Health-Conscious New Yorkers Cheer Benefits of Abstaining from Alcohol

By Heather Holland on April 22, 2013 7:38am 

Slideshow
 For some New Yorkers, the decision to quit drinking means a cheaper and healthier lifestyle.
New Yorkers Give Up Alcohol and Live to Tell About It
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NEW YORK CITY — In a city where it sometimes seems booze is the center of social life, these New Yorkers tried going dry — and found sobriety suited them.

For many New Yorkers like Lynn Settlow, a 40-year-old resident of Park Slope, social drinking had become part of her routine.

During a typical week, she would meet up with friends at a bar, or for dinner and wine, at least three times a week, she said.

It wasn’t until she gave up drinking for a month to get trim for her wedding that she realized how much life revolved around it.

“I don’t drink so much, but the idea that you can’t have a glass of wine with dinner seemed so sad,” Settlow said. “When [you] do go out…you just don’t want to be the only one not drinking with a group of people.

"So instead, you meet up for coffee or meet up in the afternoon. It was just about changing the time of when you meet up with people."

Julia Furlan, a 29-year-old resident of Prospect Heights, cut out alcohol for the month of January in hopes of starting the year off with a clearer head. But she admitted that the most difficult part of kicking booze was losing time with her friends.

“It’s more annoying than it is hard,” Furlan said. “You end up not doing much, social events get postponed, or you put off that friend you’ve been wanting to see for months because you can’t have that big boozy brunch you wanted.”

Because of the high concentration of bars and restaurants in the Big Apple, it's common for New Yorkers to feel peer-pressured into thinking they have to drink to have a good time, said Joanna Paterson, a fitness trainer at Bodies Synergy.

“There’s this idea that if you don’t drink, you’re not going to have fun,” she said. “But to be at your best on your wedding day, or to be at your best for a marathon, you need to be able to focus on that. The goal has to be bigger than your friend telling you that you need to drink.”

Despite the social side effects, many New Yorkers agreed that abstinence for even a short period of time came with an array of benefits.

For instance, Furlan, who typically drinks two or three times a week, saved $200 when she gave up alcohol for the month of January.

“I ended up starting the year off with a little more money, which is good when you don’t have any money because of the holidays,” she said. “It really makes you realize how frequently you drink in other months.”

Lyndsey Purchon, a 30-year-old resident of Williamsburg, said she lost 10 pounds in a month by cutting out alcohol, caffeine and gluten. Several others echoed the sentiment that cutting alcohol reduced the general temptation to eat unhealthy foods.

“I find that I eat less and I eat less junk food,” Furlan said. “I felt like I was less susceptible to temptation because I’m more balanced in my head. In general, it makes your feel more mindful of everything you’re putting into your body.”

Not to mention that the positive effects of going dry — such as a clearer head and healthier body — lasts several months after you start drinking again, Furlan pointed out.

“It helped later in the year, when I’m deciding whether or not to have a beer at the end of the day,” she said. “Now I can tell myself, 'I'm fine, I don’t need this.'"

Jim Gallagher, a 65-year-old bartender at Molly’s at 287 Third Ave., quit drinking for 18 years and said that the decision has actually improved his social life.

“I have more friends now,” Gallagher said. “It’s good waking up in the morning with no hangover, or not getting a phone call the next morning from someone I offended the night before.”

The effects of alcohol on a person’s life is one way to tell whether a person is drinking too much and needs to cut back, said Dr. Jayaram Srinivasan, senior medical advisor of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

“Are other people getting annoyed? Is the person feeling guilty? Is the person having a drink in the morning just to get going?” asked Srinivasan. “These are some questions you can ask yourself.”

The safe level of drinking for women is one drink or less per day, and 1-2 drinks per day for a man, said Srinivasan. One drink means 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. of liquor.

“The more time in your life that you spend in that unsafe level of drinking, the higher risk you have for diseases like liver disease and certain types of cancers,” said Srinivasan.

But cutting back or going dry doesn’t mean you can’t go out for drinks with your friends anymore, Paterson said. Try sipping on a virgin cocktail instead of the usual mixed drink, she suggested.

“They look just like the real thing, and it seems to ease the peer pressure,” she said.

It’s also helpful to arm yourself with a support group, Furlan said.

“It’s very helpful when your friends do it all together,” she explained. “When you’re a young professional, not drinking can make you feel old, and if everyone is doing it, it makes it a lot easier.”

“As soon as the wedding was done, I went back,” Settlow admitted. “No, I would never quit [drinking] again. It was hard. Maybe if I got pregnant, but that’s the only way I would do it.”

Others said they’d dry out again, but only for a month at a time.

“I think it’s a wonderful way to start the year,” Furlan said. “It helps you sort of get in tune with your body. It lets you prioritize your health and feeling good."

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