If you want to perform at the top of your game, give up the booze. Whether you are a litigating attorney, an executive running a company or negotiating a deal, an elite athlete, pilot or other top performer, in order to function at peak levels, abstinence is your friend. If you want to stay at those peak levels, under stress and when the stakes are high, abstinence is imperative.
The detrimental effects of alcohol on human physiology have been well documented. It adversely influences “neural function, metabolism, cardiovascular physiology, thermoregulation and skeletal muscle myopathy” (Vella and Cameron-Smith, 2010, p. 781).
To measure the impact of abstinence on people’s ability to function, a team of researchers at New Scientist decided to work together with those at University College London Medical School to track changes in the body when individuals abstained from alcohol for one month. Their findings were a game changer.
Respondents reported that their sleep quality improved by 10%.
Participants also benefited from a whopping 18% increase in the ability to concentrate.
Take that one to the courtroom or boardroom!
As University of Virginia researcher Lorie Hood puts it, “Many people think that alcohol will help them cope with stress but the opposite is true. Alcohol disrupts sleep, causes cognitive ability to decline and actually increases anxiety” (2015).
Not only did the abstinence experiment show that when people give up alcohol they enjoy an increase in cognitive performance and better sleep, but they also gained improvement in overall health:
“Liver fat decreased an average of 15%, with some participants losing up to 20%.
Accumulation of fat in the liver is a precursor to liver damage — creating inflammation that can lead to liver disease. A reduction this large means that an almost immediate benefit of quitting drinking can help your liver slim down, dramatically reducing your chances of developing cirrhosis or other chronic liver conditions.
Blood glucose levels dropped an average of 16%.
This is incredibly significant among the benefits of the quitting alcohol timeline, since high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream are a sign of heightened blood sugar and can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Once those levels get under control, the risk is reduced.
Total blood cholesterol decreased by nearly 5%.
Heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., can be predicted in part by examining patients’ cholesterol levels. While an average decrease of 5% in blood cholesterol might not seem like much, it’s quite significant when achieved as a result of cutting out alcohol.
While researchers and spectators alike guessed that quitting alcohol would have several health benefits, all were surprised at the sheer number and quality of positive outcomes that were observed” (Vella and Cameron-Smith, 2010, p. 781).
So, while you may read that there are some health benefits to drinking a glass or two of wine per day, many researchers and clinicians in the field of human potential and performance agree that alcohol consumption does not lead to increased performance. As Hood puts it, “If you want to achieve and maintain maximum, sustained performance in a high stress, high stakes environment, alcohol is not your friend” (2015).
Hood, L. (2015). Peak Performance in High Stress, High Stakes Environments [Keynote Speech, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.
Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients, 2(8), 781–789. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu2080781