Oh, January — the month of the clean slate. The kick-off of a new year is certainly the most popular time for making resolutions, forging fresh starts, and going “dry.”
In case you aren’t familiar with the basics of Dry January: It’s when someone decides to go the whole month without consuming any alcohol. That’s right — not a drop.
Cutting back on alcohol consumption at the start of a new year has been an increasingly popular trend. And with 1 in 5 Americans participating in Dry January 2019 and the #DryJanuary hashtag showing up in nearly a quarter of a million social posts at the time of this article, it shows no sign of slowing.
There’s no shame in wanting a break from booze or at least a reset with improved health habits in mind. But participating in Dry January the right way takes a plan.
The term “Dry January” was registered as a trademark by the British charity Alcohol Change UK in 2014. The campaign had kicked off in 2013 to great success. Alcohol behavior expert Dr. Richard de Visser surveyed participants of the first Dry January and found that 7 out of 10 continued with safer drinking practices 6 months after the campaign ended.
From there, Dry January took off. In 2015, Alcohol Change UK partnered with Public Health England, which started the craze that would lead to Dry January being recognized worldwide.
We’re not gonna lie: Dry January has a mixed reputation. A quick Google search will generate just as many negative experiences as positive ones. And your participation in Dry January may come with differing opinions from your inner circle.
But, as with most things in life, all that really matters is whether Dry January is the right choice for you.
There’s evidence that going alcohol-free for a stretch can bring financial savings and weight loss in addition to health benefits. The first step is determining what your goals are.
A survey of 800 Dry January participants found that the alcohol-free month led to financial savings (for 88 percent of those surveyed), a better sense of control (80 percent), improved sleep (71 percent), increased energy (67 percent), and weight loss (58 percent), among other effects.
If you rarely drink alcohol, you may not notice many immediate benefits of Dry January (other than crushing a goal!). But it can have a major upside if you typically drink more than the recommended limit of one drink per day for women and two for men — even if you go beyond this number only occasionally.
A boost in mental clarity
One of the first things you may notice after participating in Dry January is increased focus, since high levels of alcohol consumption are related to decreased mental performance. According to a 2009 research review, heavy social drinkers may have difficulty recalling verbal or visual information.
Plus, since alcohol is a depressant, going booze-free can have positive effects on mood and mental health. This is especially good in January to help combat those winter blues.
No hangovers and better sleep
Saying “so long” to alcohol means saying “so long” to hangovers — and the headaches, nausea, dehydration, mood changes, and other negative effects they might cause.
You may also notice that you’re sleeping better in general. Alcohol is a common culprit for sleep disruptions, and studies have shown that it can decrease sleep quality by as much as 39.2 percent.
A stronger immune system
Dry January can also come with some immune system benefits, which are always more than welcome in the middle of winter. Research shows that drinking alcohol directly suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of infectious diseases.
In terms of more long-term benefits, avoiding alcohol for only 30 days may not come with substantial changes. But it’s a great reset and an opportunity to be extra mindful, which can lead to healthier drinking habits in the future.
Dry January-ers also commonly report weight loss. Alcohol (especially sugary mixed drinks) can be very high in calories, since it contains 7 calories per gram — almost as many as a gram of fat.
Alcohol provides your body with calories but barely any nutrients. In a 4-year study of nearly 5,000 people with diabetes and higher body weights who were trying to lose weight, alcohol consumption was associated with less weight loss.
Lower risk of disease
High alcohol consumption is linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer, so developing healthier drinking habits is always a good thing when it comes to your overall health.
Abstaining from alcohol also gives your liver some much-needed relief. In 2013, the staff of New Scientist conducted a small study and found that participating in Dry January reduced liver fat by 15 percent. But more research is needed to confirm the specific benefits.
Dry January isn’t for everyone. If you feel that you may have a larger issue with alcohol consumption, stopping cold turkey is not recommended, as it can come with withdrawal symptoms. In that case, it’s best to seek professional help with your approach.
Otherwise, there are plenty of tips and ways to safely and easily participate in Dry January.
Just as your body needs to be conditioned for a race, it also needs to be conditioned to go without alcohol. Once you commit to participating in Dry January, try to avoid heavy or binge drinking beforehand. Let others know what you’re doing so you have some accountability.
Speaking of accountability, it helps to rally some friends who are curious about Dry January and want to participate alongside you. Join some Facebook groups or connect with others using the hashtag #DryJanuary.
Realistically, it probably won’t be easy. There will be temptations during the month. But you can avoid triggers by tweaking some decisions here and there.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop being social — it just means you have a chance to get creative. Instead of heading to the bar, take time to visit a museum, learn something new, have movie or craft nights, or work out with friends.
Get familiar with alternative beverages
There are plenty of other beverages to drink while socializing that feel “fun,” like creative alcohol-free cocktails, CBD drinks, or kombucha. Many people find that carbonated drinks are more fun than the plainer options like water (just opt for the low-sugar options).
Remember it’s your journey
Understand that it’s OK to say “no.” Sure, it may seem awkward at first to be sober around your friends while they’re drinking, and they may not fully understand your choice. But that’s OK. You can stand firm in your decision and give yourself the space to see the process through. You are in control.
Participating in or successfully completing Dry January is an accomplishment in itself — and one that can lead to healthier habits, more control, and better responses to peer pressure. But no one says you have to stop there. If you choose to, you can take the benefits far beyond the 31-day challenge and into the rest of your year.
Carrying forward what you like from your experience is completely within your control, but will take continued planning and consistency. If you want to push your plan to 2 months, 6 months, or longer, you have a blueprint to follow. If you simply want to make Dry January an annual tradition, you know how to approach it from a prep standpoint.
Also, maintaining the support system you’ve formed is vital. Even if you don’t want to make it a whole dry year, any progress you strive for will be easier with support.
Bottom line: If you’re considering a break from alcohol, Dry January can provide perspective on your relationship with alcohol and the role it plays in your life.