It's only natural that, as your life circumstances change, your drinking habits change as well. Anne Hathaway knows the feeling—now that she has a 3-year-old son, she's done drinking for the foreseeable future.
"I quit drinking back in October," she recently said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. When asked if this was her plan forever, she replied, "For 18 years. I’m going to stop drinking while my son is in my house just because I don’t totally love the way I do it, and he’s getting to an age where he really does need me all the time in the mornings." Hathaway also told the story of how she struggled with dropping her son off at school after drinking the night before and didn’t feel great about it. "I wasn’t driving, but I was hungover—and that was enough for me," she said.
Giving up alcohol (or just cutting back on it) for a set period of time can have its perks.
Hathaway is hardly the first person to do this. For instance, many people are currently at the tail end of Dry January (where they ditch alcohol for the month) and plenty of others have given up alcohol for a bit when they start a new medication, begin therapy, or try out a new eating plan.
“Like any unhealthy habit, people find all kinds of positive effects from abstaining from something for a period of time,” David Streem, M.D., medical director of the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center at the Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF.
You may notice some health benefits such as better sleep, being more hydrated, and avoiding any potential hangovers you might have otherwise experienced, Jamie Alan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, tells SELF. And, mentally, there's something to be said for proving to yourself that you can go without drinking and be just fine or learning to develop healthier coping mechanisms along the way.
While you’re trying out sobriety, it can be helpful to evaluate things in real time.
Before you even start, Dr. Streem recommends figuring out your motivation. Maybe you’re feeling low on energy or mood changes associated with your drinking. Or, like Hathaway, you just aren’t super happy with the way you approach drinking. “Decide this ahead of time, but be open to changes that you might not have anticipated,” he says. Meaning, you may find that alcohol actually didn’t impact your energy levels as much as you thought it did; or maybe it affected your energy even more than you realized when you curbed your drinking, and you found a bunch of other perks, too.
While you’re avoiding alcohol, write down how you’re feeling and how it compares to how you feel when you drink. You can be as detailed as you want, possibly keeping a daily log in your phone of your energy levels and mood, or simply writing down how you feel on a Sunday morning when you know you’d normally be drinking the night before. “Keeping track of these changes on paper or computer—rather than in your head—is more likely to lead to an appreciation of real improvement,” Dr. Streem says. You can even ask the people you're close to if they've noticed any changes in your behavior since you stopped drinking, Brad Lander, Ph.D., a psychologist and clinical director of addiction medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. They may notice things that you haven't even thought of.
Keep in mind that you might notice some difficult changes, too.
For example, if you tend to use alcohol to cope with negative feelings, you may notice those feelings come to the surface when you're not drinking. "That shows you have areas of your life that you need to improve," Lander says. While that sounds kind of terrible, Lander says it's actually a good thing: Once you know that you're using alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism, you can work on forming a few more healthy habits to help you deal with things are tough.
You might also find this a bit of a challenge if you’re constantly in an alcohol-friendly environment, like if you work at a bar or live with friends who tend to party a lot. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try an alcohol break if you’re interested. Just anticipate that the change may be a little hard for you and try to think ahead of ways to stick with your resolution, Dr. Streem says.
That said, if you have a history of addiction or are a very heavy drinker, it’s probably better to seek professional help rather than trying to tackle this on your own because it can come with the potential for serious side effects, Alan says.
When you come to the end of your predetermined sobriety time period, you have a few choices.
Maybe you’ll decide that it was a fun experiment, but you ultimately prefer to have your regular glass of wine—and that’s OK, too. But you might be surprised at how well it all worked for you, and make some longer-term changes as a result.
Often when people decide they feel better after having a period of sobriety, they’ll decide to go without it for even longer periods of time, Dr. Streem says. Keep in mind that any health perks you got from having a dry spell will likely go away once you start drinking again, Alan notes.
Ultimately, the choice to take a break from alcohol or not—and for how long—is a personal one. But if you’ve always been curious about ditching alcohol for a bit, there’s really no reason not to try.