Women Who Give Up Drinking Alcohol Improve Their Mental Health, Study Finds

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Women who live an alcohol-free life are boosting their mental health

There are plenty of reasons why women drink: to relax, to take the edge off after a long day of work and/or parenthood, or to socialize with friends. A new study finds that women who live an alcohol-free life actually improve their mental health and overall well-being by giving up those daily glasses of wine.

The study, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests that limiting your drinking — or ceasing it all together — is more helpful than drinking a glass or two of wine when you’re stressed.

Throughout the study, researchers analyzed the drinking patterns and mental health levels of more than 10,000 people in Hong Kong and more than 31,000 people in the United States. In both groups, men and women who abstained from alcohol completely by living a sober life reported the highest levels of mental well-being.

“Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life,” Herbert Pang, one of the study co-authors and an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at The University of Hong Kong, tells TODAY.  In fact, not drinking at all may be a better way to go when it comes to feeling calm and peaceful, another co-author, Michael Ni, says.

“When people get sober, they a lot of times will feel calmer, their anxiety diminishes and there’s less irritability. They just say, ‘Wow, that’s a better place to be,’” said Dr. James C. Garbutt, a psychiatry professor at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina, tells TODAY.

Notably, it was the women who stopped drinking reported the highest levels of mental well-being. While researchers have not nailed down an exact reason why sober women reacted more favorably than sober men, they suggest that abstinence from alcohol reduces life stressors, like family issues.

Which is interesting, considering many women likely drink a glass of wine at the end of the day to help alleviate the heavy invisible workload they carry as the primary emotional laborers of the family.

Alcohol does relieve anxiety, but only temporarily. It also acts as a depressant, which activates systems in the brain that worsen anxiety after the initial calming effect. Drinking alcohol to experience positive effects like anxiety or stress relief can lead to dependency, according to AddictionCenter.com.

This leads to people drinking more — or faster — to compensate for what they’re not feeling right away. It’s easy to see how drinking alcohol regularly, even in moderation, can affect one’s mental health as well as physical.

Interestingly, during a follow-up with subjects, women who quit drinking during the study reported a higher improvement in their mental health than those who were lifetime abstainers.