Dry January is when people abstain from drinking alcohol for the entire month of January. It officially began in 2013 when the organization Alcohol Change UK started a Dry January campaign encouraging people to take a break from drinking for the month.
After a holiday season filled with festive cocktails, champagne toasts, and plenty of parties, you might be thinking about taking a short break from drinking. It could be part of your New Year’s resolution to live a healthier lifestyle, or maybe you just want a chance to think about the role that alcohol plays in your life.
Crystal Currie, a trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapist and founder of Compass Life Skills & Counseling, explains that taking a closer look at your relationship with alcohol means first examining what it’s actually doing for you.
“For most people that I have worked with, they’ve created a bond with the alcohol in the sense that it becomes a way of getting a need met,” she says. “And so what I work with my clients on is how can we get the need met without the alcohol? That’s what they ultimately want to do. We end up breaking the bond that they have with the alcohol because they feel empowered.”
Even if you consider yourself a casual drinker, taking a break from alcohol for the month of January can be good for you. Health experts say there are plenty of health benefits to Dry January, from improved sleep to better skin to more energy. And you might even find that you’ve got more time to get started on some of your goals for the new year.
If you’re a heavy drinker, get in touch with your doctor before attempting Dry January. “It’s important for people to know that alcohol is one of the drugs where you can actually die from withdrawal symptoms, so it’s important to be cautious,” explains Brittney Whiteman, a licensed advanced alcohol counselor with American Addiction Centers. “It’s very dependent on person and on usage, so if you’re going to make a change in that sense, you might want to consult your doctor.”
If you have alcohol use disorder, there are still ways you can stop drinking or rethink your relationship with alcohol, but Dry January might not be the best approach. The best course of action will be to talk to your doctor and come up with a safe plan.
Is taking a break from drinking worth it?
However, for moderate or social drinkers, taking a break from drinking can be a healthy opportunity for you to evaluate the role that alcohol plays in your life.
“You don’t have to think that you have a problem with alcohol for alcohol to be a problem in your life,” explains Currie. “Usually by the time you realize alcohol is maybe a problem and you need to take a break, it’s already started to cause some damage.”
Some of the signs that you might want to take a break from drinking can include:
- You’re feeling ineffective at work or in your personal life
- Your drinking is having a negative impact on your relationships
- You’re preoccupied with when you’ll be able to drink next
- You aren’t able to do simple activities without drinking
- You often feel irritable (especially while drinking or after drinking)
- You often feel dehydrated and/or bloated
- You sometimes forget what you did while you were intoxicated
- You’re spending more money than you want to on alcohol
- You have trouble stopping after you’ve started drinking
Of course, you might not be experiencing any of the above and still want to take a break from drinking. You don’t necessarily have to be seeing negative consequences from drinking in order to decide you want to do Dry January. Maybe you’re doing it in solidarity with a friend, or maybe you want to experience some of the health benefits of an alcohol-free month. No matter the reason, you can decide to stop drinking whenever it feels right to you.
What are some of the benefits of Dry January?
It’s likely you’ll see improvements to your physical and mental health if you abstain from drinking for a few weeks. Some of the health benefits of Dry January can include:
✔️ Improved sleep. Although you might find that alcohol makes you feel drowsy, you aren’t actually benefitting from deep sleep after imbibing. Taking a break from drinking can change that.
“You’ll actually get better sleep,” explains Currie. “When you initially drink, you feel better, you feel excited, but what happens when the alcohol starts to metabolize in your body, it has a counter effect on your sleeping pattern. You don’t sleep as deeply and as effectively as you would when you’re not drinking.”
✔️ More energy. Of course, if you’re sleeping better, you’ll feel more rested. You’ll also just feel more energized overall.
“When you discontinue drinking, you’re going to feel more awake, more alert, and more energized,” explains Whiteman. She adds that you might feel more motivated to do things that you wouldn’t do if you were hungover. “For example, if you like to work out, or you want to clean your house, or you want to go get a coffee with a friend, you might not really have the energy or feel like doing that if you feel like crap.”
