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Updated on February 2, 2023
6 min read

Dry January

Key Takeaways

  • Dry January is a public health campaign that encourages an alcohol-free month. 
  • It started in the U.K. in 2014 but has become popular in the U.S. and other countries.
  • Getting healthier, decreasing alcohol consumption, and improving sleep quality are reasons people want to go sober for a month.
  • For a successful Dry January, set clear goals and make a goal-tracking system.
  • Heavy drinkers are at risk of withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly quit drinking. They should seek medical help.

What is Dry January?

Dry January is a one-month, alcohol-free challenge. Some do it as their New Year’s resolution, while others detox from alcohol over the holidays.

Dry January started as a public health campaign in the U.K. in 2014. It has become popular in many countries, particularly the U.S.

In a survey of 15,000 Americans from December 2020, 15% said they would participate in the 2021 Dry January. This figure is higher than the 10% from the previous year.2 The recent one had 9 million participants.

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6 Tips to Stay on Track During Dry January

Successfully finishing Dry January isn’t easy. There are a lot of temptations, and it’s easier to give up. 

If you’re planning on doing Dry January, here are some tips to help you stick to it:

1. Set Goals

Total abstinence isn’t the only goal available for participants. You can limit your drinks to certain days or gradually decrease the amount you drink.

  • Write down your goal or post it somewhere as a reminder
  • Make specific goals like only drinking on Fridays or drinking less
  • Set reachable and realistic goals
  • Assess your success based on your goals

2. Create Plans

Creating a plan will help you reach your goal and enjoy the experience.

  • Plan for urges
  • Consider alternative hobbies (exercise, games, etc.)
  • Look for alternatives to alcohol (infused water, juice, etc.)

You should also plan for inevitable invitations to go out drinking. If you drink after work, consider going out for non-drinking activities like bowling, movies, or sports.

3. Track Your Progress 

Tracking the number of days you’ve gone without drinking can help motivate you throughout Dry January. Here are a few ways to track your progress:

  • Have a drinking diary or journal
  • Use a tracking app
  • Keep track with a calendar

You can also familiarize yourself with standard drink sizes. This helps avoid accidentally consuming more alcohol than intended.

4. Involve Your Friends and Family

Ask people close to you for support. They can help you stay sober and hold you accountable if they know what you’re doing. 

They can help you by:

  • Helping you avoid  triggers
  • Helping you avoid bars or liquor stores
  • Keeping alcohol away from you
  • Keeping you busy or distracted

If you have loved ones who drink, you can ask them to join you.

5. Avoid Triggers

The urge to drink is sometimes caused by a trigger. These triggers include:

  • Times or occasions (Friday nights, holidays, etc.)
  • Places 
  • Situations
  • Stress

Take this time to identify your triggers. Understanding your triggers can help you avoid them.

6. Avoid the “All or Nothing” Mentality

If you caved into temptation and had a drink in the middle of January, you may feel guilty and think you failed. You might think of abandoning the challenge and drinking again. 

Don’t be held by a single setback. You need to bounce back if you fail one time. Reducing your alcohol use is better than not trying at all.

If you’re a heavy drinker and decide to quit drinking, seek professional help first. Speak with an addiction specialist about your options.

What are the Health Benefits of Dry January?

Participating in Dry January has many benefits, including:

Improved Health

Abstaining from alcohol for one month can improve your health. Studies have shown that after one month of not drinking, you can see improvements in your:4,5,6

  • Blood pressure
  • Liver function tests
  • Total cholesterol
  • General health
  • Energy and concentration

In a survey that involved 2,200 Americans in January 2021, 79% said the desire to be healthier was their reason for going sober.

