Dr. B's Weekly Roundup: The health effects of quitting alcohol

Jacqueline Raposo
Jacqueline Raposo
Jan 12, 2023
A color outdoor photograph of a white woman with blond hair tied up into a bun and a pink scarf flowing in the wind. She's standing with her back to the camera, with an expansive New York City scene and pink sky ahead of her.

Welcome to the Dr. B Newsletter, a curated weekly healthcare email that cuts through the noise to deliver vetted reads on whole-body health. We’re gonna shamelessly piggyback off of Dry January and bring you the latest science behind how alcohol affects our brain, body + social ties. Whether or not you’re currently abstaining, scroll for info that will help you choose well every month of this beautiful new year. Then keep scrolling for vital updates around Covid-19 subvariants, antivirals + chronic conditions.

  • The Checkup: cleanse + fortify
  • Dry out! brains +bodies + etiquette
  • Healthcare: vital Covid-19 updates

The Checkup

Your brain + booze 

A color indoor photograph of three friends in a kitchen, drinking snacks. Two white women with long black and red hair, wearing long-sleeved shirts, look away from the camera at the third woman, a tall Black women with cropped hair wearing a long-sleeved punk shirt and white scarf, holding a beer and speaking.

The study started awkwardly enough. 700 social drinkers were grouped with two strangers, drinks in hand. At first, conversation was stilted. But as time + sips ticked by, they smiled more. They got chattier. And they shared more golden moments, where they smiled at the same time.

Why does this happen?

A collection of studies on alcohol + the brain show that alcohol dampens activity in areas of our frontal cortex that control inhibitions. It releases dopamine + encourages the stimulus-reward system in the stratum. And it suppresses how we react to negative facial expressions—hence our boosted confidence in chatting up a stranger at the bar + why we don't really care if they reject us.

The changes happen fast. Ethanol—the chemical compound that makes alcoholic drinks buzzy—permeates + spreads across our brain within minutes. Researchers have tracked these neural reactions in MRI scans. But alcohol = only 1/2 of the equation.

Head to the article for more on how social circumstances make a difference, plus tips on how to drink healthily.

Dry out!

A color indoor photograph of a young white woman with short hair, sitting on a bed in a tank top with pillows around her, closing her eyes and smiling as she sips from a mug of tea.

At the point in Dry January where you’re like, “Why did I think this was a good idea?!” Take heart! A Washington Post article promises moderate drinkers that a sober month can encourage long-term health.

If we take stock of what feels good during our cleanse—things like better sleep, a clearer head + boosted energy—we're more likely to shift our habits towards those outcomes when alcohol is back on the table. And socially, we’ve practiced saying no + so can better moderate our intake moving forward. These shifts can reduce our drinking risk from hazardous to low—meaning we’re less likely to get Type 2 diabetes + cancers down the line.

Read the article for details + five tips for a successful cleanse.

Go out!

A color outdoor photograph of a group of friends on a deck against a wood home, with mountains in the distance. They're smiling off the camera, with one pointing to the distance.

So, you’re not practicing Dry January + out with friends? Here’s what The Huffington Post warns you not to say to someone who's abstaining.

  1. “Can’t you have just one?” When someone articulates their choices or boundaries, don’t question their validity.
  2. “Do you have a problem?” Dry January ≠ recovery. Let’s not underplay those working toward sobriety or discard the value of moderation. There’s room for all of us.
  3. “How are you going to destress?” Why assume a drink is the only way to unwind? Let’s encourage other ways to cope. Take a walk. Have a bath. Call a friend. 
  4. “Do you miss alcohol?” Many people participating in Dry January are trying to assess how they feel about drinking. The point is to identify what we don’t miss about it.

Click through the article for tips on why + how to be a supportive friend.

Healthcare 411

The symptoms of Covid variant XBB that doctors are seeing right now (HuffPo). Variant XBB 1.5 is the most transmissible yet, making 40% of national infections + climbing fast. Hospital physicians note XBB 1.5 symptoms include a slight increase in achiness, congestion + headaches. Fevers, chills and a sore throat are common, too. They’re not seeing severe shortness of breath that requires ventilation or a loss of taste or smell. Like other Omicron variants, XBB 1.5 evades immunity from prior illness + vaccination. But vaccination still greatly reduces risk of severe illness, hospitalization + death. Risks good to lower, right?

COVID drug Paxlovid was hailed as a game-changer. What happened? (Nature). Paxlovid is the only defense left for high-risk people with a Covid-19 infection. But only 13% of eligible Americans have gotten it, with Black + Hispanic populations getting it 30% less than white populations. Why the gap? Paxlovid can include uncomfortable side effects, interact with other drugs + cause rebound infections, and it needs to be taken within five days of symptoms. Still, it reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by almost 90%. To save more lives, Paxlovid requires increased distribution planning + implementation.

Learn how Dr. B can help you get Paxlovid without a physical trip to the doctor’s office here.

Long COVID stemmed from mild cases of COVID-19 in most people, according to a new multicountry study (The Conversation). A massive report analyzing 54 studies of over a million people from 22 countries found that 90% of people living with long Covid experienced mild initial Covid-19 infections. The chronic symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive issues that affect functioning health experts place on par with the effects of traumatic brain injury. One in seven of those with long Covid have symptoms over a year later. This data was collected from pre-Omicron variants. So the jury’s out on what we’ll see down the line.

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