Giving up alcohol for a month might seem like a horrific idea to some, but as Bill McCarthy discovered, it does have its obvious – and not so obvious – benefits:
The dry mouth, the throbbing temples and the rheumy eyes staring back from the mirror. The picture of Dorian Gray? No, it’s the real thing.
It was nearly a month after going on the wagon and the supposed early morning benefits were yet to kick in. It felt oddly like a hangover, despite a good night’s sleep.
On the other hand, it could have been that cold that had been hanging on for days. Never mind, a quick shower would remedy all of that.
Whatever the reason for that odd feeling, unlike many who decide to give up the demon drink after the excesses of the festive season I, and surprisingly the other half, have just about seen the month through.
Fair enough, it’s a bit of cheat as February is a short month. But at least it gives you time to get used to the idea of abstinence rather than going for broke on New Year’s Day and seeing the latest resolution fail miserably just days later.
To be honest, we both like a drink and, occasionally, imbibe a bit like a sea dweller with gills. But consumption is by no means excessive.
Well, I don’t think it is.
But what is the attraction of alcohol? It can be addictive and you are paying out good money to effectively poison your body and leave yourself open to problems like obesity, liver and kidney problems, heart disease and diabetes.
The excuses for succumbing are numerous and predictable – stressful job; the kids have been a nightmare; financial problems – all are easy excuses to pop a cork, unscrew a cap or walk to the local. And if you like your sport and are unwilling to spend another arm and a a leg on TV sport channels, you can kid yourself you are getting it for free at the pub, despite then spending a fortune on booze.
But it can be a release from day-to-day tensions, giving a sense of well-being – and the pub is a good place to meet friends and socialise.
However, after perhaps a little to much socialising and an overabundance of well-being, we both decided to give it a break for a while, shed a few pounds, save a few quid and see whatever health benefits manifested themselves.
They soon became apparent, some immediately and others gradually. The immediate bonus is the amount of money saved. Just one pint and a glass of wine can cost a couple nearly £7.
Have a couple and do that three, four or five times a week and you are kissing goodbye to around £70, that’s nearly £300 per month.
Just think what else that could be spent on.
It doesn’t mean you have to avoid the pub. We both found it fairly easy to have a soda and lime or a cup of coffee and at 30p a time, the soda and lime proved particularly attractive. The down side is the alcohol-fuelled jokes from the pub wags seem less funny – or not funny at all.
The health benefits are more gradual. For me it means starting to lose a little weight, just a little, without having to try anything else and sleep in a less troubled affair, even if I am conscious of having to be awake at 5am. My wife thinks there has been no effect on her but she is losing the pounds and sleeping much better. She is also smoking less.
For those with other health problems like blood pressure, a spell off the booze reaps rewards and the liver and kidneys are grateful for a break from being constantly battered.
And although some refuse to believe it, it made me a little less grumpier – and it’s nice that medical experts agree.
Dr Ann Jaron, a GP at Sherwood House Medical Practice in Sandon Road, Edgbaston, said a month without alcohol could spark benefits including weightloss and improved sleep and demeanour.
“It all depends how much the person was drinking in the first place,” she said.
“But many people will find their mind is more focused and their sleeping patterns become more regular,” she said.
“It’s likely they will have more energy because they are not walking around with toxins in their nerves and muscles.
“It’s less likely that person will be dehydrated so their overall mood will be better. A lot of people who drink a lot find they have upset bowels so they might find their bowels are more regulated.”
But she added: “It’s important that when that person does resume drinking, they don’t return straight to their previous drinking levels because by then their liver will have switched off a few enzymes and they will probably find it will affect them much more.
“Alcohol is a toxin and in the short term it damages nerves. People who have drunk alcohol fall over, they slur their words.
“The body is really good at recovering, but if you keep throwing insult at it, there will eventually be permanent damage.”
Wise words of advice and both of us think the dry spell was well worth the effort. It showed willpower that one of us thought they didn’t have, a healthier bank balance and a bit more of a spring in the step. The hard bit is now keeping it sensible.
So far, so good. Now I’m off to the pub.