This is NOT an article about not drinking for two years, or about substance abuse. I am writing this based on personal experience of developing a bad habit of drinking too frequently in the afternoons and evenings, even though it did not appear to have a negative impact because I was not getting drunk.
There is a large group of people out where who are casual drinkers, who probably drink more frequently than they intended. I, for one, thought a glass or two of wine daily was good for me, years ago when I started the habit. Of course, that usually turned into 3-5 glasses in an evening.
Over the last year, I have stopped entirely for a few weeks and then gone back to drinking again, several times. This has given me a real insight into the positive outcomes of cutting way back on alcohol. I have good data because I wear a fitness tracker and pay attention to the data. I also run a business and am acutely aware of productivity. Not just butt in seat time, but actually getting shit done.
One important point about this is that one day, either drinking or stopping drinking, is just a blip with little effect. What I mean by that is the positive effects I list below get stronger the longer you do not drink, and if one day you have a couple of drinks, but do not “start back up” drinking regularly, you are not going to lose all the progress you make. This article is about changing your trend of drinking from regularly to rarely, and these effects will show themselves over time.
When drinking regularly, I would never work at night unless there was a client emergency. In fact, sometimes I would have a drink at 3 or 4 and really not do much but read the news in the afternoon. One I stopped drinking for more than a week, I actually got rather bored in the afternoons and became much more productive. When working on projects I enjoyed, I would even work late into the evening because I liked the work, I was focused, and I was making money. This added thousands of dollars to my revenue per month and I became better at getting things done and learning new things.
As someone who is not in their 20’s anymore, losing weight and keeping weight off is more difficult. I would say I eat extremely healthy compared to average, but alcohol leads to eating more other carbs, and that leads to steady weight gain and difficulty losing it again. The best example is recently I went on a slow-carb diet where I cut out obvious carbs. I know I can lose weight very steadily on this diet, as I have done it before. In the first couple of days, not drinking, I lost nearly 6lb. Then a negative experience with someone gave me an excuse to have a drink, which led to 4 days of drinking wine again steadily. Even though the diet remained perfect, I gained 2lb during that time. The only difference was the wine, and it was not excessive. Three days of cutting out the wine resulted in another 5lb of weight loss. Especially if you are a little older, you simply cannot lose weight while drinking alcohol.
This should come as no surprise to anyone, but on average, you sleep better when you are not drinking regularly. There are other factors like exercise, but alcohol does affect sleep, and sleep is critical to your health and wellbeing. What I found is that actually, drinking can help you fall asleep faster in the evening, but the issue is that you get a lower quality of sleep and for me, I frequently woke up at 3 AM not feeling great, and at that point, I would have trouble going back to sleep. This often resulted in only 5 hours of sleep or less overall. Not drinking would result in about 6.5 hours of sleep or better. This is tracked in the smart device I wear and is based on data, not my personal opinion.
For years, I rarely miss a day of getting a good 4-mile walk in, at a minimum. While not intense, I prefer the low impact regularity of it, and I play tennis and am active in other things as well. While drinking I did do all these things. But by not drinking I did them better. It basically came down to feeling better and simply skipping fewer days, because I didn’t have the excuse of feeling sore or crappy. The net might only be 10% more exercise when not drinking, but 10% more exercise over a year adds up to a lot more fitness activity.
People that go out and drink spend a lot per month. Over time, I really started just drinking to relax at home, which resulted in my only spending $200 to $300 a month on alcohol. While not outrageous, that is over $3,000 a year which could have been invested, used to fix up something in the house, or reduce high-interest debt. It is not a game-changer, but should not be ignored either. Once I stopped spending money on alcohol, I felt a little freer to splurge on things for myself and my family, because I knew I was saving all that money.
One interesting data point to keep an eye on when you drink is your resting heart rate. This was the most obvious change that occurred right away. The resting heart rate reduction and increase would happen the very next day when I would start drinking or stop drinking. Typically, I was in the Good range anyway because I exercise and eat well. However, there was a range from 65 to 80 and the single thing that made the biggest impact was alcohol. Drinking would result in a cumulative 2 point a day increase of about 10 total points if I drink 5 days straight. Not drinking would result in a loss of 1 – 2 points per day. High 70’s when I drink, mid 60’s when I do not. Why is this important? Less stress on your heart, and it is probably one of the reasons you also sleep better. I am no doctor, but this is an obvious data point that you can see very easily.
When you start drinking in the afternoon, you tend to relax and chill. Occasionally this is great. But if you are doing this multiple times per week, you are probably feeling like you cannot get stuff done. The reality is the afternoons seem boring when you stop drinking, at first, because you are still alert and have energy. Over time you will start getting more done at this time and it will seem like your day has many more hours to achieve your goals and get tasks done.
Making positive changes is difficult no matter what. When you are drinking alcohol regularly, you are less likely to make a positive change or develop new good habits. The fact is, in the evenings your willpower will go down due to drinking. When your willpower goes down, you start making excuses in your head to do something you are trying not to do (eat sweets) or not do something you are trying to do (go to the gym). If you want to develop good habits, try doing them one at a time and start with reducing your drinking to special occasions or one specific day a week, at most. Then when you add more habits you want to develop, you won’t let alcohol sabotage the effort.
Tips to Reduce Drinking
- Substitute Other Liquids – I find I am accustomed to having a beverage and sipping it. When I keep a glass of water, unsweetened decaf iced tea, or decaf hot tea with me in the evenings it really reduces my urge to drink alcohol.
- Don’t Keep It In The House – This way when you have a bad day, and really want a drink, you have to go out and buy it. This won’t stop you all the time, but sometimes it will.
- Change Habits with Friends – One friend of mine always wanted to go out for drinks. I started to offer to meet him for breakfast instead, and while we are still friends, we see each other a lot less because he was more interested in a drinking buddy and not as interested in getting together often.
- Avoid Labels – Whether you are an Alcoholic, a Social Drinker, an Abuser of Alcohol, a Weekend Binge Drinker, or you just drink to relax is not really the point. The point is you have to be clear you would like to make a change and stick to a reduction or elimination of alcohol.
- Track progress – I found an app called LESS – Alcohol Tracker that is very light, no groups, and does not sell anything. It just tracks your days without drinking to encourage you to keep streaks up.
- Don’t let a drink trick you – When you have one drink, realize your mind will start saying “You already had one, might as well have another…” and the same might go from one day to the next, with reasoning like “You already messed up the week, might as well enjoy it and drink again today.” Or you might even just hear that little voice in your head “…it’s Thursday night…it’s Friday… it’s Saturday … I just mowed the lawn and it is so hot… “ Practice shutting down those excuses your head makes because it is trying to trick you into having “one more drink.”
- Seek Treatment – if you are struggling to make a change that sticks, seek treatment. It is a struggle for many people, and some need more help than others. The change is worth it.
I hope this article is useful to you. Please remember I am neither a doctor, psychologist, addiction specialist, or any form of a health expert. These are just my personal observations over time. I will still have a drink occasionally, but the more I reflect on what drinking does to me, the less I feel inclined to easily go back to drinking most days of the week. You are really gaining more time in your day, and more years to live. You cannot buy more life with money, but you can through your actions.