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More energy, better sleep, clearer intuition, even decreased side effects of menopause — all side effects celebrated by individuals who have chosen an alcohol-free life, a lifestyle that is growing in popularity. We do acknowledge there are those whose lives depend on sobriety, but others who made the decision to quit drinking have done so for various reasons — because they feared they would one day face an addiction, or they simply tested the waters and enjoyed the results of living a sober life.

Paige Bentley didn’t necessarily struggle with overindulging, but the aftermath of alcohol was apparent. She recalls how drinking made her feel. “I would occasionally have a cocktail with dinner out. A few times a year I might have had a few more drinks and get to the point where I was buzzed,” she says. “Ultimately, I got to the point where any amount of drinking made me feel like complete crap the next day. Not hungover per se, but it’s like I couldn’t function. All my energy was zapped. I’d get up, have my coffee then realize hours had passed and I was still in my pajamas, teeth unbrushed and just void of all energy. I’d waste an entire day of just feeling worn down.”

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the most recent survey completed, an estimated 136 million Americans consume alcohol, which is roughly one-third of the population at the time.

Paige decided to test herself, and as a result has found a lifestyle that makes her feel her best, which resulted in not having to worry about getting home safely or having to pay for expensive drinks. “I committed to one year without drinking. I’m about two-and-a-half years in now,” she says. “The biggest benefit is not feeling run down anymore. I don’t need to plan my life around alcohol. It’s this completely unnecessary thing that I don’t have to worry about. It is very refreshing!”

Paige committed to one year of not drinking. That was two-and-a-half years ago. Image: Paige Bentley

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Experts predict many are choosing a sober lifestyle in the hopes to not develop an unhealthy drinking habit later in life.

“The truth is, there are those individuals who are simply unable to drink in moderation; one drink leads to three drinks leads to a full-blown drinking spree, and there is very little in-between,” explains Cassie Baker, LPCC, TCADC, a therapist at Bridge Counseling and Wellness in Louisville. “For these folks, total sobriety may be the only way to manage the physical and mental addiction with which they grapple.”

While sobriety is the path that some will choose to take, experts acknowledge that it is still acceptable for many to enjoy their favorite drink from time to time.

“There is simply no one-size-fits-all response. A glass of wine after a long day can be a fine way for one person to relax. Know yourself, boldly take inventory of your patterns, and don’t be afraid to seek out professional help if you find that you might need it,” Cassie adds.

There are some other benefits in eliminating alcohol from your diet that Chief Medical Officer, Kentucky, at UnitedHealthcare, Julie Daftari, MD, shares. “It’s important to realize the use of alcohol and drugs can cause alterations in the chemicals in the brain. Ongoing use of alcohol or drugs can lead to numerous health concerns including liver failure, heart problems and certain types of cancer. Therefore, abstinence can improve your mood, concentration, energy and sleep, and long-term benefits of sobriety are only positive.”

Alcohol consumption can also heighten symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Virginia Health System, in this article by author Ann Bauer. “Alcohol is a depressant that has been shown to disrupt sleep and worsen insomnia. And it’s terribly dehydrating. Drinking if you have night sweats will only make the problem worse,” Dr. Pinkerton says in the article. For Ann, though, it was the intersection of the onset of menopause and the death of her son that led her into a dark, downward spiral that was made worse by her daily alcohol intake. Once she stopped drinking at the advisement of her doctor, however, everything changed. In addition to the physical benefits — “The headaches and heartburn were almost gone. My mouth and eyes weren’t so dry,” she says — the mental benefits were noticed as well. “My sadness had actually increased because I wasn’t blacking it out. But it was huge and real, not furtive and nightmarish.”

Those with whom we spoke found that people are very supportive of their decision to not consume alcohol, in particular when they decline drinks in social settings. However, it can be challenging when there is a lack of non-alcoholic options available at events, which is exactly why Jesse Hawkins founded The Mocktail Project. Hawkins was frustrated with attending events that had a fully stocked bar, signature cocktails, but no options for him. The Kentucky Derby inspired him to create this project with a mission to have social spaces where mocktails and cocktails can co-exist.

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“It wasn’t until ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ came on and everyone around me raised their mint julep and Lily drinks and started to sing together. I looked down and I had water. At that moment I felt like an outsider, and that I couldn’t participate. I wanted to have a drink I could raise and be a part of the celebration,” Jesse says. “I created The Mocktail Project so that no matter who you are, whether you do or don’t imbibe, you can always feel comfortable with your drink of choice in any social environment.”

Jesse Hawkins is the founder of The Mocktail Project. Image: Jesse Hawkins

Jesse isn’t the only one who was spurred into action as a result of going sober. Vitale Buford is writing a book about her road to sobriety. “The book is called Addicted to Perfect because at the root of my addiction, I wanted to be perfect, and I did whatever it took to achieve that.”

In pursuit of perfection, Vitale was using alcohol and Adderall to maintain her ideal body image. “Through this journey of eliminating the items that didn’t serve me, I have learned to trust myself,” she shares.

Vitale admits there were some close relationships that weren’t supportive of her lifestyle change, resulting in some disappointing conversations. “However, I’ve learned their reaction has nothing to do with me. I have always had an intuition, but now, I am finally using it.”

Keep an eye out for Vitale Buford’s forthcoming book, Addicted to Perfect. Image courtesy of Vitale Buford

Paige agrees. “I’ve learned that I feel amazing without alcohol, it’s not necessary to have fun, and it is so important to listen to my body.”

If you want to take a break from drinking but could use a little support, there are decidedly 21st Century-style options available. One Year, No Beer, for example, is a website-based challenge, and there are countless apps available at varying price points that can help with accountability. A quick Google search can help you find a support tool that suits you.

Whether you choose to abstain from alcohol or drink in moderation, one thing to which we can all raise a toast? Health and happiness. (And always drink responsibly!)

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