Written by:
Amy Collins


Expert review by:
Dr Melissa Oldham

We all know that reducing our alcohol intake can have a really positive impact on our overall health. But what does this actually mean?

Most of us are well aware of the negative impact drinking alcohol can have on our health, from the small inconveniences such as a headache the morning after, to the more detrimental at the other end of the scale. But what does science actually tell us about the how our bodies, minds and health can be positively influenced by taking a break from drinking? We are here to explore some of the research!

As the impact of alcohol is so intrinsically linked to our health, a lot of research has been conducted into how reducing or removing alcohol from our diet can help to improve a number of health risk factors. Charlet and Heinz (2016) conducted a systematic review of the research into alcohol reduction and the links to other health indicators to date, allowing us a holistic viewpoint which we will delve into in this blog post. 

I am sure you won’t be surprised to learn that as it turns out, a long term break from drinking or a significant reduction in alcohol intake over time can have some pretty incredible health related outcomes spanning a variety of different areas. 

Physical health

What we put into our bodies matters, it is how we fuel ourselves for any activities we undertake and doing so properly is important. While some studies over the years have indicated a possible link between the benefits of small volumes of alcohol and the heart, unfortunately the negative impacts on health tend to outweigh the benefits. 

Alcohol consumption is a major public health concern in the UK and across other parts of the world, particularly in light of increases in harmful drinking throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Drinking in excess was ranked globally as the seventh leading risk factor for deaths and disease in 2016, accounting for 2% of female deaths and 7% of male deaths and was labelled as the leading risk factor amongst those aged 15-49.

Review of research into alcohol reduction and physical health 

There is a dose-response relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer and many other diseases. This means that the more people drink the more likely they are to experience harms. Therefore, by reducing your consumption you are reducing the chances of experiencing poor health.

One study found that reducing alcohol consumption was an effective treatment for cardiological diseases such as cardiomyopathy and hypertension amongst those at higher risk. Another study found that cardiac function can improve by 24.4% in patients who abstained completely from alcohol, but there were also cardiovascular benefits for patients who reduced their drinking.

There is also research to suggest long term reduction of alcohol can be beneficial for your liver and reverse or slow progression of an already existing alcohol-attributed liver damage.

While not a direct physical health benefit, research also provides evidence for the link between a reduction in alcohol intake and your risk of accidental injury. It makes sense – the more present you are in your surroundings, the less likely you will be to take a tumble!

So, while you probably already knew that reducing your alcohol intake would have benefits for your overall health, it is nice to see that research can provide solid evidence for how you can make positive changes to influence your long term physical wellbeing!

Mental Health

And the research doesn’t stop there. There have also been a number of studies into the benefits of lowering your alcohol intake for your mental health. This research is arguably even more important as it highlights an area of your health that can often go unrecognised – but just because mental health is less visible than physical health, doesn’t mean you should pay any less attention!

Review of research into alcohol reduction and mental health

Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism for anxious feelings or as a means of relaxation after a long and stressful day. However, the studies included in Charlet and Heinz’s review saw an improvement in anxiety related disorders and depressive symptoms after abstention or reduction in alcohol intake. In fact, those observed in one study reported reduced feelings ofn psychosocial stress after they reduced how much alcohol they consume – even a reduction in impulsive behaviour was observed. 

This evidence is compounded by the findings that a break from drinking can positively influence an increase in self-confidence, a sense of contentment, social functioning and overall quality of life ranging from a 73% to 85% increase. This seemingly has a positive effect on interpersonal relationships as another study observed limiting alcohol intake was accompanied with a 35%-46% reduction in participants reporting relationship problems. 

In studies observing those with more severe mental health conditions, the reduction in alcohol intake led to a reduced number of psychiatric episodes and an overall reduction in the length of hospital stays. This suggests that while alcohol may not be the root cause of mental health issues, it can certainly exacerbate them – thus, by reducing your alcohol intake you in turn reduce the likelihood of experiencing symptoms.

Again, this may all be information that we have heard before – but here it is, backed by scientific studies! By reducing your alcohol intake, you are giving your mind the best chance for it to thrive. 

Socioeconomic impacts 

And of course, if there are improvements and benefits observed in both physical and mental health, this will likely have an influence on those around us and our place within society. 

Review of research into alcohol reduction and socioeconomic impacts

In one particular study discussed in this review, an 8% reduction was observed in work related problems, there were 28% less overall health related issues, a 50% reduction in alcohol related driving incidents and 33% less concerns were raised about participants after they had reduced their alcohol intake. 

Studies also show an increase in overall workplace productivity likely due to less time being spent dealing with workplace conflicts or alcohol related distractions. This is very important as alcohol has a huge economic cost, in 2006 alcohol cost employers in the UK up to £7.3 billion due to lost productivity, absenteeism and accidents.

What does this mean?

While many of the studies discussed in this blog post varied between different levels of alcohol reduction and abstinence, the general consensus across the board is that by limiting the volumes of alcohol consumed, there is significant evidence to suggest harm reduction in a number of important areas of physical, mental and social health. 

This is empowering news, especially for those embarking on the beginnings of their alcohol-free challenge. You have the power and opportunity to take back control of your health and make positive changes to benefit your quality of life in the long term. If you haven’t get started your alcohol-free challenge, why not dip your toe in the water with our 5-day free challenge

 

Article sources:

Harm reduction—a systematic review on effects of alcohol reduction on physical and mental symptoms Katrin Charlet & Andreas Heinz (2016)

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