Resisting the Afternoon Cocktail for Better Brain Health

by Shelly Mateer
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You know the feeling. The afternoon urge that pulls you to relax and unwind with your favorite cocktail. It’s an impulse that so often becomes a daily habit. One cocktail inevitably turns into several cocktails. It’s a cycle that repeats each day.

I’m not going to lie. I enjoy the occasional cocktail. My previous life as a CIA officer was filled with more than my share of booze. It was almost as if drinking was a requirement, and in some cultures it is practically seen as rude to decline a drink. Ouzo, scotch, wine, beer, vodka, you name it – I probably like it. But sometimes this can become a habit, and I recognize that I feel much better overall when I don’t imbibe.

We all know how drinking alcohol can hurt your health. Heavy, long-term drinking can damage the liver, the organ chiefly responsible for breaking down alcohol into harmless byproducts and clearing it from the body. But did you know that alcohol consumption can also cause serious damage to your brain?

Alcohol–damaged liver cells allow excess amounts of the toxic substances ammonia and manganese to enter the brain causing harm to brain cells. Long-term heavy drinking may lead to shrinking of the brain and deficiencies in the fibers (white matter) that carry information between brain cells (gray matter). And it’s not just heavy drinking that can harm your health. The effects of alcohol consumption are cumulative. Long term use, even having one drink a day, can drain your energy over time. Alcohol consumption causes changes in sleep patterns, disrupting the most restorative phase of sleep that occurs later in the night. It can affect your mood, personality and contribute to psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression. There can also be severe cognitive effects such as shortened attention span and problems with coordination.

Sometimes the old advice to exercise when you feel the pull of alcohol is just not feasible. After a long, draining day at work or while attending a social event it just might not be possible to take a jog much less throw yourself down and do some pushups.

So what do you do instead of sipping that cocktail or taking that shot? I’ve come up with some suggestions.


  • Replace the alcoholic beverage with a different type of beverage. Try coffee, tea, a mocktail, a smoothie, hot chocolate, club soda with lime or lemon or just plain water. My personal favorite is a cup of miso soup. You can buy individual serving packets of miso – all you have to do is add hot water. The only limit to this list is your imagination. Get creative.
  • Read something. Make it a habit to read an uplifting or inspiring article, short story or book each day. Try reading something written by or about someone you admire – it can make you feel positive and rejuvenated.
  • Read the above harmful aspects of alcohol consumption on your health. There’s nothing like the image of your brain shrinking to encourage you not to drink.
  • Check out some of the beneficial side effects of cutting back or abstaining from alcohol. Getting better sleep, having younger-looking skin, losing weight and being able to quickly fight off the common cold are all good things that will come to you when you choose not to drink.
  • Look at a picture of someone whose physical appearance you admire. Most likely, this person does not drink heavily.
  • If possible, do some exercise. Get your body moving and you will begin to feel the benefits immediately. Try doing some stretches or take some deep breaths. 
  • Listen to a podcast that inspires you. There are many to choose from – find one that makes you feel good and listen for a few minutes. 
  • Turn on some music. 
  • Take a free online class. Skim through one or dive into one more in-depth. Find a subject you are interested in and learn more about it. 
  • Take a shower. This might sound strange but it really will help you to relax and refresh after a long day.
  • Write something. It doesn’t have to be a novel, just a few lines about how you feel or even a to-do list for the coming weeks. Who knows? You may even write the next best-seller.

As I mentioned above, cutting alcohol out of your life can be quite beneficial to your health and well being. In addition to alcoholic beverages being full of calories, they can dehydrate you and even make you think you are hungry, when you are in fact thirsty. This leads to weight gain, and with weight loss being a common goal of people all over the world, the clear choice is to either limit or abstain from that drink.

We all know drinking water can help your skin to look better. Alcohol can act as a diuretic, which can increase fluid loss and lead to dehydration. Give your body a break from alcohol and you will notice a healthy change in your skin’s appearance, even within a few days of having that last drink.

If the prospects of memory loss, decreased brain cells, depression, mood changes and poor sleep are not enough to keep you from reaching for that cocktail, perhaps just trying to alter the way you drink alcohol can help. A trick I learned long ago from my friends in Europe is to space out your alcoholic beverages. Put a full glass of water between each drink. This allows you to feel that warm fuzzy feeling that alcohol can bring and enjoy it, without overdoing it. Obviously the best solution for some people is to cut alcohol completely out of their life. In other cases, as with most things in life, moderation is key.

A great deal of mental strength will be required to retrain your brain in order to control that urge for a daily drink. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing usually is. The effort you put into living a healthier life will most definitely pay off and will be worth every minute of struggle you endure.

Shelly Mateer
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