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Drying Out: Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

Bridgette W. Gotwald, LPC, NCC

Alcohol. That’s a word that will quickly grab the attention of many members of our society. It’s hard to believe that we’re already half way through 2020, and the year has quickly gotten away from us. In countless of my clients’ first sessions of the new year, numerous people were thrilled to tell me that they are engaging in dry January. A new year starts, people are inspired and ready for new beginnings and improved living habits. But what about enjoying improved living habits at different times throughout the year? 

Statistically, one in five people participate in dry January, and 21% of people consider it. I like to remind my clients that it’s never too late for a fresh start, and January isn’t the only opportunity to do this. We are creatures of habit and pattern interruption can be a really healthy thing. This life is what you make it, and if you have ever gotten to a place where you have created a life that you aren’t proud of, one of the hardest parts is mustering up the courage to start over, but it can be done. Abstaining from alcohol, adjusting your habits, or simply just taking a break, might affect you in more beneficial ways than you think. 

Sure, a cold drink at the end of the day is nice and relaxing. It takes the edge off and can be an end-of-the-day autopilot escape. But if this drinking is occurring to mute a deeper pain in your life, you owe it to yourself to go there, experience that pain and ask yourself why and where this is coming from, which can be really scary. There are ways that you can take the edge off without alcohol, they just might not be as easy as pouring a glass of wine or cracking open a beer. Avoiding alcohol forces you to show yourself more love, and think about ways you can do that without relying on a crutch. You will quickly learn that you can do hard things, all by yourself. You will likely find out more about yourself, and how to handle stress differently. Below you will find some alternative ideas, as well as benefits that occur when cutting back on, or refraining from alcohol. 

How Do I Take the Edge Off Without Alcohol? 

The mind loves easy, effortless ways to relax and wind down. However, the more mindless we become, the more negative results we will get. We want to think about creating instead of consuming. Creating fun takes more energy, but gives you more positive results.  Here are some examples of ways to healthily relax and decompress, without alcohol. 

  • Exercising or taking a walk 
  • Watch a funny, mindless show 
  • Making art, crafts or music 
  • Reading
  • Writing 
  • Singing
  • Dancing
  • Meditation
  • Cooking

Weight Loss 

This one likely won’t surprise you. Less alcohol means less sugar, and less sugar results in an easier time fighting those stubborn pounds that won’t come off the scale. Alcohol provides the body with empty calories, thus they have little nutrients. Also, alcohol effects judgment calls, especially when it comes to food. Alcohol can trigger hunger signals in the brain and lead you to make poor diet decisions in the heat of the moment. 

Improved Skin 

Within just a couple of weeks, it’s likely that the appearance of your skin will be improved when you cut out alcohol. Pores shrink, skin feels smoother, and flesh seems to be less puffy and inflamed. Our skin craves hydration, and alcohol takes away from that. It creates a simple equation that looks like this: Less or no alcohol = a more hydrated body on the inside and outside + clear, hydrated skin.

Better Sleep Habits 

Alcohol affects the quality, and quantity of sleep, and it creates a battle of sleep rhythms. Alcohol within your system while sleeping blocks rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, can aggravate breathing patterns, and lead to extra trips to the bathroom. REM sleep is considered the “most restorative type of sleep” and your circadian rhythm is interrupted with alcohol, even though it might cause you to initially fall asleep faster. 


Feeling like you are in a funk but don’t know why? That’s okay, it happens. An amazing way to have a sharp mind, is to abstain from alcohol. Take a break until you feel level headed and clear minded. “Moderation” with alcohol can mean different things for different people: for some, it means not drinking at all, for others, it means avoiding indulging in consecutive nights of drinking in a row, or only drinking on the weekends. Whatever that looks like for you, the point is to find what suits you best, because everyone is different and everyone’s reactions to alcohol are specific to that person. 


Often, feelings of anxiety and rebound occur after extended periods of drinking – I refer to this as “hangxiety.” This happens because alcohol dumps a flood of dopamine into the pleasure center of the brain. This “feel good” chemical swirls through your head, but it’s only temporary. When dopamine levels go back down to normal, an increased amount of anxiety can occur, which leads to negative or irrational thinking. 

Amazing things can happen with a clear mind, an open heart, and willingness to break unhealthy routines. Time to refresh, restart, re-boot, clear-out and dry out. Your best self is within you, it’s all about accessing, discovering and unleashing that part of you. 

If you would like to talk to a licensed therapist, contact Symmetry Counseling to see how we can help. We offer in-person sessions and online counseling in Chicago to support you.


Tartakovsky, M. (2018). How to unwind without a glass of wine. Psych Central. Retrieved from: 

The Sleep Foundation. (2020). Retrieved from:

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