Dry January

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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 some of the 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?

Many people are now trying the one-month, alcohol-free challenge called Dry January. Some do it as their New Year’s resolution. Others stop drinking to detox from too much alcohol consumed over the holidays.

Dry January started as a public health campaign in the U.K. in 2014. The recent one had 6.5 million participants.

The movement has also become popular in other countries, particularly in 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

What are the Health Benefits of Dry January?

Participating in Dry January has many benefits, including:

Improved Health

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

The reason is valid. Excessive drinking can cause adverse health consequences like stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, pancreatic damage, and liver diseases.3

It’s uncertain whether joining Dry January can lead to long-term health problems. However, there is evidence that an entire month of abstinence provides benefits, at least in the short-term. 

Among 800 participants who took part in the U.K.’s Dry January in 2018:4

  • Seventy percent reported improvement in general health
  • Fifty-seven percent said they feel they have more energy
  • Fifty-seven percent said they had better concentration 

In a 2018 study, 94 moderate-to-heavy drinkers saw improvements in blood pressure, liver function tests, and other health markers after abstaining for a month.5

In a smaller study involving ten people:6

  • Liver fats decreased by 15%
  • Blood sugar levels dropped by 16%
  • Total cholesterol dropped by 5%

Better Sleep

Alcohol is a depressant that can slow down brain activity. It can make you relaxed and drowsy. 

However, alcohol can also disrupt sleep quality and duration. Moderate-to-heavy drinking decreases the “restorative” part of sleeping. As a result, drinkers may feel sluggish the next day.7

People with alcohol use disorders often have insomnia. Staying up late at night to drink disrupts a person’s sleeping routine. 

Alcohol use can also worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.8

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

Weight Loss

Ditching alcohol could decrease your caloric intake. Alcoholic drinks contain around 7 calories per gram, which is 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.

Fifty-eight percent of surveyed Dry January participants in 2018 reported that they lost weight.4

Decreased Cravings

Eighty percent of surveyed Dry January participants in 2018 feel that they are 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 

Another interesting fact is that 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 itself. Insufficient hydration is one reason for dry skin. 

Alcohol can also increase blood sugar and certain hormones, which both can cause acne. Alcoholic toxins also speed up the skin’s aging process.

Fifty-four percent of surveyed Dry January participants in 2018 said their skin got better.4

New Perspectives

Whether people choose to drink again or stay sober, Dry January provides them a great way to reflect on their drinking behavior.

Among the surveyed participants of the 2018 Dry January:4

  • Eight-two percent reevaluated their relationship with alcohol. Avoiding alcohol for a month may have made the participants feel better. It may have improved their mood or sleep patterns.  
  • Seventy-six percent learned more about when and why they drink. Participants may have realized they don’t need alcohol to socialize. Some may have recognized that they’re drinking alcohol to cope with anxiety or depression. 
  • Seventy-one percent realized they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves. They may have enjoyed not having a hangover the following day. 
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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: Heavy drinkers who suddenly abstain from alcohol may experience withdrawal symptoms like headache, fatigue, and nausea. Some may be at a higher risk of severe symptoms like seizures and delirium.12,13 If you’ve been drinking a lot lately, seek your doctor’s advice first before joining the challenge. 
  • Lower tolerance for alcohol: One month of abstinence may decrease your tolerance for alcohol. If you return to drinking in February, you may get drunk more easily. If you decide to resume drinking, you should initially do it in moderation. 
  • Riding the fad: Dry January can motivate people to kick alcohol for good. But joining the challenge and then binge drinking for the rest of the year is still harmful. 
  • Fewer chances to socialize: Another negative side of joining the one-month sobriety challenge is that many people reported less social contact.6 Nevertheless, socialization should not be limited to drinking sessions. 

6 Tips to Stay on Track During Dry January

Ensuring a successful Dry January is not easy. There are a lot of temptations, and it’s easier to give up. If you’re taking part in this challenge, here are some tips to help you stick to it:

1. Set Goals

Total abstinence is not the only goal available for participants. You can choose to limit your drinks to certain days or gradually decrease the amount that you drink.

  • Write down your goal or post it somewhere: This is to remind you constantly of your conviction. 
  • Make specific goals: “I will drink only on Fridays” is more powerful than saying “I will drink less.” 
  • Assess your success based on your goals: And don’t beat yourself up if you slip.

2. Create Plans

Having a plan in place will help you reach your goal and enjoy the experience.

  • Plan for urges: Know which actions to take when you get a sudden urge to drink. For example, if you’re at home and you want to drink, go outside. 
  • Plan for inevitable invitations: It’s awkward to say no when offered a drink. It may also be weird if you’re out with friends and order a non-alcoholic beer. Think about these potential situations, then practice what you’re going to say or do.
  • Plan a new routine: If you usually drink with friends after work, change the pattern. You can invite them to do non-drinking activities like bowling or a movie night.
  • Look for alternatives: Exercise. Try a new hobby. You can also look for fresh drinks that can quench your thirst for alcohol. For example, infused water.

3. Track Your Progress 

  • Track the number of days you’ve gone without a drink: You can use a journal, tracking app, or calendar. This should motivate and remind you of what you’re doing.
  • Familiarize yourself with standard drink sizes: This is to avoid accidentally consuming more alcohol than intended.

4. Involve Your Friends and Family

Ask people close to you for support. They will hold you accountable. You can also ask them to join you.

5. Avoid Triggers

There are times, places, and situations that you auto-associate with drinking, for example, Friday nights. Understand what triggers you to drink so you can 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 failed one time. Reducing your alcohol use is better than not trying at all.

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

Updated on November 12, 2021
13 sources cited
  1. Dry January.” Alcohol Change UK. 
  2. Furnari, Chris. “New Surveys Indicate Increasing Interest In Dry January.Forbes, January 11, 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, December 18, 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 vol. 8,5 :e020673. 
  6. Coghlan, Andy. “Our liver vacation: Is a dry January really worth it?New Scientist, December 31, 2013. 
  7. Ebrahim, Irshaad et al. “Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep.Alcohol Clin Exp Res vol. 37,4 :539-49.
  8. Pacheco, Danielle, and Abhinav Singh. “Alcohol and Sleep.Sleep Foundation, September 4, 2020.
  9. Calories in alcohol.NHS, January 13, 2020.
  10. Afshar, Majid et al. “Acute immunomodulatory effects of binge alcohol ingestion.” Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.) vol. 49,1 : 57-64.
  11. Daley, Jason. “‘Dry January’ Has Benefits All Year Long.” Smithsonian Magazine, January 3, 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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