New Year’s Day has passed and now we’ve reached the point of no return – going back to work, shipping the children off to school, and noticing our fridge is an empty abyss except for that little wedge of stinky cheese. I’m sure we’ve all made resolutions and one of them is probably abstaining from alcohol since we overdid it a bit with the festive cocktails and champers for the New Year.
You might consider that, in the grand scheme of things, cutting out your favourite tipple for 31 days doesn’t do your health much benefit, but actually, this short-term abstinence can lead to better behaviours in the long term.
Each individual holds a different relationship than others when it comes to alcohol. While one person may reach for the wine bottle after a stressful day at work and another relies on it to get through the day, alcohol holds a plethora of opportunities across the spectrum of individuals who choose to drink it.
To put it frankly, alcohol is a drug. Some may view its damaging attributes upfront, whereas others see it as less of a danger and instead feel comfortable using and possibly abusing it.
The only problem is that, like any drug, alcohol is addictive, and more and more of us are finding that it has become a crutch in our social activities in order to feel comfortable and relaxed. In truth, it doesn’t take an awful lot of alcohol to start messing with the sensitively balanced neurotransmitter systems working in your brain.
Aside from the physiological damage, such as to the cardiovascular system, the liver, and high blood pressure, alcohol upsets transmitters within the brain that help us control our moods. By interfering with this system regularly, you are opening yourself up to a big risk of declining mental health, which can lead to depression and anxiety plus uncontrollable changing emotions such as intense anger or withdrawal.
All that celebration that occurred in December could now be having an impact and, tied in with the heightened emotions of the Christmas and New Year period, it’s no wonder that people reach a cliff edge where they realise stepping back from alcohol is one of the best choices in which to enter 2018.
Of course, for those who are undertaking a sudden drop in alcohol intake, it is important to be aware of the withdrawal symptoms, which in themselves can be a huge burden on daily life. Anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness are all common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and seizures are a more distressing outcome for those who have been more alcohol dependent in the past.
It is vital that, as an individual, if you are choosing to go cold turkey in January and you feel you are at risk of severe psychological impact, you seek out the right services that can help you on the path to sobriety.
When making lifestyle choices, we don’t often consider the psychological impact, but instead make our decisions based upon their social benefits or what they could do to our waistline. Nowadays, it has become almost trendy to scrutinise our mental health and find ways in which to seek out new methods of self-care. Of course, this can only be of prosperity, as it means that we, as a society, are finally starting to recognise the importance of our psychological health and how it is involved in our quality of living.
Alcohol is more than just a tipple that can give you heart disease or add calories to your daily limit; it is a dangerous and unruly drug that should be seen as such and, of course, used in moderation.
The best way to kick-start your New Year is by putting your physical and mental health first; swap out pub gatherings for a trip to the cinema with your mates or avoid that bottle of wine in the evening and go for a walk instead to wind down. You’ll be allowing your brain to ease its way back into a natural equilibrium as well as finding that that last glass of wine wasn’t all that necessary in the long run.
Katie Bagshawe is currently a student diagnostic radiographer at the University of Derby. She holds an MSc in psychology from Sheffield Hallam University.