The benefits (and downsides) surprised them—and it might surprise you too.

Blake Bakkila
February 09, 2018

Until last month, I did not fully understand the effects of alcohol. Sure, I’d experienced a tipsy night out and enjoyed the next day’s lovely hangover. But when I gave up alcohol (one of many rules of the Whole30 program, which I did in January), I gradually became aware of how much things change when you part with your Pinot noir.

I definitely experienced health perks: I was able to focus my energy on quality catch-ups over coffee, didn’t have liquor-induced late night cravings, and made it to more morning workout classes than usual. Yet what shocked me was how much my social life shifted over the course of 30 days.

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A friend’s request to meet for a “quick drink” led to my long explanation about my no-alcohol decision, and the few times I made an effort to meet friends at a bar were pretty exhausting. (Seltzer with lime is not a vodka Redbull). One time, I even purposely withheld the fact that I was abstaining from a friend who wanted to meet at his favorite pub. I didn't want him to feel awkward or pressured to change the location.

I’ll admit I went slightly overboard and scarfed down one too many slices of pizza after my first post–Whole30 night out. But saying no to alcohol provided enough benefits to make me want to drink less and do more with my day. Don’t just listen to me—here’s what Health staffers and contributors had to say about their month going booze-free, whether it was because of Whole30 or their own desire to see what it would be like.

"I was more productive on weekends because I wasn't drunk-eating pizza"

“I was doing Whole30, so this was the first time I ever attempted abstaining from alcohol for an extended period of time. At first, it felt empowering that I could attend social events without using wine as a crutch. Plus, I was more productive on the weekends because I wasn’t drunk-eating pizza. I also wasn’t hungover, so I had more time to cook healthy meals. Then during my last week sans alcohol, all I wanted was a drink. More than the drinking itself, I missed the process of getting ready for a big night out and having my friends over for a chat and a few beers before going to our favorite bar. Now that my month is over, I think I’ll drink with more moderation, but I won’t give it up completely.” —Julia Naftulin

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"I saved money and lost weight—but friends pushed me to sip"

“For me, abstaining from alcohol just makes me feel better in general. The older I get, the harder it is to bounce back after a night of drinking, which means the next day I am either stuck in bed or floating around in a hazy state. Plus, cocktails in New York City are expensive. If I stop drinking those $17 margaritas at brunch (I have at least two) every week, that’s $136 I am saving each month. Cutting out liquor will help you lose weight. Now, I’m not talking Revenge Body pounds here, but you’ll certainly notice a difference. That said, there is one drawback to going dry, and it’s how some of your friends will react. A lot of them will just think you are weird. And some will try and push you to just take a sip. My tip: Quietly order a seltzer and cranberry—it looks just like a vodka and cranberry and you can at least fake it until you make it.”  —Rozalynn S. Frazier

"It helped my anxiety and depression, and I couldn't stand being around drunk friends"

“I had never tried to do a dry January before I went on Whole30, and while I thought the overwhelming FOMO would drive me crazy, it was actually a great experience. I quickly found that I couldn’t stand being around super drunk friends, so I limited my socializing. But it was worth it for the effects abstaining had on my body. Not only was I able to get up early the next day and hit the gym or get errands out of the way, but I felt that sobriety had a huge impact on my mood. Normally, I struggle with anxiety and depression, and after a night of drinking I often find myself with what I call an emotional hangover—grogginess that is more mental than it is physical. When I wasn’t drinking, all of those wasted weekend mornings disappeared, and I found my mood was better throughout the entire week because of it.”  —Nora Horvath

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"I spent more time with my daughter connecting, not battling"

“I’ve lived most of my adult life, with the exception of pregnancy, bookending my days with caffeine and at least one or two giant glasses of wine after work. And my tolerance was such that I thought nothing of polishing a bottle of wine at a party. So I figured I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of giving booze up entirely before I start more seriously considering whether I had a problem with alcohol.

“For the first three days, that after-work glass of wine was all I could think about and if I even caught a whiff of sugar in my vicinity, I would hunt it down and devour it. Yet I was sleeping through the night, and waking up a hell of a lot clearer. I also broke out; it was like my skin was detoxing too. Another change was the way I was attacking my Pilates classes; suddenly I was ripping through them with energy I'd only read about. By week two, I was humble-bragging that I was sober two weeks and probably didn’t need to drink ever again. But by week three, despite feeling good, sleeping more, waking rested, and dropping about 5 pounds, I started longing for wine again. And I had to severely curtail my socializing so that I wouldn’t be triggered into drinking. 

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“Thirty days of not drinking did do some things as promised: I had more energy. I slept deeper, and I woke less often. I dropped a few pounds. I spent more time with my teenage daughter connecting and listening, not battling. And maybe my skin was a little fresher in the end. I've been drinking very little since; maybe every other day or two, I’ll have a single small glass of wine. And I’m cool with it. Now, on to coffee...” —Andrea Dunham