Wine Ink: The case for abstention — Save this link! |

Wine Ink: The case for abstention — Save this link!

Kelly J. Hayes

The science of a sober month

This column contained anecdotal information from a pair of abstaining zealots but there also is some science behind the idea that a period of abstinence can improve well-being and provide psychological benefits.

A 2016 study in Britain looked at 857 adults who partook in a “Dry January.” The results? “Findings suggest that participation in abstinence challenges such as Dry January may be associated with changes toward healthier drinking and greater DRSE (drink refusal self-efficacy), and is unlikely to result in undesirable “rebound effects.” Another British study in 2013 saw the staff of New Scientist magazine turn themselves into subjects of an experiment where they measured analytics during their sober month. A liver specialist who analyzed the findings said that “among those in the study who gave up drinking, liver fat, a precursor to liver damage, fell by at least 15 percent. For some, it fell almost 20 percent.” And blood glucose levels also fell by as much as 16 percent. It seems that the majority of studies on “sober months” have been conducted in the UK, a nation with a well-defined drinking culture. As the trend of monthly abstinence grows in America, I think you can expect more domestic research in the future.

If you, like me, are the kind of person who believes the ability to change water into wine would be the superpower you would choose, then this column may not be for you. And for those who have just arrived in Aspen for Gay Ski Week festivities, ready to party, this will not be the best timing for you, either.

But hear me out. Every once in a while, in a world where there is a time to reap and a time to sow, there are advantages to taking a break from the consumption of brewed beers, distilled spirits and, yes, fermented fruits. There has been a growing national trend of late for people to take full calendar months and make a commitment to not drinking. Sober Octobers and Novembers, the months before the holiday season, have been popular, but for many the beginning of the new calendar year seems to be the most appropriate time for taking a break.

“A time out.” That’s what my wife calls her intentional hiatus and, though the month is not over yet, she already has seen benefits from her decision to set the glass down for the first month of 2019. “The first few days were challenging,” she explained, “but once I broke the pattern of opening a bottle of wine with dinner, for instance, and found a decent substitute, it got a little easier to take a break.” Over dinner with a friend who had also taken a break from booze in the fall, the two rattled off a number of reasons why they felt the act was a positive step.

For starters, they both noted that they had been sleeping better during their abstention than they had when drinking. No waking in the middle of the night.

“And in the morning it’s just easier to get up,” our friend said. “I don’t feel so foggy.” The result is that she finds it easier to get to a planned morning exercise routine, as well. It feels like less of a burden than an activity she now looks forward to.

Many cite the benefits of weight loss and renewed energy as the biggest benefit of a month without alcohol. Simple caloric math can help explain it. There are, give or take depending upon the wine, around 130 calories in a 5-ounce glass of red wine. If you regularly drink and average a couple glasses a day, by taking off for a month you eliminate over 7,500 calories right there. That’s the equivalent of the calories you’d burn running, say, 70 10-minute miles depending on how much you weigh. Pretty impressive. And if you are drinking beer or mixed cocktails, your caloric consumption will be even be higher than it will be with wine.

But beyond just the calories cut, both agreed that they also eat better when they went dry for a month.

“I feel like I thin out,” said my wife. “And that inspires me to keep it up and eat a little lighter, too.”

Her friend concurred, “I just make better food choices when I haven’t already had a couple of drinks. When I’m drinking it is just way too easy to order a bunch more food that I don’t really need.”

A side effect is the financial benefits of not drinking. “I spend way less money,” said our friend, now starting to get into the discussion with a near evangelical fervor. “When I get a check without the cost of drinks or wine it is much more reasonable.” She loves to have fun with friends and drink, but taking a month off makes it clear just what the cost of consumption can be in dollar terms.

And they agreed that they are also more productive.

“I just have more focus,” my wife said. “And I have more time to get things done. When I have a glass of wine at the end of the day that pretty much is the end of my day. But if I don’t have that glass at say, 7 o’clock, I might still work on stuff until later in the evening.”

I know, it all sounds pretty reasonable. And they also emphasized that this was just a temporary thing, that both looked forward to continuing to enjoy wine and cocktails socially at the end of their sober time. But listening to them and the positivity that was expressed made me want to consider that option of taking some time off from drinking myself.

Maybe a Sober February. It is, after all the shortest month.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at