✔️ Better skin. “Your skin is going to improve because you’re not going to be as dehydrated,” explains Whiteman. “Alcohol is a dehydrating agent.”
✔️ Weight loss. A glass of wine has about 125 calories, while a beer has around 155 calories, according to WebMD. A shot of liquor has about 96 calories, but if you’re mixing it with soda, that’s adding calories too. So if you’re having three or four drinks on a night out, it can really add up. A 2018 study from the University of Sussex found that 58% of people who did Dry January reported that they had lost weight.
✔️ Better stress management. If you’ve ever gone for a big glass of wine after a challenging day, you’re certainly not alone. According to Currie, one of the benefits of taking a break from drinking might be that you’ll find new ways to relieve stress that don’t involve alcohol.
“You’ll be able to identify how to better deal with stress or difficult situations because you’re not using alcohol as a way to release the stress that you’re dealing with,” she explains.
✔️ Improved relationships. You might notice that your relationship with your significant other or other loved ones improves when you stop drinking. “Maybe you’re not fighting as much, or maybe you find other mutually enjoyable activities that you can do with your significant other that don’t involve drinking,” says Whiteman.
✔️ Decreased anxiety. If you’ve ever had “hangxiety” the day after drinking (a.k.a. feeling anxious about what you said or did the night before) then cutting out alcohol means you’ll probably be less likely to experience these symptoms. But it’s important to note that if you experience anxiety symptoms, it’s best to manage those with a professional.
How to do a successful Dry January
If you’ve decided to give Dry January a try, there are some tips and tricks that can help you abstain from alcohol for the month.
✔️ Rely on a support system. “You’re going to want a support system, whether that’s friends, family, a significant other, somebody who’s going to support you and encourage you in making this change — somebody who’s going to help remind you why you want to do this,” Whiteman explains.
✔️ See if there’s anyone you can do it with. Whether it’s your partner, a friend, or a family member, doing Dry January is easier if you’re not doing it alone. “Connect with someone that you can do it with, because it’s good to have that encouragement and that motivation,” Currie says.
✔️ Write down your goals. Maybe you want to have more energy on the weekends, be more present with your family, be more focused at work, or focus on exercise. Whatever your reasons are for doing Dry January, you should write them down somewhere.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
“Identify what your goals are so that the days you do want that drink, you can kind of reflect back like, Maybe I don’t want that drink because I want these things so much more,” explains Whiteman.
✔️ Get rid of all the booze in your house. You don’t have to pour it all down the drain, but see if you can store your bottles at a friend or family member’s house for the month. That way, you won’t be tempted to pour a drink just because it’s there.
✔️ Create some activities to do in place of drinking. If you’re used to meeting up for happy hours with friends or unwinding with a glass of wine each evening, you’ll want to find alternatives that don’t involve drinking. You can see if your friends would be willing to meet for coffee instead, or take a meditative walk to end your day.
✔️ Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you do drink during the month, have some compassion for yourself and don’t beat yourself up. “It’s completely okay, just celebrate the actual progress that you did make and the amount of days you did go without drinking alcohol,” says Currie.
Whiteman also notes that you can lean on your support system if this happens. “What’s important is how you respond to that mistake. Do you throw in the towel and say, Well I drank yesterday so might as well drink again today, or do you reach out to that support system and say Hey, I had a tough day yesterday, can you help me refocus and get back on track? It’s important to take things one day at a time.”
What happens in February?
After you’ve successfully completed Dry January, you might find that you don’t have as much desire to drink. But if you do decide to reintroduce alcohol into your life, go slow.
“I think it’s important to be mindful that your tolerance has changed and the amount of alcohol that you previously drank before starting Dry January is going to have a different effect on you come February,” says Whiteman.
And just because the month is over, it doesn’t mean you have to go back to your old habits.
“Your life was different for the past 31 days and you were able to develop some new activities and some new skills. Just because it’s a new month, you don’t have to throw all of that away,” Currie notes.
Article by Jamie Ballard for Woman’s Day©