Caffeine/alcohol cleanse.
July 16, 2012 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Does a short break from alcohol/caffeine/whatever accomplish anything?

I'm a college student and software developer. The two of these lead to lots of caffeine and a fairly moderate amount of alcohol. I'd say two to three caffeinated beverages a day (coffee or soda or tea) and maybe 2-3 drinks 2-3 times a week. Sometimes a bit more. Never more than 20 drinks in a week, rarely less than 4.

I like to occasionally take a week and abstain from all caffeine and all alcohol. I never have any problems with caffeine withdrawals, and certainly no problems with the lack of alcohol.

My question is, are these short breaks doing any non-trivial "good" for me? I mean, certainly it's mostly good to cut back on the sugars and empty calories involved in these things. But is one week going to change anything else?
posted by Precision to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If I don't have caffeine or alcohol for awhile it takes a lot less for it to affect me than if I drank it regularly. So I guess the good part about that is that you save money because it takes less drinks to perk up/get tipsy.
posted by littlesq at 11:25 PM on July 16, 2012

I find that a one-week break from caffeine lowers my tolerance significantly, so that when I go back to it the stimulant effect is much stronger.
posted by contraption at 11:26 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dropping both from my diet improved my skin, my sleep, and my anxiety levels immensely.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:30 PM on July 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well I can't provide science but it is good. At the very least, alcohol is high calorie so asuming you eat normally, you're consuming the right # of calories that week. For caffeine, you're preventing your body from getting addicted to it.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:31 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alcohol is bad for your liver, so it is a good idea to keep your alcohol consumption down to avoid major organ failure later in life.

Caffeine seems to be mostly harmless, but you can build up a tolerance quickly. Unless you really love the taste of soda or coffee, why bother paying to put it into your body?

Since you've been taking regular 1-week breaks, I assume you notice the psychological difference between days when you've been drinking and those when you haven't? As you drink for longer periods of time, the breaks take more effort. It is probably wise to keep up the breaks, and expand them where possible.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:40 PM on July 16, 2012

Data Poinzt: I drink 1 liter Red Bull or similar a day. Took a 3 months break and it didn't change anything at all; I felt exactly as always.
posted by MinusCelsius at 12:31 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

The two of these lead to lots of caffeine and a fairly moderate amount of alcohol. I'd say two to three caffeinated beverages a day (coffee or soda or tea) and maybe 2-3 drinks 2-3 times a week. Sometimes a bit more. Never more than 20 drinks in a week, rarely less than 4.

I'd actually class that as a fairly moderate amount of caffeine, although it depends on the type of beverages you're drinking. Soda is fairly light in caffeine content (about 50mg per can, I think), while the most caffeinated/largest coffee you can get from a coffee chain could reach 400mg at the extreme. Unless you're experiencing any problems after drinking caffeine (e.g. sleep problems, anxiety, etc.) there's probably no benefit to stopping. Caffeine (as far as is known) doesn't cause any kind of hidden damage, so taking a week off from it probably doesn't have any benefits.

With regard to alcohol, it again depends on the kind of beverage you're consuming. Are those 2-3 drinks bottles, pints, cocktails? To gauge your alcohol consumption accurately you need to look at the amount of alcohol you're consuming rather than the form it comes in. i.e. an average bottle of beer has about 10mg of alcohol, a pint or standard cocktail might have double that and a large glass of wine triple. So your 2-3 drinks could be equivalent to someone elses 6-9 drinks.

So if you're talking bottles of beer, you're well within most countries recommended consumption limits. Even at 20 drinks, if it's bottles of beer you're only getting around 200mg of alcohol in a heavy week, which isn't all that far outside of those limits. On the other hand, if you're having drinks with more alcohol per glass, your consumption will be correspondingly higher and more likely to cause problems down the line. The major issue with long-term alcohol consumption is liver disease, but this is generally caused by longer-term patterns of drinking and your occasional weeks off probably isn't going to swing things one way or another in terms of risk factors.

