What happens to your body when you give up alcohol? How Sober October can benefit health, and how to take part

Thousands of people in the UK give up alcohol every October as part of cancer charity Macmillan’s sobriety challenge

Sober October 2021 has got underway with thousands of people across the UK giving up alcohol for the month.

According to the annual event’s founder and organiser Macmillan Cancer Support, more than 33,600 people have signed up to the official challenge in 2021. Thousands of others are likely to be taking part unofficially.

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So what happens when you give up alcohol for a month?

Better sleeping patterns

Alcohol education charity Drinkaware said those consuming more than 14 units per week were at risk of two particular sleep issues.

Firstly, they were likely to be missing out on the restorative Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep, which can impact energy levels the following day.

Secondly, they were also more likely to have disturbed sleep. Having a lot of alcohol not only makes you need the toilet more often during the night but it also relaxes your muscles to the extent you could become more susceptible to snoring.

Drinkaware said going sober for even a few days a week could bring about better sleep.

Fellow charity Alcohol Change UK reported that a survey it did after Dry January - the other notable sobriety challenge of the calendar year - found 70% of participants enjoyed better sleep with another 66% enjoying better energy levels, having completed the challenge.

Beer and cider are particularly high in calories, meaning Sober October participants are likely to shed some weight (image: Shutterstock)

Weight loss

Pretty much everything we eat and drink contains calories and booze is no exception.

According to Drinkaware figures, the average pint of beer weighs in at 182 calories while a typical pint of cider will see you take on 216 calories.

Furthermore, the charity said alcohol contains seven calories a gram which is almost the same as pure fat. But unlike fat, it said these calories carried no nutritional benefits to humans.

Cutting out alcohol is therefore a good way of maintaining a healthy weight, Drinkaware stated.

Long-term health

An alcohol-free month could also put you on a path to improving your health in the years ahead, a 2018 study has shown.

The research, conducted by the Royal Free Hospital and published in the British Medical Journal, found cutting your intake for a month: lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, reduced the risk of diabetes and also cut the levels of cancer building blocks in the blood.

But the research added a caveat - while a month off booze made people healthier, these benefits were likely to be lost should people return to their previous lifestyle.

Are there any other benefits?

Besides improving your physical and mental health, Macmillan Cancer Support said participants of Sober October were also likely to have a healthier bank balance.

According to pub trade publication, The Morning Advertiser, the average pint went up in price by 24p to £3.94 in 2020, and pubs in some areas now routinely charge £6 per pint, so abstainers could find themselves saving a lot of money.

Also, with no hangovers on the horizon, Macmillan said Sober October participants would find they had more time on their hands to head to morning gym classes or try out the breakfast menu at their local cafe.

How can I get involved in Sober October 2021?

People wishing to take part in the official challenge can sign up on the Macmillan Cancer Support website. Should you not wish to give up alcohol for a full month, there are 21- and 14-day options.

Participants have been encouraged to raise money for the charity, with £993k raised thus far.

Those not wishing to take part in the official challenge can still give it a go. Or, if October doesn’t seem like the right month to go sober, you could give Dry January 2022 a go.

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