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. Ten years 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. For example, Jay Huffman wrote this year on Twitter that he’ll give up vices such as marijuana, alcohol, soda, and betting for the "holiday."

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.” 
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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.” 
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 likely raising money for a good cause, and giving your body a break. There are few downsides, however — you might have to be a designated driver for Halloween. 
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