I Gave Up Alcohol for 21 Days, and Here’s What Happened

Updated: Jun. 28, 2022

Cutting cocktails out of my life was a seriously eye-opening experience and one of the best ways I've found to feel better—fast.

i-gave-up-drinkingCourtesy Hope Daniels

It was the last Sunday of April, and a bunch of strangers showed up at the gym early in the morning. A few athletes were already stretching their arms and revving up their heart rate, but most of us could barely focus. Maybe, like me, their Saturday night was filled with burritos, nachos, and potent margaritas. (Here are steps you can take to avoid a hangover.) But ready or not…it was detox day.

As I was working out, I spotted a flyer about my gym’s 21-day workout challenge, and I impulsively signed up. I always wanted to train for a marathon, so I considered this my version of it; I had to find the willpower and strength to get me across the finish line. I needed to stop being lazy and get out of my rut. (I was coming off the heels of a rough winter, which included numerous dental surgeries, a series of sinus infections, and more social drinking and dessert eating than I want to admit.) This was my chance to make the change.

Waiting to get called onto the scale during the challenge’s roll call, I read the packet of menu samples, herbal supplements, recommended exercise routines, and food and beverage allowance guidelines. Obviously, margaritas were not on the list. In all capped, bold print it read, “REMINDER: NO FRIED FOOD, NO REFINED OR WHITE FLOUR/RICE, NO ALCOHOL, NO SUGAR, NO DAIRY.” It was easy to commit on paper, but three weeks of fighting off cravings and temptation wouldn’t be easy. [Here are no-alcohol drinks that taste like the real thing.]

And it wasn’t; the first five days alone were torture.

I wasn’t very hungry, but since my body was eliminating plenty of waste and toxins, I didn’t exactly feel amazing in the process. I literally had the shakes from a decrease in sugar, headaches from not drinking caffeinated coffee, and confusion about how I was going to get through the next couple of weeks. I worked out 30 minutes a day to decrease the stress, but I couldn’t rely on my normal routine of having a glass of red wine to relax from the day. Instead, I had to be more creative with my spare time and opted for hot water with lemon or a chai tea with soy milk, as I researched the benefits of breaking bad habits.

Overcoming weakness with willpower was my goal for the next leg of the journey. But the difficult part about making a change is realizing that “wanting” and “doing ” are two very different things. Just like a career, taking care of kids, strengthening a skill, or reaching a goal, you have to physically work for it rather than just wait for it to happen—and that’s way harder than just turning down happy hour. Throughout the 21 days, I would often tell myself that the challenge was pointless, and no one would know if I slipped in a glass of wine or a bite of a brownie. Eventually, I realized I was trying to sabotage myself.

By the end of the challenge, I learned something even more important: Feeling the results is better than seeing them. I had fewer headaches, felt more alert, had more energy, and was simply happier. I even felt a little smarter as I researched which foods were better for my body, and learned how to make healthier meals. As for the booze, I could go days or weeks without it—and it didn’t torture me as it did a month ago. (Here’s one woman’s story on how she quit drinking.)

I felt accomplished, too, because even though I wanted to give up dozens of times, I didn’t. Even better: My waist got smaller, my arms got buffer, and I felt no guilt after indulging in a piece of cake or cocktail to celebrate.

Want to give booze a break too? These simple tips will help you cut back on alcohol.