Feel better and improve your health – a dietitian explains a few of the benefits of limiting your alcohol.
Whether it’s a celebration, a Friday night social catch-up, or a beer at the footy, alcohol is undeniably part of Australian culture.
But while enjoying the occasional drink can be part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, drinking outside of the national guidelines can impact your physical and mental health.1
One in four Australians aged 14 and over drink at a ‘risky level’ (more than four standard drinks on one occasion) at least monthly.2
“Cutting back on alcohol can have some substantial benefits for your health and wellbeing,” says HBF dietitian Mary du Heaume.
“This can range from sleeping better and managing your weight, right through to reducing your risk of serious health problems like heart disease and cancer.”
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits you may experience from drinking less.
In this article
1. Work towards or maintain a healthy weight
Alcoholic drinks contain a lot of kilojoules (and very little nutritional value), so it’s not surprising this can contribute to weight gain.3
But that’s not the only way drinking can impact your weight.
“Alcohol can stimulate your appetite and reduce your inhibitions for energy dense food choices,” du Heaume explains.
“Studies have shown we can eat up to 30% more energy when we drink alcohol with meals. Cravings for high energy foods can also occur when ‘hungover’ the next day.”
Cutting back on alcohol can be a key part of optimising your diet, helping you feel more nourished and energised and helping you manage your weight.
2. Reduce your risk of long-term health conditions
Over time, drinking alcohol increases your risk of many different health problems, du Heaume says.
Drinking alcohol can be a risk factor for health conditions including:4
- Cancer (such as breast, bowel, stomach, liver, mouth, throat and oesophageal cancer)
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and stroke
- Mental health conditions
- Liver disease
- Fertility issues and impotence
“The more you drink over your lifetime, the greater the health risk,” du Heaume says.
3. Support your mental health
The connection between alcohol and mental health can go both ways. Many people drink because they hope it will help them relax, feel happier and combat anxiety.5
But alcohol can actually contribute to increased stress, anxiety and depression.5
“Alcohol is a depressant drug that can affect your mental health and wellbeing,” du Heaume says.
“It slows down your central nervous system and can affect the way you think, feel and behave, and can contribute to symptoms of mental illness.”
If you think you might be using alcohol as a coping strategy to deal with stress or difficult emotions, it may be worth seeking mental health support.
4. Sleep better
While a ‘nightcap’ may initially help you get to sleep faster, it can also disrupt your sleep later, during the second half of the night.6
Drinking alcohol before sleep is associated with frequent awakenings, nightmares, night sweats, headaches, and generally much less restful sleep – so cutting back can be a great step towards getting some more rejuvenating rest.6
Related: Which of these 6 reasons is behind your bad night’s sleep?
5. Feel more energised, clear and focused
If you’ve ever experienced a hangover, you’ll know what a struggle it can be to feel fatigued and foggy after drinking – especially when you have things to do, like work.7
“Reducing your alcohol consumption can help improve your mood, energy levels and concentration, which may help you perform better at work and in other daily activities,” du Heaume says.
6. Improve your digestion
Alcohol can also impact your digestive system.8
“The World Health Organization (WHO) defines alcohol as a toxin, so your body works hard to process and eliminate it ahead of other nutrients,” du Heaume explains.
“Alcohol can damage any part of your digestive system it passes through. This can increase cancer risk, but also interferes with the process of breaking down and absorbing nutrients from food.
“If you’re drinking at high risk levels, it can increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies.”
7. Save money
It’s not just your health that will thank you for limiting your alcohol – your bank account may benefit too.
Those $12 glasses of wine can add up quickly, and it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re spending on a night out, especially if alcohol is affecting your judgement.1
Try adding up how much you’d normally spend on alcohol over a month. If you decide you’d like to bring that expense down, focusing on that benefit can be a good motivator for changing your drinking habits.
Tips for drinking less
Ready to try cutting back on alcohol? Here are a few tips that may help:9
- Plan ahead and set yourself a drink limit.
- Count your drinks to keep track – and remember that a drink you’re served may be more than one ‘standard drink’. (Visit the Australian Government’s Standard Drinks Guide to learn more, or try this 5-minute drinking audit.)
- Organise other social activities – like meeting for brunch or a walk – rather than always defaulting to drinks.
- Drink plenty of water first and alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water (or another non-alcoholic drink).
- Eat first and while you’re drinking.
- Wait until your glass is empty before topping it up
- Enjoy non-alcoholic beverages – whether it’s just sparkling water with lemon or lime, or something fancier like iced tea, kombucha or flavoured mineral water.
How can HBF help?
For support in changing your drinking habits as part of a healthier lifestyle, HBF extras cover can give you benefits towards visits with:
HBF Gold Hospital Elevate cover also includes hospital psychiatric services, which can help treat alcohol addiction.
- A psychologist, who can help you manage your mental health and wellbeing and explore your relationship with alcohol.
- A nutritionist or dietitian, who can advise on good nutrition and dietary patterns to support your health.
If you need more support with your alcohol use, talking to your GP is a good first step. You can also call the National Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline on 1800 250 015 or check out the Australian Government’s list of alcohol support contacts.
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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.