcoholic, capsule counterparts.
Slowly, but surely, alcohol was slowly fading from the daily habit to a truly occasional thing for me.
On October 3rd, 2017, I went out to a local spot to see my friend’s band play.
I drank one glass of wine and felt okay for a little while; better than normal. I was super into the music, grooving, having a wonderful time. Then, it hit me.
One minute I was fine, the next it was like college haze week. Within a few seconds, I felt AWFUL. Like I had downed three bottles of wine and someone had spun me around 150 times. I felt like I was nineteen and just tried my first few sips of gin. I couldn’t ever remember feeling so, SO bad. Not in a long time.
I came home and threw up for sixteen hours straight. That night – ALL night – and well into the next day.
Two days later, when I could finally get up, drink water, keep down food and think, I had to admit to myself that I knew something was seriously wrong. I hadn’t drunk a drop of alcohol in weeks, and when I took just a few little sips of wine, I was sick for DAYS.
I remember the exact moment that I decided to quit, probably because I’ve told myself that this was “the last time” SOOOO many times after drinking and feeling nauseous or hungover. And this truly was.
This time felt different.
I couldn’t deny it anymore. Alcohol was definitely the culprit. My body hated the stuff, and it was telling me loud and clear. If I wanted to live a normal life, I had to quit drinking. Completely.
Since admitting it, I’ve honestly never looked back, thought twice or second guessed that decision. I know I’m intolerant. My body blared it to me, and the longer I’m off it, the more that fact truly sinks in.
I can’t say I’ve had even one craving. I know that sounds INSANE. Maybe my definition of craving is different from everyone else’s, but truly, I have not thought about alcohol in a wistful way at all. When I see other people drinking, I do not wish I could be drinking. I have not even ALMOST ordered alcohol when I’m out. None of it. Call it a Pavlov complex, but thinking about alcohol still makes me sick to my stomach. Even taking alcohol based tinctures doesn’t agree with me anymore.
I did have dreams, though. Starting the first week I quit, I had dreams that I “forgot” I had quit and started drinking again, only to feel like shit. Okay… they were nightmares. I had NIGHTMARES about drinking. And I can safely say I’ve never had dreams about drinking before, never mind having nightmares about it. I’d always wake up so relieved that the frothy beer or shot I had downed was only a dream.
I think this was just my body’s way of reminding me how I’d feel if I decided to go back to it. The nightmares stopped around month 2, when I hadn’t touched a single drop and realized that this very likely was not going to be a temporary thing. There was no point to turning back now: I’d already come this far.
Maybe my body had finally accepted my timeline… although, honestly…I didn’t have a timeline. One day I stopped and then one day turned into one week. That week turned into one month, then two months… and now here we are, three months later!
Here are some serious benefits I’ve noticed in the last 3 months…
Alcohol has a sneaky way of increasing your daily calorie intake without you realizing it. One margarita may contain 300 calories or more—mostly from sugar! (ONE delicious piña colada might have 450 calories!!)
One study found men consume an additional 433 calories on those days they drink a “moderate” amount of alcohol. For women, it’s 300 calories. Cut those from your diet—and don’t replace them with desserts—and you’ll start to lose weight without much effort. In my opinion, most people could not exercise and STILL lose weight if they simply stopped drinking.
Not that weight loss was ever my issue, but I’ve definitely found myself more easily able to get – and stay – trim and put on healthy muscle mass (like abs!) when I work out. I also have cut out a LOT of sugar from my diet without having a glass of wine a few times a week, and I feel it. I’ve replaced sugar with fruit, which I will not only eat, but also drink in ice water as a replacement for alcoholic beverages.
Raspberries, grapefruit, sage, rosemary, lemon and limes are my favorite thing to add to my non-alcoholic drinks. I’ll slice, dice, muddle the fruit and herbs, add them to a glass of ice water or kombucha and I’m good to go. Delicious and you can mix and match for endless flavors!
I’m also consuming a lot more tea, cinnamon and honey, which naturally fight the sugar cravings that sometimes come with alcohol detox.
Within a few days, I definitely noticed my skin looking and feeling more hydrated. Since then, bags under my eyes that plagued me for years have nearly completely disappeared. My skin is way more clear and now it truly glows from the inside, out – skin herbs or no skin herbs – to boost it!
That’s because alcohol was kiiiinda killing my skin game before. It’s a diuretic, which decreases the body’s production of the antidiuretic hormone that helps the body to reabsorb water. Your skin is the very last place water makes it to in your body, so less water in your body equals way more dehydrated skin.
Your skin will clear up in every way when you quit drinking. Ruddiness in your cheeks and around your nose may also start to fade when you drink less alcohol, and other skin conditions—such as dandruff, eczema, skin dullness, acne, puffiness, bags or rosacea—may also improve.
While I didn’t exactly have a fine wine or Blue Label habit, to assume that a bottle of wine every two weeks was not adding up, was to stick my head deep, deep into the sand. Drinking—whether you’re buying a 99 cent 40 oz or a 70 year old Merlot – is an expensive undertaking. Take a moment to crunch the numbers, adding up what you spend for drinks both at home and out on the town (factoring in tax and tip) and it will be an eye-opening—and sometimes life changing—moment.
