Since childhood, we've been repeatedly warned of the cringe-worthy effects that too much alcohol can have on our bodies. (And since uni, most of us have become all too familiar with them firsthand.) There's no denying that alcohol plays a major role in the life of most British adults. In fact, registered dietitian Jenny Champion says that more than half of us report drinking alcohol on a monthly basis. "Occasional drinking has been said to improve health," says Champion. "But frequent binging at happy hour with [colleagues] doesn't," she continues.
Not to freak you out, but according to biochemist Barry Sears, PhD and creator of the Zone diet, alcohol's negative impact on the body can include everything from inflammatory effects on your organs to potential damage to your DNA. Drinking in excess can also put you at risk for certain cancers, diabetes and liver disease—among other grim conditions. "Aside from the serious dangers of drinking too much, there are also a number of other not-so-pleasant effects," adds Champion, "including lousy moods, crazy sugar cravings, excess calories, liver fat, poor sleep habits, dry skin and foggy concentration."
We know—the whole thing sounds like rubbish. But here's a giant ray of hope: Our bodies can actually bounce back from alcohol's negative effects at amazing speeds. As in a matter of hours. And the longer you go without drinking, the stronger and healthier your body and skin becomes. So, if you're thinking about ditching that sober October pledge, you might want to think again.
Want to know exactly how long it takes for these benefits to kick in? With the help of Champion, we put together the following timeline of your body after that last glass of rosé.
This is when your body kicks into full-blown detox mode to clear the alcohol from your bloodstream and prevent alcohol poisoning, says Champion. An hour after your last drink, your liver starts working overtime. Your pancreas also starts producing extra insulin, which causes intense carb cravings.
Your blood sugar finally normalises. "However, if you went wild in the candy aisle during your 2 a.m. junk-food run, you may have kicked off a glycemic roller coaster that could last days," says Champion. Make sure to nip this in the bud by trading sugar and unhealthy fats for fruits and veggies on hangover day. "Also, because of the diuretic effect booze has on our bodies, you're going to be dehydrated," says Champion. So make sure to reach for a water bottle stat. A cute water bottle, like this marble one by S'well (£35), always makes the hydration process easier.
At this stage, your body finishes its biggest detox hurdle. "Depending on how much you drank, grogginess, headaches and tiredness might still be lingering," says Champion. But the worst is over.
Pro tip: Treat any leftover headaches by dabbing some Fresh Skin Lavender Essential Oil (£2) on your fingers and massaging your temples.
Any hangover side effects are now officially out of your system. Your carb cravings subside. Champion says 72 hours after quitting is when "you finally feel back to yourself physically and mentally."
Your liver fat reduces by 15%, increasing its ability to filter toxins out of the body. You also notice a reduction in belly fat. In addition, Champion says that the most significant improvement in your skin occurs at this four-week mark, according to a study published in The International Journal of Cosmetic Science.
A year after your last drink, you lose a significant amount of belly fat—six kilograms on average. Your risk of mouth, liver and breast cancer reduces.
Next up, learn all about how your alcoholic drink of choice affects your skin.