Time for Dry January: How Too Much Alcohol Affects our Brain and Body

05 Jan Time for Dry January: How Too Much Alcohol Affects our Brain and Body

Have you heard of Dry January? Over the past few years, more and more people have declared they will go alcohol-free for the month of January. This trend is not a surprise as research reveals that more of us turned to alcoholic beverages to relax and cope during the Covid pandemic. Nielsen reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with 1 year before; online sales increased 262% from 2019.1  No matter your age, alcohol intake can contribute to a number of negative effects on your brain and body, but more so for older adults. Dry January can benefit everyone as a healthy reset, including your senior loved ones.


What is Dry January?

It's simple—you steer clear of alcohol for the entire month of January. The concept originated in 2013 in the United Kingdom by a nonprofit called Alcohol Change UK, who created the movement with the goal of raising money for alcohol abuse awareness and treatment. The month-long trend has caught on around the globe.

First, Let's start with...

What is Too Many Drinks?


Drinking in Moderation

According to the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025,”  moderate alcohol intake for adults of legal drinking age is limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women. 

 Heavy Alcohol Use


NIAAA defines heavy drinking as follows:

For men - consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week.

For women - consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.


Why is too much alcohol bad for you?

especially as we age?



Inflammation and cellular level damage caused by alcohol intake escalates the aging  process in everyone. In the short term you may only "feel" ill or have puffy eyes from a hangover the day after drinking too much, but there is much more going on physiologically behind the scenes that negatively affects your overall long term health as well as the aging process.

  • Dehydration: Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. Alcohol increases urination and excess loss of fluids. Older adults are more at risk as they naturally have a lower volume of water in their bodies, and may have conditions or take medications that increase the risk of dehydration. The mild dehydration that results from drinking too much likely contributes to hangover symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, and a headache. 

  • Disrupted sleep: Because Alcohol acts as a sedative, some people may fall asleep faster after drinking, but their sleep eventually becomes fragmented and disrupted.  This contributes to fatigue, as well as lost productivity.

  • Gastrointestinal irritation: Alcohol directly irritates the lining of the stomach and increases acid release. Regular drinking can cause alcoholic gastritis, which includes symptoms like stomach ache, abdominal pain, hiccups, indigestion, loss of appetite, bloating and nausea. Alcoholic gastritis can be chronic or short-lived.

  • Skin problems:  Prolonged heavy drinking can also increase a person’s risk of serious skin conditions, such as skin cancer. It can also cause skin changes resulting from alcoholic liver disease. Some of the long-term effects of heavy drinking on a person’s skin include:

    Increased risk of skin infections: Bacterial and fungal infections are more likely to occur in people who drink alcohol excessively. This is because alcohol weakens the immune system and can decrease the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

    Increased risk of skin cancer: This is also due to alcohol weakening the immune system, lowering the body’s natural defense against diseases.  Research has also suggests that drinking alcohol can worsen the effects of ultraviolet light on a person’s skin, causing more damage than usual.

  • Brain and Mood Problems: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s chemical functions and can affect the way the brain works including disruptions that change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordinationNot only does it create more chances of injury while drinking - falling in the elderly, but it exacerbates anxiety and depression. Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are altered by alcohol, worsening symptoms of mood disorders in the long run. 

  • Heart function:  Cardiomyopathy, Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat, Stroke and High blood pressure  

  • Liver function: The liver is one of the body’s most essential organs, with hundreds of functions necessary to sustain life. It's also a gland because it makes proteins and hormones for other parts of the body. It also supports your immune system, stores nutrition, and removes bacteria and waste.  Too much Alcohol puts a strain on the liver as it tries to detoxify your body from Alcohol's negative effects. Mindful drinking - less drinking - supports your liver by helping it metabolize alcohol more efficiently, with less stress.

  • Immune system function: Drinking too much can weaken your immune system and increase inflammation, making it much harder for your body to defend itself from disease. Even heavy drinking on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – up to 24 hours after getting drunk.  The more alcohol-related inflammation you have, the more likely you are to develop chronic conditions like ulcers, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Any chronic condition you have puts an added stress on your body and contributes to premature aging.

  • Pancreatic function: The pancreas is a large organ located in the back of the abdomen and has. several important functions, including both the release of digestive enzymes and hormones involved in keeping your blood sugar steady. Heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of pancreatitis, a very painful and potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreatic cells are thought to sustain damage from toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism which can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels.


Caution about mixing alcohol and medicines


No surprise here, but many medicines — prescription, over the counter, or herbal — can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol. Many older people take many different medications every day, making this a particular concern. Before taking any medicine, over the counter or prescribed, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can safely drink alcohol at the same time.

Here are some examples of potential dangers caused by mixing alcohol with some common medicines:

  • Aspirin and alcohol increases your risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding increases.
  • Cold and allergy medicines (antihistamines) and alcohol may make you feel very sleepy.
  • Acetaminophen, a common painkiller and Alcohol may cause liver damage.
  • Some medicines, such as cough syrups and laxatives, have a high alcohol content. If you drink alcohol at the same time, it may have an additive effect.
  • Sleeping pills, pain pills, or anxiety/anti-depression medicine and Alcohol can be deadly.

Do Not Stress...

LINK Below to Find Out About

Some Tasty Non-Alcoholic Beverages



Mocktails from Sound Shore Moms


Honey Blackberry Mint Mocktail from Bowl of Delicious

Moscow Mule Mocktail, from Yummy Mummy Kitchen

Pomegranate Cranberry Cocktail from Clean Eating Kitchen

Pineaple Ginger Kombucha Mocktail by Flavour and Savour

Lemon Lime Mocktail  from Healthy Little Peach

Mojito Mocktail by Joyous Apron