I’ve saved a TON of money since I stopped drinking, and am already (three months later) well on my way to saving up for a VERY nice vacation. Knowing I’ll save money ON that vacation too by skipping the drinks is already making me double excited for the trip 😀
I didn’t realize how amazing never, ever, EVER having a hangover is. It’s literally the best feeling in the world. And a truly competitive edge you have in a world where most people started binge drinking at the tail end of 2016.
One recent study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found drinking before bed increases alpha wave patterns in the brain—a kind of cerebral activity that usually occurs when you’re awake but resting. The result? Disrupted sleep.
Another review of 27 studies found that while alcohol may help people fall asleep more quickly and deeply at first, it seriously screws with sleep quality after that initial restful period.
You may toss and turn a bit at first, but give up alcohol and the sleep you get will likely leave you feeling more refreshed and sharp the next day. The byproducts of better sleep: improved mood, concentration, and mental performance.
I’ve been getting much, MUCH better sleep. I’m able to wake up earlier too without the help of an alarm clock, and I find myself sleeping throughout the night better as well, instead of waking up 100 times.
Don’t let all the health events I attend and speak at fool you: there’s tons of alcohol at most of those things. In fact, I’ve hardly seen alcohol usage as pervasive as it is in the health community. Us healthy folks are, truthfully, lushy AF. We pride ourselves on our kombucha cocktails and organic mint mojitos. But is this really the best thing for our health?
The longer you go without drinking, the healthier and stronger your body becomes. (This is assuming you have no underlying health issues.)
I saw this in myself immediately.
In the last few months, I re-started my yoga practice, which I had pushed off until nighttime (and would often do with wine in my belly). I began doing my yoga flow again first thing in the morning, before taking the pups on their walk.
I’m inspired to go outside more in general, since I’m waking up earlier.
I’m drinking more water, eating better food and having more meaningful relationships and conversations with people that are not centered on or dependent on alcohol.
As an unexpected bonus, my business Is kicking ass because my head is WAY clearer. My memory has vastly improved. I’ve taken up some seriously good causes that I now have the time and energy for. And I’m sleeping SO much better. Stress-related anxiety has been much easier to control, an improvement I didn’t expect.
Quitting drinking has drastically improved my life. It’s seriously helped my self-esteem, because I’m able to be myself without the mask of drinking.
WILL I START AGAIN?
Honestly, if the fact that I haven’t taken a single solitary pharmaceutical drug for seven years is any indication to you, once I quit something, I rarely, if ever, change my mind. It’s not that I CAN’T go back. It wouldn’t ruin my life or be a relapse or put me in some dark place I can’t escape from.
But if I’ve quit something, even for a little while, it means I’ve recognized that (even if just in some small way), it’s hurting me. I’ve taken steps – sometimes many steps – in the right direction and for me, after putting in that hard work, it’s very difficult to turn around and start from square one.
The bottom line is that alcohol doesn’t make me feel good. Some other people can drink and not feel like shit. Some people can enjoy one glass of wine and not get a headache. Some people can enjoy two beers and feel unaffected.
I am not one of them. The feeling of self-control is better than any other feeling.
And I have a good reason not to start again: I can’t forget that aside from not getting me drunk, drinking alcohol made me sick.
The logic that now all of a sudden, it’s been some length of time and I won’t be intolerant to alcohol, is a naïve notion at best and harmful at worst. Alcohol is likely something I’ll have to avoid for life, and if that’s the case, it turns out I’m totally cool with it.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED… SO FAR
The ability to recognize that something is harming you is one of the most powerful gifts that we’ve been given.
I’ve learned that most people drink. And that’s okay, but it has zero bearing on what alcohol does to me.
I’ve learned to trust my intuition more and listen to my instincts.
I’ve learned that most social places – from restaurants to movie theaters to farmers markets – are steeped in a pervasive alcoholic culture. This, rather blatantly times, drives home the message that we “need to drink to loosen up”, to have fun and to be social with one another, which I believe can be super harmful in its credulousness.
I’ve learned that the streets of New York City, where I grew up (and visited for the first time totally sober in October), smells like stale beer on every block. Legit. Never. Noticed that before. I was too busy looking for the nearest bar.
I’ve learned that you don’t NEED to be an alcoholic to benefit from avoiding alcohol.
I’ve learned that alcohol’s negative impact on the body can include everything from inflammatory effects on your organs to potential damage to your DNA. Drinking in excess can also put you at risk for certain cancers, diabetes, and liver disease, among other grim conditions. Aside from the serious dangers of drinking too much, there are also a number of other not-so-pleasant effects, including lousy moods, crazy sugar cravings, excess calories, liver fat, poor sleep habits, dry skin, and foggy concentration.
I’ve learned that personally, I’d rather avoid them all.
I plan to do an update about this as I progress from 3 months to 6 months to 9 months, etc… or however long I end up sober for. So far, I’ve learned so much about myself and my body is so thankful I’m giving it a chance to relax and recover.
My only regret, so far, is that I didn’t start doing this sooner.