If you were one of the many who took part in a pause on alcoholic beverages in Dry January, how are you feeling? There’s some new research that suggests women who refrain from drinking are doing more for their mental health and ability to relax than a glass of wine can provide.
Today reports about the study from the School of Public Health at The University of Hong Kong that followed more than 40,000 people living in the U.S. and Hong Kong. Researchers found that the participants involved in the study who never drink alcohol also reported the highest levels of good mental health.
And when those involved in the study decided to give up alcohol over a two year period, women in both Hong Kong and the states reported better mental health. Men in both countries did not report a change in their mental health. Women who gave up alcohol for a total of four years or more reported the highest levels of mental health.
Researchers are unsure why mental health improves for those who abstain from alcohol, they hypothesize that it might have something to do with an improvement in alcohol related brain injury or simply a reduction in life stresses. Dr. James C. Garbutt, a psychiatry professor at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina explains how many people use alcohol as a tool to relieve anxiety, but how the tool soon becomes part of the problem.
Though alcohol has an immediate effect of relieving anxiety, it also activates parts of the brain that make anxiety worse. Garbutt explains the cycle of how a person thinks, “I need more alcohol to relieve my anxiety, which makes my anxiety worse, so I need more to relieve it.” He says that not long after giving up alcohol, those who suffer from anxiety recognize the problem. Garbutt explains, “When people get sober, they a lot of times will feel calmer, their anxiety diminishes and there’s less irritability. They just say, ‘Wow, that’s a better place to be.’”
Did you participate in Dry January?
What do you think of the research that suggests giving up alcohol, even in moderation, can improve mental health?