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I’m still not drinking, and I can feel a difference.

| By Sangeeta Kocharekar | Journal

I Gave up Drinking for a Year – Here’s How It Affected My Mind and Mood

I’m still not drinking, and I can feel a difference.

Like many, I woke up on New Year’s Day 2023 with a horrible hangover. My mouth was dry. I felt dizzy when I got out of bed. And my mind was racing. What had I done the night before? Did I need to apologise to anyone? Had I said anything embarrassing?

Prior to this, I had considered stopping drinking for the month of January. But to be honest, the hangover from New Year’s Day ended up knocking me so hard that I couldn’t even think about taking a sip of alcohol for the first week anyway. The next three weeks without a drink flew by, and before I knew it, it was February and I decided I still wasn’t ready to start drinking again. So, I took another month off. And then another. And another.

Since I started drinking as a teen, I’d never gone a month without a drink. Now I’ve gone over a year. It’s now February 2024, and I’m still not drinking, and I can feel a difference. Here’s how giving up alcohol for a year affected my mind and mood.

How does alcohol affect mental health?

I reached out to Carly Dober, a psychologist and EMDR-trained therapist, at Enriching Lives Psychology, to ask how alcohol affects mental health. She says it impacts the mind much more than we even realize.

“In the short-term, alcohol might make people feel more confident, outgoing and like they are managing their issues or stressors,” she says. “This impact is temporary, though, as when the effects of alcohol in our system wears off, we can experience alcohol withdrawal.”

That was certainly the case with me – days after drinking, I’d feel like I was wearing a heavy cloak of sadness. This makes sense given alcohol can lower the serotonin levels in your brain. If you’re not familiar with serotonin, it’s the chemical essential for regulating mood.

“Alcohol is a depressant, which can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters – chemical messengers – in your brain, affecting your feelings, thoughts and behavior,” says Dober.

“The chemical changes in your brain can lead to more negative feelings, such as anger, depression or anxiety, regardless of your mood. In the long term, alcohol uses up and reduces the number of neurotransmitters in our brains, which is concerning as we need a certain level to ward off anxiety and depression.”

If all this has scared you enough to try at least giving up drinking for one month this year, know that you won’t only get the benefits of feeling less sluggish and anxious and having loads more energy, but you’ll also get a confidence boost from achieving the goal.

If you continue and manage to do a year off the booze, you’ll likely notice marked increases in mood, energy, emotional regulation and stress management skills, says Dober. You’ll also be continuing to give your brain a well-deserved break from having to fight off toxins.

“We all know that the brain has a remarkable ability to repair and strengthen itself when given the opportunity to do so,” says Dober. “This is called neuroplasticity. However, this also really depends on what the level of alcohol use was, the damage that was caused either to your health or to your relationships and what support you were able to access when changing your behaviors.”

Dober says she highly recommends people seek support from a psychologist if they’re unable to stop drinking, feel like they can’t engage in life or activities without a drink or use drinking to cope and want to change this. “It can be challenging, but it absolutely can be done,” she says.

I’m a testament to that.

I had the most fulfilling year of my life and I think quitting alcohol played a major role in that. I’m more reliable as a worker, friend, family member and patient because there’s zero chance I’ll flake or arrive super late because of a hangover. I’m not an anxious mess anymore on weekend mornings. And probably one of my favourite outcomes: I rarely feel gloomy for no reason, like how I used to on Mondays and Tuesdays after a big weekend of drinking.

Last year, I would repeatedly tell my friends: “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been”. I really was – and still am. I finally have stable moods, and now, when I do feel sad or anxious, I can confidently say, it’s not because of something silly I did, like having a few too many the night before. It’s not because of a poison I drank. I’m constantly asked when I’ll start drinking again, and I always answer: “When the benefits of drinking outweigh those that come with not.” I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, you can also speak to your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.

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