Dry January - A Month w/ No Booze (Part 2)

I just got done with this thing called Dry January. Part 1 of this post was about why I decided to do it and if you haven't read it yet, you can check it out here. Basically not drinking alcohol for 31 days was the first of 12 month-long experimental challenges I'm going to try out over the course of this year. 

This is about some things I learned/realized during the month that hopefully you'll find (at least moderately) interesting.

So let's start with the basics:

Drinking is an expensive hobby. Not that I needed any proof of that fact, but I got bored one day and decided it would be a good time to do a little analysis on my last 12 months of alcohol spending. I use the budgeting site Mint.com to track all my credit card spending on a monthly basis…it's a great way to shame yourself when you act like a rapper at a strip club.  Here are some [slightly disturbing] trends I found:

  • My high-end month was September coming in at a gut-punching $553. Yikes…though to be fair, it was a big month with weekends in Austin, Vegas, and NYC, plus my birthday…still, dumb.
  • My low-end month was last March at $52. I was down in South America for 2 of those weeks and didn't really drink while there.
  • My Avg. Spend on Alcohol per Month: $250
  • My Avg. Spend per Night Out: $45
  • My Avg. per Transaction: $23
  • My Avg. Regret After Buying a Round of Shots: Priceless

Few thoughts:

  • $5 beers / $10 cocktails add up very quick
  • Shots are the worst financial investment of all time
  • If only there was a really badass game that could be played with friends instead of wasting so much money at the bars...

So I'm sort of a nerd when it comes to tracking health data…there are a few things I monitor on a regular/semi-regular basis. I took my prior 3 month averages to establish a baseline (alcohol in my system) and compared them to my levels during January (no alcohol in my system)...here were some interesting finds:

Few things that caught me by surprise:

  • I felt like my sleep quality was actually a lot better but the data said there wasn't much of a change (one probable reason is that I generally don't use the app after a night out, so it's not tracking my coma-like alcohol sleep). 
  • That’s a pretty decent drop in blood pressure in a month (mine has historically been slightly above average, so it was good to know a potential cause).
  • Losing 3 pounds was definitely not something I was trying to do. I guess it makes sense though...a couple nights of drinking is about equivalent to an extra day's worth of calories plus I was much more productive in the gym (avg. of 5 times/week instead of 3ish).  

Not drinking = not great for your social life. Being sober at a club is a lot like not gambling at a casino: you're happy to not be throwing money away and you're hyper-aware of how ridiculous people are acting, but dammit, everyone is having a great time and YOU. ARE. NOT.

Not drinking decreased my amount of hangovers by roughly 100%. This was by far the best thing about Dry January.

Hangovers are the bane of my existence. Every time I drink they get more debilitating. It's kind of depressing…in college I could party until 3 am, wake up for an 8:30 class, play intramurals in the afternoon, and then do it all over again that night. Now I consider it a successful day if I take a shower and brush my teeth before noon.

No one really knows exactly what causes hangovers but the very basic explanation is that alcohol is a toxin. While we're out drinking, our livers have the thankless job of breaking down and metabolizing all that booze we're consuming. So basically when we drink more than our livers are able to process, the toxins don't get broken down and are instead just released into our blood stream. Then we feel like this:

As we age, hangovers have been scientifically shown to become more severe. Again, no one really knows why but my guess is that our livers react the same way we do when working a crappy job:

The Intern Phase:

The Burn-out Phase:

The Office Space Phase:

We're given vacation time to get away from our jobs for good reason. We can't be expected to ceaselessly bust our ass with no breaks…it's not sustainable. Eventually we just quit trying. 

My theory is that this applies to our organs as well.

"Look Liver, you've done some great things here at Brett's Body Inc. and we really appreciate you working overtime during the holidays. Even though your performance has been sliding in recent years, the big guys running the show upstairs have been talking and well, we think you deserve some time off. So go treat yourself to that trip to Ibiza you're always talking about…it's time for you to get a little R&R. When you get back things are gonna be different - we want you to know that you're a vital part of this Body's future!"

Will my liver come back completely re-invigorated or did it start a new life selling coconuts on the beach somewhere in Mexico? Only time will tell... There's obviously a lot of hard science that needs to be studied here.  

Did this month make me consider laying off the sauce for good? Not quite, although I do feel great and my cognition seems to be a little sharper. But more than anything else, I think taking some time off allowed me to become a little more conscious about how the habit of drinking affects my life as a whole. I don't think there's anything wrong with occasionally having drinks with friends and having a good time. A big part of life is about enjoying yourself. However, there are real health, financial, and productivity consequences that need to be considered as well. It's really easy to fall into the vicious cycle of a weekend of partying followed by a miserable, unproductive Monday followed by a hectic week of playing catch-up followed by making it to the weekend wanting to do nothing more than booze your stress away. And repeat. 

That's no way to live. I think it all comes down to finding the right balance (which is different for everyone). This experience made me realize that my life is not static…the things that are important to me are constantly changing, and therefore, that balance should be constantly adjusted as well. 

Anyway, I'd consider Dry January a success…to celebrate I think I'm going to treat myself to a beer while I debate what kind of meatless salad I'm going to have for dinner for the 3rd straight night… (Veggie February post coming next month).