So I would guess that your weeks off from a purely physical point of view your weeks off probably don't have any real health benefits. However, if they make you feel better, why should that matter?
posted by xchmp at 1:51 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you do it for a few weeks, feel better while you are doing it, decide you want to keep feeling better, and so keep dong it indefinitely...then you will realize significant health improvements, yes. Try doing it long enough for your body to adjust to your altered diet. No body wants to keep adjusting to a new (albeit repeated) diet every few weeks.
posted by davejay at 1:55 AM on July 17, 2012

taking regular breaks from various things i'm borderline addicted to over the years (alcohol, bob marley) has, i feel, allowed me to enjoy those things on a regular basis without going overboard and subjecting myself to f*cking-up-your-life levels of addiction, and on the other hand, without having to go all AA, sorry bro cant hang with you any more cause you like a few beers at night etc

i mean, i've got no science to back me up, but basically i'd say: hell yes, it's a great idea to take a break from drinking every once in a while. well done, keep it up!
posted by messiahwannabe at 2:47 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's good from a habit point-of-view to change it up once in a while.

I don't know about you, but sometimes in the early afternoon (when I typically lull and need a cup of coffee) I find myself making a cup without really feeling the drowsiness, which is a sign that it's a habit and not a need for stimulation. I don't need caffeine at that point, I'm just used to having it then. I tend to take a week off at that point to reset my habits and to get back to drinking a cup when I need it.

Alcohol at your level is not a problem, except that 15 drinks a week is probably 2000 or so extraneous calories. Do you exercise and watch what you eat otherwise? If you're noticing weight gain and you're looking for ways to control it, this is a good place to start, but if that's not a concern to you, then it's not really a problem.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 4:03 AM on July 17, 2012

I occasionally take a month off from alcohol and I always lose weight and gain a little muscle, without changing my exercise or eating habits at all. It's not why I do it but it's a nice bonus.
posted by pete_22 at 4:08 AM on July 17, 2012

I have known a couple of guys who really liked alcohol. They would take a month off every year (one at Lent, the other when he felt like it), partly for the "lift" it gave them but also as a check on their behavior. The idea seemed to be "if I can't breeze through a month without alcohol/caffeine/whatever, maybe I am too dependent on it." So, even if you don't get more "buzz for your buck" after, maybe it's a way for you to get/maintain perspective on your habits.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:33 AM on July 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

Genji, that's exactly why I do it. Well put.
posted by pete_22 at 4:46 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends on your mindset. Is the week spent thinking "boy, I can't wait for next Monday when I can have X again!" then no, it isn't doing any good. It's just reinforcing the habit.

Temporary breaks that end up with a return to the same behavior don't do any good, IMHO, except for the most temporary of benefits. Lose a little water weight, save a little money, etc. No lasting positive effects.
posted by gjc at 5:12 AM on July 17, 2012

It's good to know that I can. It lets me check in on the status of my habit.

I also find the first cup of coffee after a break to be the best thing ever, much better than just the run of the mill one-a-day.

But both of these are psychological and thus vary by person.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:41 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even moderate drinking can cause enlarged red blood cells, or macrocytosis. From what I understand, this is relatively new knowledge; it was previously thought that only alcoholics were given to macrocytosis. In fact, it was seen as a marker of chronic alcoholism, but now wider swaths of people are thought to have this "sensitivity" to alcohol.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:26 AM on July 17, 2012

The feeling you get from a first cup of coffee isn't psychological, it's physical. Your tolerance is lower after a break.

A nice article on caffeine at Lifehacker points to a book that might be of interest to you - Buzz: The science and lore of alcohol and caffeine.
posted by k8lin at 8:27 AM on July 17, 2012

Oh, and I forgot to add that taking a break from drinking can reverse macrocytosis so that your red blood cells go back to normal.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:32 AM on July 17, 2012

I like to take a week off all added sugars now and then, simply to reset my taste buds for less sweet foods. I find that I'm less prone to eating super sugary foods for perhaps a couple months after I do one of these "sugar fasts." The effect is temporary but, for me, worthwhile.
posted by CutaneousRabbit at 8:37 AM on July 17, 2012

Sure, a break is good for you. When you're young, you may be able to skip the caffeine without ill effects -- but for a lot of caffeine addicts, those first couple days of withdrawal mean the worst headaches ever.
posted by Rash at 9:07 AM on July 17, 2012

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