Sober in October – An alcohol free experiment

Is it even a party if there's no alcohol? How can anyone make it through a family gathering without wine?? And don't get me started on going out with friends and coworkers. Alcohol is everywhere. Do we even know how to drink in moderation? Yet alone, go alcohol free for a month! Sober in October may be one of the most interesting challenges you have ever tried.

Drinking connects us with our communities. It can be fun and helps us take the edge off. But, at the same time, the impact of alcohol can have several adverse effects on physical and mental health from even casual alcohol consumption.

Sober October is a personal invitation to reset your relationship with alcohol by taking a dry month. Four weeks are dedicated to reducing your booze intake, if not completely cutting it out.

Sober in October: Is it worth taking the dry October challenge?

"Let's go for a drink."

Asks just about everyone.

The question has me thinking, what type of relationship do we have with alcohol and alcohol use? Maybe a Sober October Challenge would be interesting.

How often have you been asked this question, or have you asked others? I know I can't even count how many times this question pops up in my life during one week, let alone an entire month. Alcohol consumption in my life is a real thing.

Trying to put "Let's go for a drink" in my life's perspective causes me to wonder. How is alcohol part of my lifestyle? You may be asking yourself the same question. Sober October may be a really good time to become aware of how much drinking is part of my life and how I tend to use it.

It makes me wonder what kind of drinking ritual I have and if I am just glossing over my actual intentions with the use of it. There are several ways alcohol is used in my life:

  • having a drink to unwind at night
  • letting the drink help take the stress away
  • it helps me deal or not deal with emotional relationships
  • an excuse to get together with friends

So what can a sober October month teach me?

It's kind of a scary thought about the impact that alcohol may have on me. If there was no alcohol for one month, what would I notice? Will I discover why alcohol is such a part of my life? How will I handle stress when I don't have alcohol? There are so many questions I'm curious about.

Questions like:

  • How many things am I missing out on experiencing because alcohol plays such a big role in my life?
  • What if I went for a walk with friends or visited a museum?
  • Would my conversations be different if alcohol was out of the picture?
  • What kind of shared memories would I have with others when we, or at least I'm not drinking?

Being curious and wanting to uncover something new, the invitation to be dry in October month is accepted.

This October will be my seventh year of taking on the challenge of no drinking in October. It felt like an experiment during the first three years of the dry October challenge. I wasn't as concerned about the health aspects of stopping drinking as iI was with the psychological implications. And I've got to tell you I was worried. What would happen if I stopped drinking for a month? I wondered:

  • Would I get the shakes?
  • Am I going to crave it? And will I be able to resist the cravings?
  • Am I an alcoholic?

I wanted to find out.

I also wondered, what will I do when I am bored? What will I do when I am mad? Is drinking a habit for me? Why do I have a beer when I'm making dinner AND a beer with my dinner? I wanted to learn what are the things that are causing me tension and how I choose to cope with these different challenges good for me, or are there other options? Because alcohol is one answer and a very simple answer for me.

The first year, I viewed it as a quirky health challenge as much as to “prove to myself” that I didn’t need alcohol. I was surprised by how much my habits and environment prompted me to have a drink, or several, every single day. As a week turned into two, I was happy to realize that I didn’t have any trace of physical addiction but began to really gauge my psychological dependence.

Exploring how alcohol may be undermining my goals: Being Sober Curious

My drinking habits could very likely be undermining my goals or causing me a whole set of different problems than the ones I attempted to solve with a beer or two (or three) a day.

As a health coach, I know that we all make choices that serve us in some way - there is no doubt drinking was benefiting my needs. Just like I hear so many people say,

"I got to get in shape, I need an exercise routine,"

but they never go to the gym.

I knew I wanted to explore the tension I was feeling, yet I didn't want to. It was like I kept knocking my head against a brick wall. Every day, I knew something was going on, and I wasn't sure I wanted to explore it. Until Sobertober entered my life, and I decided to give myself an entire month to be curious.

Does taking just a month off from alcohol really do anything to improve your life?

My Sleep Improved

Anecdotally, after a few weeks of not including alcohol, I noticed that my sleep feels more restorative and I began wake up not still feeling tired (which is novel!). I was curious what the sleep data would show from my Oura ring.

It looks like when I don’t have beers with dinner, after a few weeks I start to wake up fewer times in the night and have more REM and deep sleep cycles. However in practical relevant terms, my mood seems better and I don’t have to fall out mid-day for a nap any more.

Additional changes have been well studied.

A 2015 study recorded the effects of a 4-week break from alcohol. Those who took part had normal drinking habits by average standards, not bingers.

By the end of just 4 weeks participants

  • had lost an average of 40% of their liver fat
  • 25% reductions in the blood markers for insulin resistance
  • dramatic reductions in blood markers for cancer growth factors
  • improved blood pressure readings
  • significantly reduced their cholesterol levels
  • experienced improvement of sleep and energy
  • reported improvement of mood and well being

What do you think? Are you ready to give Sober October a try?

Health benefits of cutting out alcohol

1. Sleep

Without alcohol, you will sleep better, and ultimately have more energy.

  • Reduces the length of your sleep cycles, disrupting REM sleep, and reduces the depth of sleep during the second half of the night, making you wake up exhausted and walk around all day with an unshakable fatigue.
  • And to add insult to injury, alcohol relaxes your throat muscles, causing you to snore!

2. Mental

  • Feeling clear-headed without hangovers gives you improved focus and concentration.
  • The body trying to process alcohol increases cortisol levels, so when you stop consuming it you will experience less tension and stress, an increase in positive feelings with fewer “lows,” and a better mood in general.

