This year, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation found that one in 10 Australians consume more than 10 standard drinks per week. Amidst the pandemic, they found that one in eight Aussies were drinking alcohol every day. Considering the well-documented risks associated with the overconsumption of alcohol, sober October – or ‘Ocsober’ – could be a good opportunity to give boozing a little break.
Not only does a sober stint reduce liver damage, improve insulin resistance and cancer risk, assist in mental health, and your out-of-pocket expenses, but it can also have a significant impact on the wellbeing of your brain.
Speaking to Bustle, Sierra Tucson’s associate medical director Donald Sansom, D.O., said: “when we stop drinking, our brains begin to heal on a neurochemical level.”
According to Sansom, alcohol affects gama-amino butyric acid (GABA), which inhibits brain activity, as well as glutamate, which stimulates it. When you drink, glutamate is less able to stimulate the brain, and GABA becomes better at inhibiting it. Essentially, this combo makes you more relaxed and happy – but it also slows some of your brain’s signalling.
Sansom explains that when you stop drinking “in most individuals, these receptors begin to reset themselves to a baseline level.”
There is also evidence that going sober can help recover brain volume. “Alcohol tends to have a negative impact upon the frontal cortex,” Sansom tells Bustle. Studies show that alcohol can damage the frontal cortex’s ability to produce new cells and heal itself, therefore, taking a break from drinking could help recover your memories more easily.
Perhaps one of the most interesting benefits of going sober is the impact it has on the brain’s limbic system, which affects feelings of contentment. “Alcohol consumption, like other drugs, is associated with a release of dopamine as a reward,” Sansom says. “This fact, along with alcohol-related stimulation of our body’s own natural opioids, is a significant reason why most individuals associate alcohol with pleasure.”
Taking a break from the bottle will make your dopamine system produce more cravings, but it can rewire itself over a few days or weeks.
The brain is a beautiful machine, and if servicing it means taking a break from drinking, it’s probably worth it.
If you’d like to talk to someone about your drinking, call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015. It’s a free call from anywhere in Australia.
You can also chat online with a counsellor at CounsellingOnline. Or talk to your GP about seeing a psychologist or counsellor.