How “Dry January” Benefits Your Liver, Bladder, And Sexual Health
By Benjamin Niver, MD
On January 1, an estimated 19% of the U.S. population kicked off a 31-day commitment to completely quit or reduce alcohol consumption – a challenge called Dry January. Many do it to improve their overall health, to save money, or simply to put their drinking habits on reset.
Few may think of how an alcohol-free lifestyle can affect their sexual health and urinary tract, the body’s system for removing urine. But trust us, these systems are noticing the change. And after a couple of weeks, if Dry January participants check in with their bodies, they might notice changes, too.
4 Body Functions That Can Benefit from a Dry-Out
Shaken or stirred, too many cocktails can have a chilling effect on how your body parts function. Following are how five key players of your urinary tract, as well as your sexual health, could benefit if you ditch drinking for 31 days.
- The kidneys – The kidneys filter waste and harmful substances, including alcohol, from your blood. The more a person drinks, the harder the kidneys have to work and the less able they are to filter the blood well. Exacerbating this challenge is the fact that alcohol is also a diuretic, causing the kidneys to produce more urine but retain less water (dehydration). If dehydration is prolonged, the minerals and salts in the urine can form into kidney stones. A break from drinking enables the kidneys to rebalance how much water they expel.
- The bladder – After urine leaves the kidneys, it is stored in the bladder until it is full. If the urine is concentrated because of alcohol-related dehydration, the particles in the urine can irritate and inflame the bladder lining. When given a break from alcohol, the bladder can process urine at a naturalized pace. Urine will look a healthy pale yellow (dark urine indicates dehydration). People with overactive bladder could notice their trips to the bathroom become less often and less urgent after they stop drinking alcohol, as well.
- The urethra – The tube through which urine leaves the body also can be harmed by prolonged dehydration. This is because concentrated urine can contain a higher ratio of bacteria (e. coli), which can infect the urinary tract. Frequent alcohol consumption also can compromise the immune system, which could put someone at heightened risk of developing infections, including urinary tract infections (UTIs). Those who are susceptible to UTIs may feel some relief after giving up alcohol.
- Sexual health – Alcohol can cause erectile dysfunction, or the inability to maintain an erection. This is, in part, because alcohol-related dehydration can narrow the blood vessels, limiting the amount of blood that travels to the penis. Research has also shown that even short-term alcohol consumption can slow the communications between the brain and penis that would enhance sensitivity. Men who abstain from drinking for a month might notice a more satisfying sex life. And women should also take note, because alcohol can reduce female lubrication and make it more difficult to achieve orgasm.
Long-Term Improvements Could Require More Time
In practice, Dry January is an effective concept to get us to rethink our drinking habits. Sustaining those urinary and sexual health benefits, however, requires a long-term commitment to reduce alcohol consumption.
Those who feel better after 31 days of going dry may want to extend their abstinence by another day, or week. The longer the body gets a break from metabolizing the alcohol, the more time it has to heal from inflammation or other potential damage alcohol can cause.
Here are a few resources for easing through Dry January:
Mocktail websites – There is no shortage of Mocktail recipe sites, including the Mindful Mocktail, for alcohol-free inspiration. You also can check out own blog from last year dedicated to the mocktail, here.
Load an app – The Try Dry – Dry January app is free, without ads, and helps users achieve their alcohol-related goals.
Join a social group – Several social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, are home to dedicated Dry January pages.
Reflect on the nights before – Once you put some time between yourself and happy hour, take some time to candidly assess your drinking habits, what you do well and where you make mistakes. Don’t be hard on yourself; consider this an exercise in empowerment.
If you or someone important to you is experiencing any of the symptoms in this blog, or have questions about how alcohol consumption might affect your urinary and sexual health, contact your urologist for a consultation.