Most people who quit or cut back lose weight (the average woman takes in 50 calories a day from alcohol—that can be enough to pack on several pounds a year). Amanda Feifer, a 38-year-old Philadelphia culinary instructor, noticed other common benefits when she limited her drinking to special occasions: Her moods became easier to manage. The why? Alcohol disrupts mood-regulating neurotransmitters and can, over time, contribute to depression and anxiety, says Richard Saitz, M.D., an addiction specialist and primary-care doctor in Boston. And since a night out used to leave her “hungover for days,” Amanda is now also much less tired. “Just one drink delays the onset of REM sleep—that’s the most restorative stage,” says Saitz. Since I broke up with booze, I’ve gotten zero colds or sinus infections, which used to plague me several times a year. Makes sense, since research shows that alcohol can impair the immune system.
Long-term, alcohol—in some cases as little as a daily tipple—has been linked to high blood pressure and stroke, as well as several types of cancer. One new report found a single daily alcoholic drink increases breast cancer risk by up to 5 percent.
Putting down the bottle may even lead you to pick up something better. When I quit, I found new ways to defang the anxiety I used to numb with alcohol. I ate my fair share of ice cream at first, but as I gained energy, I read more and did yoga. (Kick-start your new, healthy routine with Women’s Health’s 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)