3. Aesthetic

  • Alcohol can interfere with digestion and absorption of critical nutrients. That might sound like whatever, but the blocked proteins, fats, antioxidants and vitamins (especially the B vitamin, folic acid) are the recipe for collagen. And no collagen formed + chronic dehydration = WRINKLES and dark spots.
  • Alcohol can interfere with digestion and absorption of critical nutrients. That might sound like whatever, but the blocked proteins, fats, antioxidants and vitamins (especially the B vitamin, folic acid) are the recipe for collagen. And no collagen formed + chronic dehydration = WRINKLES and dark spots.
  • And while we’ve all heard that “alcohol has 7 calories per gram” (what even is a gram anyway???) but that's almost double the dreaded “carb” with NONE of the nutrients. So these extra “empty” calories are piling up, but worse than that… alcohol causes the liver to stop regulating blood glucose or digesting fat properly because it’s busy dealing with the toxic ethanol.

This causes a cascade reaction of your body trying to get back on an even keel… insulin and leptin (the hunger hormone) levels spike which causes cravings for starchy and sweet foods. That’s why it’s so hard to make healthy food choices. Cutting down or quitting alcohol can make it much much easier to maintain a stable weight (or lose weight if that is something that you’re interested in).

4. Social

  • Some people participate to support friends and family members who are sober or just to participate in a fun challenge.
  • Cutting out alcohol may even help avoid getting in the middle of family drama during holiday get-togethers

5. Financial

  • Save money on drinks. Alcohol is a luxury purchase at best, but for many it can be a serious financial burden. Work out how much you spend on alcohol in a week, then think about how much you’ll have saved over the course of a month!

2022 is my seventh year of accepting the Sober Challenge

You don't have to be an alcoholic to participate, nor do you even need to feel like you drink too much this is a test of personal strength and will to abstain from a habit that isn't necessarily helping to improve your life.

I like to call it Sobertober 😆

Tips for a successful dry Sober in October month

  • Prepare yourself, your mind, and your social circle. Tell your friends what you are doing, and see if anyone else wants to participate with you.
  • Understand what prompts you to have a drink, emotions or routines, so you can stay in control.
  • Eliminate as many triggers as possible. Remove alcohol from your house if you can, or at least put it out of sight.
  • Plan outings to places that don’t serve alcohol (coffee shops, movies) and participate in Halloween activities that don't involve alcohol, such as hay rides and haunted houses.
  • Come up with a firm but respectful answer for when you're offered alcoholic beverages at social events. “No thanks” or “I’m Sober for October this year” should be enough, but my experience is that it often isn’t. Having any kind of drink in your hand is a subconscious indicator and will make it harder for people to press you. Decide ahead of time what you will drink, and maybe even bring your own beverage.
  • Start a creative activity so you don’t have to think, “What am I going to do on Saturday night?” Cooking or photography might be fun. Or maybe pick up a home project to escape the feeling of being at loose ends.
  • If you feel like it, you can do some light exercise activity like stretching, walking, tai chi or yoga. Very light exercise keeps serotonin levels up without triggering stress hormones.

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Think about what you’ll drink INSTEAD!

It may feel like you have a long month ahead of you, but these tips will make Sober October month more fun.

  • Switch out your alcohol for something else. And put it in a fun glass.
  • Coffee, tea, (these have the additional benefit of being a low calorie drink)
  • Matcha latte, hot or iced, both come with bonus antioxidants
    Juice or juice spritzer, a healthy drink that will keep you hydrated with a few extra vitamins to boot!
  • Maybe even a hot cider with a cinnamon stick? What could be more festive than that in October!
  • Mocktails are becoming soooo popular because more people are looking for a way to enjoy a drink without the alcohol. Get creative, you just need the perfect combination of ingredients!
  • Sparkling mineral water, has a nice sharp taste that’s reminiscent of alcohol, and a remarkably good substitute for the fizziness of beer!
sober-in-october-mocktail-vert
  • Heck, even a soda. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
  • You could try out some of the non-alcoholic (NA) craft beers that are hitting the market, OR even some of the new alcohol-free spirits (what kind of dark magic is this!! 😂)

Drawbacks of not partaking

For someone who is a casual social drinker, there are no negative side effects to abruptly dropping alcohol for a month. If you've been drinking heavily recently, or regularly for a long time, you could experience an upset stomach as your liver works its way back. You may feel tired or have headaches but these usually pass within the 1st few days.

(This challenge is not meant for heavy drinkers or people with a serious alcohol addiction. If you try this and find that you are having serious side effects, please consult your doctor right away.)

You will probably experience social NONsupport. People might feel like you're judging them or feel like you think you're better than them if you're not drinking when they are. It can be really hard when friends and family say things like you can have one drink or just have a glass of wine.

The social pressure to drink is so pervasive, some people might accept drinks they really don't want. You may not even realize it, but if you aren’t drinking, it might give THEM the social safety they need to say no thanks to one too many!

Going alcohol-free for 31 days can help prove to yourself that you don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, or to socialize.

You are invited. Will you accept the invitation?

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Heather Lynn Darby helps office and tech professionals disrupt the cycle of chronic stress that undermines their health, and to recover from the negative effects of sitting at a computer all day. Find other articles written by Heather on her coach profile.

If you are largely sedentary at work and rely on your intellectual acumen for success, her take on body-mind interventions will help you find a balance between being "in the zone" and getting the amount of movement that will optimize your mental productivity and prevent health problems.