People enjoying coffee outside.
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  • This month some people will abstain from alcohol for all 31 days in honor of Sober October
  • The term started in the UK as a way to benefit a cancer center.
  • Experts say taking a break from alcohol, even temporarily, can help your overall health.

This month some people around the globe will be giving up alcohol in honor of Sober October.

The idea of Sober October actually started in the United Kingdom as a way to raise money for people with cancer.

It’s a 31-day challenge and money raised goes to help Macmillan Cancer Support. But even if you do not participate in the official challenge, Sober October is a good way to help reset the body and to help you reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.

What happens to the body when you abstain from alcohol for 30 days?

“There are many improved health effects that happen as a result of giving up alcohol for a month,” said Ashley Loeb Blassingame, co-founder and Chief People Officer of Lionrock Recovery. “While some are person-specific, many are universal, such as greatly improved sleep, improved memory, better immune function, and reduced risk of cancer.”

Some people also experience cardiovascular improvement and weight loss. 

“In general, after four weeks, an improved immune system and memory, mood changes, weight loss, clearer skin, a lack of impulsivity and behavioral changes are some of the advantages of eliminating alcohol for a short period of time,” said Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, Chief Medical Officer for American Addiction Centers. “There are also neurological benefits of abstaining from alcohol. Some can be seen within a week of alcohol cessation, but are much more noticeable after a month’s time.”

Changing the relationship with substances

Sober October presents a unique opportunity to assess our relationships with whatever substances we gravitate toward. Giving up alcohol or marijuana for 30 days can have a dramatic effect on our day-to-day lives.

Staying sober for a month can break an addictive cycle and can also force us to sit with whatever emotions come up in the process, rather than masking them with substances.

“Many people decide that abstinence is working for them and want to continue on and see what other benefits might come as a result of their experiment,” said Loeb Blassingame. “This leads some people to full-on sobriety and others to longer periods of sober exploration.”

The important part, she notes, is that there has to be a long enough break in the cycle for the brain to create new neural pathways.

“The value is in breaking the cycle and creating an extended experience of abstinence that demonstrates to the brain that the idea is viable. Additionally, it gives people enough time to reexamine their relationship with alcohol and attempt to have better boundaries around it when they choose to return,” she said. “What we do know is that people who are unable to commit and sustain a period of 30 days abstinence are likely working on a more significant problem with substance use.”

“In terms of alcohol, it’s important for individuals to honestly assess the role that alcohol consumption plays in their lives. Remain aware of when alcohol is consumed and why. Is a drink needed after work, or does consumption increase over the weekend? Being mindful of these things can help identify a pattern in behavior that can shed light on a potentially problematic relationship that may require treatment,” said Weinstein.

Why are younger generations less likely to drink?

Even outside of October, young people appear to be drinking less. The new generation of college-age Americans is opting out of beer pong and opting in to abstinence from alcohol.

“Younger generations have not bought into the idea that they must consume alcohol in order to be seen as cool,” said Loeb Blassingame. “The willingness to conform to the millennial drinking culture has shifted and abstaining from alcohol is more and more normal.”

According to research published in JAMA Pediatrics, between 2002 and 2018, the number of adults aged 18 to 22 in the U.S. who do not consume alcohol increased to 28 percent, up from 20 percent. The percentage was up 30 percent from 24 percent for those who are not in college.

While the study did not explore the reasons why young Americans are decreasing their alcohol intake, experts have a few theories. The authors of this study, for example, suggest that these changes could be associated with the increase in the number of people in that age group who still live at home.

“I also believe that younger generations are more isolated and inundated by content from the internet that is interwoven into the fabric of their lives,” said Loeb Blassingame. “As a result, I think that younger people are more comfortable smoking or ingesting cannabis alone, increasing its popularity.”

“Some Gen Z consumer insights have found that many in that generation are concerned with the way alcohol impacts their mood, level of alertness and even their social media image,” said Weinstein. “Drinking to this group is more about socializing whereas millennials tend to drink alcohol in order to relax. There has also been some research that indicates that Gen Z is a bit more health-conscious.”

The research also found that though young Americans are decreasing the amount they drink, there has been a rise in the co-use of alcohol and marijuana. Marijuana use increased from 27 percent to 31 percent among college students between 2002 and 2018, and 26 to 30 percent for those not in college.

The study did not show that the use of marijuana was necessarily problematic, but experts believe that using marijuana is not necessarily “better” than drinking. Marijuana use disorder is four to seven times more likely to develop in individuals who begin using the drug before age 18.

“The narrative that cannabis is relatively harmless is one that persists from when THC potency was around 2 percent in the 70s and 80s,” said Loeb Blassingame. “Between 1995 and 2015, there was a 212 percent increase in THC content in marijuana.”

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