For millions of Americans, January is a time for a clean slate – a fresh start – to create intentional changes or resolutions in our lives.
After a spike in drinking over the holidays, it’s not surprising that many Americans ditch the alcohol on January 1.
Say goodbye to the wet bar and hello to Dry January!
Maybe you’re simply ready to cleanse yourself of all things, like booze and unhealthy eating or maybe you have serious concerns about your drinking. Either way, 31 days of not drinking may be just the thing to get you back on the right path.
If you’re planning to go dry this January, here’s what to know about what it can do for your body and how to make it a successful 31 days.
What is Dry January?
Dry January began in 2013 when UK-based nonprofit, Alcohol Change UK, kickstarted a public health campaign. The pledge challenges participants to abstain from alcohol for 31 days and help reset their relationship with alcohol.
Since the first iteration, those of us across the pond in the United States have joined in on the pledge. In fact, according to surveys from CGA, a food and drink research firm, more Americans than ever before took part in Dry January in 2022.
This is promising news as recent data has shown that alcohol has become more of a problem in our society since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Institutes of Health, the pandemic has been particularly problematic for those with alcohol or substance use disorders.
The scary truth about alcohol consumption
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol sales increased from 2020 to 2022. The NIAAA showed increased alcohol consumption was most prevalent in people with lower socioeconomic status, women with families and certain minority populations.
“This makes sense given the life-altering occurrences that happened during the pandemic, such as lost jobs and increasing demands placed on parents,” said Krista LaBruzzo, MD, an addiction medicine specialist at Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ. “The largest burden was placed on women who were parenting, which increased social isolation and worsened mental health conditions and resulted in heavier alcohol consumption or return to use.”
Before getting started, talk to your health care provider
Dry January is for anyone who wants to improve their health and reduce their alcohol consumption, but it’s important to talk to your health care provider first before going cold turkey.
“If you’re going ‘cold turkey’ after regularly drinking heavily, it is possible to experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which can be life-threatening,” Dr. LaBruzzo said.
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. 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 out of all drugs that can be used and have withdrawal syndrome, alcohol withdrawal syndrome is the one that could actually kill you ,” Dr. LaBruzzo said. “Although uncommon, roughly 1 in 10 can experience seizures if they aren’t medicated through the withdrawal state.”
In addition, some people may experience anxiety, insomnia, tremors, hallucinations and sensitivity to light, sound and touch.
The five health benefits of Dry January
1. Better sleep and more energy
As you may already know, alcohol is a sedative. Unfortunately, it’ll do little to help with your sleep.
“Some people say that alcohol helps them sleep, and it’s true that it will help you fall asleep quickly—just not soundly,” Dr. LaBruzzo said. “Your sleep won’t be restful and is less likely to be ‘deep sleep,’ which is necessary for your overall health and recovery.”
As you go through the month alcohol-free, you may notice you’re sleeping better, which means you’ll have more energy and feel more motivated to make use of that new gym membership.
2. Weight loss
If you’re taking in fewer calories, particularly empty calories like alcohol, you may shed a few pounds over the course of the month. You may find that you’re not reaching for junk food like you would when you drink either, which can contribute to weight loss.
3. Your body (and liver) will thank you
Your liver bears the brunt of alcohol consumption. And daily, moderate drinking (that’s more than two drinks for men and one drink for women a day) may lead to fatty liver disease.
“About half of all liver disease deaths are from alcohol,” Dr. LaBruzzo said. “It’s reasonable to assume that abstaining from drinking is generally good for your liver and the rest of your body.”
Drinking alcohol can also affect other organs in your body, like your skin, muscles and heart, as well as your immune function, which can make you more susceptible to illnesses.
“Drinking alcohol can cause our faces to look bloated and puffy and may cause stomach pain and bloating due to inflammation of the stomach,” Dr. LaBruzzo said. “Taking a break can give your body a rest.”
That said, if you jump right back into your regular drinking habits in February, it won’t do your body any favors.
4. Save money
There are not only hidden calories in your booze but also hidden costs. Those $20 cocktails and late-night beer runs can really add up.
You may notice more money in your bank account at the end of the month due to your month of sobriety.
5. Look at alcohol differently
A pause from drinking may help you realize that you don’t have to drink every day or even drink at all.
At the end of the month, reevaluate how you’re feeling. Do you have more energy? Are you more productive? Do you feel less anxious or depressed?
“Many people think alcohol can help with anxiety, depression or insomnia and this is a common misconception,” Dr. LaBruzzo said. “It can actually worsen symptoms of depression, while the withdrawal or ‘hangover’ state of alcohol use can lead to symptoms of anxiety.”
Curbing alcohol may have long-term positive effects that you may want to continue. Dry January can help you avoid hangovers and their effects, from headaches to low moods to anxiety. You may be surprised how limiting alcohol use improves your personal and work relationships as well.
Tips to make Dry January a success
- Create a strong support system: Let friends and family know you’re taking part in Dry January so they can keep you accountable and maybe even join you in the challenge.
- Look for a healthy substitute: There are tons of healthy drink alternatives out there. Try infusing your sparkling water with fruit, cucumber or mint.
- Journal: You may be surprised to learn certain things that may have triggered your drinking (such as work stress) in the past.
- Be kind to yourself: If you have one alcohol beverage, don’t beat yourself up. The point of Dry January isn’t to beat yourself up, it’s to be more mindful about the role alcohol plays in your life.
Going cold turkey from alcohol for a month can have incredible benefits for your health and may even help shed a few pounds.
However, if you’re finding it hard to cut back or stop drinking, seek support from your health care provider or a licensed behavioral health specialist. Together, they can help you evaluate your relationship with alcohol and help you move forward in a healthier way.
Schedule a visit with a Banner Behavioral Health specialist by visiting bannerhealth.com or calling 1-800-254-4357.