5 Unexpected Benefits (And Drawbacks) of Sober October 2019

Sober October 2019 was a success! For 30 days, I abstained from all psychoactive drugs as a kind of personal challenge. It was revealing; it was terrorizing; it was especially disappointing when I bought mildly caffeinated sodas and couldn’t drink them.

I already covered my initial reactions and observations while I was knee-deep in the shit-swamp that is sobriety (spoiler: it wasn’t that bad), but I figured I’d also write a follow-up post as a final send-off.  While there are many apparent advantages and disadvantages of sobriety, I only opted to cover what I didn’t see coming. Take, for example, my bowel movements: they were noticeably firmer, and for your sake, not an entry on this list.


The Benefits

My Energy Levels Were Higher Than Expected

While quitting caffeine and nicotine cold-turkey crashed my energy levels initially, I recovered quite quickly. After the first week, I was able to make it through a 16 hour day without difficulty as long as I had slept for 7-8 hours or more.

While that might not sound like a superhuman feat, it was surprising to me. My caffeine and nicotine dependency began with the assumption that my energy levels were decreasing, so I was thrilled to discover that they’re not tanking after all. In general, my stable energy levels are also a good indicator that my general health isn’t too shabby, either.

My Libido Increased

Without the option to use substances, I found myself gravitating more towards sexual pleasure as an outlet of stimulation/relaxation.

There’s probably a pretty strong correlation between my sobriety and increased sexual interest here. After all, most drugs — both stimulants, depressants, and everything else in between — aren’t very conducive to sex. Or, if they are, they usually detract from your bedroom experience in some way. For example, erectile dysfunction is a known side effect of MDMA. Not much of a “love drug” after all, is it?

Less Mood Swings and Emotional Volatility

Because my two substances of choice are stimulants, my mood reached a calmer, more balanced equilibrium after I ceased all consumption. Well, once the initial withdrawals had passed, anyway.

While some might see this benefit as obligatory, I think substance-related deviations in mood probably become less apparent when use becomes daily or habitual. It’s more difficult to recall what your sober “baseline” is when you’re rarely ever sober. You and others might even begin to accept and attribute increases in unfavourable behaviour to yourself when the substances you’re consuming are the culprits (or at the very least, exacerbating any behavioural unpleasantness).

My Gym Motivation & Physical Strength Were Unchanged

Historically, I’ve been a big fan of using caffeine as a pre-workout motivation enhancer.  However, I was caffeine-free during October, and my exercise endurance was arguably better for it. Because I wasn’t in a chemically-induced fight-or-flight state, I felt like I could breathe better and handle more intensity. I set a number of PRs (personal records) throughout October and felt pretty good overall.

In retrospect, it’s entirely possible that I perceive caffeine as an exercise catalyst because, as a stimulant, it increases my heart rate and makes exercise “feel” more intense. As such, the supposed increase in intensity might be nothing more than the byproduct of a caffeine-induced stress response.

I Didn’t Miss Substances

Undoubtedly, for many regular drug users, withdrawal symptoms are the most terrifying prospect of going sober. After all, you’ll never know what kind of wild cravings you’ll endure after refusing to feed the beast — and without appeasing your addictions, the body will inevitably rebel.

But when addictions fade and desire decreases, it can give rise to a deeper, more existential fear: what if life just isn’t that great without drugs?

As I discovered, life isn’t that bad sober. Past the first week, I wasn’t even particularly interested in breaking my streak and indulging in my old vices. Of course, maybe it is easier to write off drug use when you know you’re only abstaining from it for an arbitrary amount of time.

Regardless, if I needed physical stimulation or relaxation throughout October, I would seek out the gym, sexual pleasure, or take a hot bath/sauna. I still maintain that a hot bath with epsom salts provides a more pleasurable “body high” than alcohol. It’s probably cheaper, too.


Good Sleep Was Essential

Because I couldn’t compensate for poor lifestyle choices with substances like caffeine or nicotine during Sober October, sleep became my only source of bodily “fuel.” As I commented earlier, my energy levels were great if I got 7-8 hours of sleep. But, if I slept anything less than 7 hours, my motivation would take a noticeable hit.

However, as I commented in my last Sober October post, this drawback could be interpreted as a benefit, as it encouraged me to be prudent about my health and get enough rest each night. Without chemical cheat codes, there wasn’t any room for folly.

Coping with Cold Symptoms Sucked

I’m a big fan of using kratom to mitigate the sinus pressure that accompanies my rhinovirus symptoms. When I caught a cold during the tail end of this month, I had to rely on the non-psychoactive drugs ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which weren’t anywhere as effective. For me, this is one hurdle of sobriety that falls into “deal-breaker” territory. Few things make me yearn for a belly-full-o-drugs like a miserable cold.

My Appetite Returned in Full-Force and Degraded My Focus

Caffeine and nicotine are great appetite suppressants. They’re so effective that, without them, it was a lot harder to ignore hunger pangs and stay focused throughout October. I had a stronger desire to eat and snack on everything I could between meals.

As you might imagine, having carnal cravings of this sort isn’t conducive to staying productive. But hey — as a leaner guy with the metabolism of an 80s cereal mascot, getting more calories in wasn’t all bad.

My Productivity Was Okay (But Not Great)

At the dawn of Sober October 2019, I was somewhat convinced that going sober would keep me laser-focused. After a year or two of daily caffeine and nicotine consumption, I had a niggling suspicion that my substance use had become a way to merely curb my active withdrawal symptoms rather than enhance my productivity.

However, as I discovered, this wasn’t the case. While my energy levels were consistent throughout most of October, my productivity decreased. In particular, I found it harder to power through any work fatigue I encountered while sober. Normally, I would address any slight lethargy or loss of focus by popping a nicotine lozenge or brewing and drinking some tea.

All in all, I still think stimulants can be an invaluable asset for productivity — but only if used responsibly and not regularly.

I Got Sick Twice (What?)

Any brave soul venturing into the logician’s world will quickly recognize that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. However, I got sick twice in October — the only month of the year when I was sober. What gives??

With it being October, it’s possible that there were some otherworldly or supernatural forces at play. It’s also possible that the world is saturated with bacterial tribes that are waging constant biological warfare against humanity, and I just happened to swallow their latest microscopic WMD.

Despite sobriety’s many virtues, all the sobriety in the world couldn’t stop that bomb from going off.

Photos by Lina White on Unsplash and JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

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