Better Sleep

Many people with alcohol use disorder have insomnia because alcohol disrupts sleep quality and duration. Moderate-to-heavy drinking decreases the “restorative” part of sleeping. Alcohol use can also worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.8

However, abstaining from alcohol for one month can improve your sleep. Seventy-one percent of surveyed Dry January participants in 2018 said they slept better.4

Stronger Immunity

Immunity rises first when a healthy person goes on a binge-drinking session. However, it drops 2 to 5 hours later, making the person an easy target for infection.10 

Chronic drinkers are also more prone to severe diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who don’t drink too much.3 Abstaining from alcohol for a month can improve your immune system.

Weight Loss

Ditching alcohol could decrease your caloric intake. Alcoholic drinks contain around 7 calories per gram, equivalent to a gram of fat.9 

Drinking can also cause you to pick unhealthy foods that go nicely with alcohol. You can even eat beyond the point of fullness. 

Abstaining from alcohol for one month can improve your weight. Fifty-five percent of surveyed Dry January participants in 2018 reported losing weight.4

Decreased Cravings

Eighty percent of surveyed Dry January participants in 2018 feel more in control of their drinking. Many participants were still drinking less by August, as supported by the following statistics:4, 11

  • Drinking days per week dropped from 4.3 to 3.3
  • Drinks consumed per day dropped from 8.6 to 7.1
  • The monthly frequency of drunkenness dropped from 3.4 to 2.1 

People who drank a lot before Dry January saw a more significant decline in the amount and frequency. This means the one-month hiatus from alcohol provides more benefits to heavy drinkers.

Brighter Skin

Alcohol is a diuretic. It will cause you to urinate more, making it harder for your body to hydrate. Insufficient hydration is one reason for dry skin. 

Alcohol can also increase blood sugar and certain hormones, which can cause acne. Alcoholic toxins also speed up the skin’s aging process. In 2018, fifty-four percent of surveyed Dry January participants said their skin improved.4

New Perspectives

Whether people drink again or stay sober, Dry January provides a great opportunity to reflect on their drinking behavior. Among the surveyed participants of the 2018 Dry January:4

  • 82% reevaluated their relationship with alcohol
  • 76% learned more about when and why they drink, and some have recognized that they may be using alcohol to cope with anxiety or depression 
  • 71% realized they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves or socialize
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Drawbacks of Dry January

Dry January has positive results, but it’s not a clinical detox program. Before you take part in this one-month sobriety challenge, here are some factors to consider:

  • Withdrawal symptoms: Suddenly quitting alcohol might cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms
  • Decreased tolerance for alcohol: One month of abstinence may decrease your tolerance for alcohol.
  • Riding the fad: Joining the challenge and then binge drinking for the rest of the year can be harmful
  • Fewer chances to socialize: Many people reported less social contact during the one-month challenge 

Contact a healthcare professional before participating in Dry January. This can help you avoid unpleasant or unwanted side effects.

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Updated on February 2, 2023
14 sources cited
Updated on February 2, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Dry January.” Alcohol Change UK. 
  2. Furnari, Chris. “New Surveys Indicate Increasing Interest In Dry January.” Forbes, 2021.
  3. Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 
  4. 4.2 million people in the UK to give up alcohol for Dry January 2019.” British Liver Trust, 2018.
  5. Mehta, Gautam et al. “Short-term abstinence from alcohol and changes in cardiovascular risk factors, liver function tests and cancer-related growth factors: a prospective observational study.” BMJ Open, 2018.
  6. Coghlan, Andy. “Our liver vacation: Is a dry January really worth it?” New Scientist, 2013.
  7. Ebrahim, Irshaad et al. “Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep.” Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 2013.
  8. Pacheco, Danielle, and Abhinav Singh. “Alcohol and Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, 2020.
  9. Calories in alcohol.” NHS, 2020.
  10. Afshar, Majid et al. “Acute immunomodulatory effects of binge alcohol ingestion.” Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.), 2015.
  11. Daley, Jason. “‘Dry January’ Has Benefits All Year Long.” Smithsonian Magazine, 2019.
  12. Alcohol withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  13. Drynuary: What is it? Should you do it?” Salem Health.

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