As the sun rises on January 1st, many Americans may be exchanging nights out at the bar with gym memberships and new weight loss resolutions. For millions, January is a time for a clean slate—a fresh start—to create resolutions and changes in their lives. And, for roughly 1 in 5 Americans, these resolutions include Dry January as well.
What is Dry January? Started in 2013 in England, Dry January is a month-long, booze-free challenge with the goal of resetting people’s relationships with alcohol. Not only is this a good practice to start the year, now research has shown it can have long-term effects on things like sleep, weight loss and an overall decrease in alcohol consumption over time.
Luke Peterson, DO, addiction medicine and family medicine physician with Banner – University Medicine Family Medicine Clinic, explained how you can integrate Dry January in your New Year’s resolutions.
Before going cold turkey, consult your doctor
You should always consult your doctor when stopping alcohol “cold turkey.” Daily alcohol drinking may result in physical dependence and withdrawal. If you drink only one or two drinks in a week, you may not experience any serious withdrawal symptoms. Drinking four servings for women and five servings for men in one sitting can increase the chances of alcohol-related complications, alcohol use disorder and death.
Although we have drinking limits, newer data is showing that drinking less than you are currently drinking now is safer. In the U.S., 1 in 5 people will meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder during their lifetime.
“What some people don’t realize is that of all the drugs of abuse, alcohol withdrawal is the one that could actually kill you,” Dr. Peterson said. “Although it’s not common, roughly 1 in 10 can experience seizures if they are not medicated through the withdrawal state. Less than 1% have delirium tremors. People may also experience anxiety, insomnia, tremors, hallucinations and sensitivity to light, sound and touch.”
Consult your doctor and discuss honestly and openly your drinking patterns and if Dry January is appropriate to start in the coming new year.
Let your friends and family know about it
The most successful participants in Dry January are those who let their friends and family know. This way, if you are going out to bars and aren’t drinking, there won’t be so many questions. Dr. Peterson added, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid bars during this time either.
“You can get nonalcoholic drinks or soft drinks, and you can even, if you are feeling generous, act as the designated driver,” Dr. Peterson said. “Who knows? You may have friends and family who want to join and support you during this time too.”
The Potential Perks of Going Dry
1. Better sleep and more energy
As you go through Dry January, you may notice you’re sleeping better and more soundly, which means you’ll have more energy and feel more motivated to get in those workouts and make the most of that new gym membership.
2. Stronger immune system
Drinking alcohol can suppress your immune function, which can make you more susceptible to illnesses.
3. Potential weight loss
This one’s a no-brainer. If you are ingesting fewer calories, particularly liquid calories, you may start to notice a drop on the scale.
4. Your liver will thank you
“About half of all liver disease deaths are from alcoholic liver disease,” Dr. Peterson said. “It's reasonable to assume that abstaining from drinking is generally good for your liver. That said, if you jump right back into your regular heavy drinking habits in February, it won’t do you or your life any good.”
5. Reevaluate your relationship with alcohol
At the end of the month, reevaluate how you feel. Do you have more energy? Are you more productive? Do you feel less anxious? Curbing alcohol may have long-term positive effects that you may want to continue. You may be surprised how limiting alcohol consumption improves work and personal relationships.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to cut back or stop drinking. If at any time during your Dry January you feel you are struggling or can’t make it the full 31 days, don’t beat yourself up,” Dr. Peterson said. “Seek out support from your doctor or a licensed behavioral health specialist for help. It’s OK to ask for help.”