Sober October: Can A Month Off From Alcohol Really Improve Your Life?

Photographed by Kara Birnbaum.
In a world where some are calling sobriety a “wellness trend,” and people buy into food and fitness 30-day challenges, it shouldn’t be surprising that folks are using the month of October as an excuse to get sober. These days, people don’t just cut out alcohol because of addiction or for religious reasons. Many are abstaining for their health. But it can be harder to commit to swearing off pinot noir if you’re not quitting for a specific reason with a duration in mind. Enter: Sober October

What is sober October? 

Sober October is the new and more poetic Dry January. It involves cutting out alcohol for 31 days, often for charity. Around a decade ago, the Australian youth health organization Life Education raised money by creating the fundraiserOcsober.” Similarly, Go Sober For October is a UK charity that raised £5m for Macmillan Cancer Support in 2017, The Guardian reported. Although it’s based in England, anyone can sign up and participate. 
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What are the rules for doing sober October?  

The rules are pretty simple. First, and most obvious, you don’t drink alcohol. Many people raise money for charity as they do it, and can pay to take a day off from sobriety. For special occasions such as a fall wedding or Halloween, Go Sober For October offers “golden ticket” that lets you skip a day for a minimum £15 donation. 
Some people who are doing sober October just for fun, and not for charity, create their own rules. Some people may give up drugs in addition to alcohol, or other habits like ordering takeout or using social media. Others stick to just alcohol.

What can I do instead of drinking?

This is a really common question people have when they're considering forgoing alcohol for a month. The answer? Literally anything! You can catch up on your before-bed reading. You can try your hand at some complex recipes. You can have an at-home spa night. You can call some friends you haven't spoken to in a while (especially that one who always keeps you on the phone for hours). You can go to museums, if they're starting to open in your area. You can take some long walks. You can start a 30-day yoga challenge. You can try new workouts. You can buy a massive jigsaw puzzle. You can take up quilting (which I think will become the "new knitting").
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It's probably easier than ever to give up drinking right now, when the bar scene is pretty non-existent due to the pandemic. But if there are activities you normally do while drinking — say, a Netflix Party night with your friends — you may want to avoid them for the first few days if you're worried about feeling compelled to drink. Or just stock up on La Croix or the mocktail of your choice (ginger beer, anyone?) and do it anyway, but sober. You may find you have even more fun, since you're able to be fully present.

Are there health benefits to going sober for a month? 

Hillary Cecere, MS, RDN at Eat Clean Bro, says two of the biggest benefits of abstaining are improved sleep and healthier food choices. “Drinking alcohol results in a low quality sleep,” she says. “Without adequate sleep, decision making, memory, and learning abilities are impaired.” 
Nutritionally, she writes that drinking may activate a part of the brain that controls hunger. “Drunk eating is for real!” she says. “You’re more likely to feel hungrier during or after drinking and make unhealthy food choices.” 
She notes that alcohol also impacts the brain’s communication pathways, as well as the digestive system and liver. “The liver is responsible for detoxifying and removing alcohol from the blood,” Cecere says. “Over time, this process can lead to a condition known as fatty liver.” 

Is it worth trying sober October?

Cecere says yes, if only as an experiment to see what your body can do without booze. “I think in one sober month, there can be long term effects,” Cecere says. “One of the biggest effects is a better awareness of a person’s relationship with alcohol. There’s also a sense of accomplishment that [can lead to] lasting changes.  More moderate or heavy drinkers may notice higher energy levels, weight loss, and even a stronger immune system.” 
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One study out of the University of Sussex found that eliminating alcohol for a month had long-lasting effects. Based on data from people who completed Dry January, researchers found that giving up alcohol for a month reduced their number of days they drank later in the year. 
With that said, one month of detoxing won’t be a total body reset. A 2018 study published in the BMJ  looked into how taking a month off alcohol could positively impact health. The results were generally encouraging. At the end of the month, the study found that their subjects’ blood pressure and weight went down, and their insulin resistance (which can be a marker for diabetes) improved by 25%. However, the research, which looked at moderate to heavy drinkers, found that the benefits would be undone if the person returned to drinking as usual after their month off. 
Still, even if you follow sober October with Negroni November, you’re giving your body a break, which is a good thing. And since Halloween is expected to be pretty tame this year, you have nothing to lose.

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