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Dry January: The Benefits of a Month Without Alcohol

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Key Takeaways

  • "Dry January" is the exercise of abstaining from alcohol for the entirety of the first month of the year.
  • Those who are not alcoholics, but have noticed an increase in drinking habits over the past year, could benefit from the practice.

For many, drinking during the holiday season is commonplace. Social drinking is widely accepted, and is seen as a way to lighten the mood and bring folks together. Throughout the past several months, we have seen some dramatic increases in alcohol consumption, largely due to the stressful situations that the current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in.

Amy Morin, LCSW and Verywell Editor-In-Chief says, “Alcohol sales have skyrocketed as people have felt increasingly stressed. And during this stressful time, many go-to coping strategies were taken away--such as going to the gym or having lunch with friends. Therefore, a lot of people have turned to alcohol as a way to handle their distress. Unfortunately, problem drinking is likely to make things worse.”

With the holidays being a complex time of the year for many independent of the pandemic, it begs the question of whether alcohol consumption during this time should be examined a little closer. Many feel increased stress during the holidays every year, potentially due to familial situations, the anxiety that comes with hosting gatherings, or the premature loss of loved ones. Not everyone fits into the category of needing to step back from drinking.

If you are unsure consider the following questions to determine if your relationship with alcohol use some reconfiguring: Are you using alcohol as a tool to cope with stressful situations? Do you find yourself stressed without it? How many drinks per week are you having? What about per day? Has your drinking impacted your personal relationships or your professional life? If the answer is yes to any of these, consider an exercise this month: Dry January.

What Is Dry January? How Can It Be Helpful?

A consideration for those who may be interested in changing their routine is trying a “Dry January.” Simply put, this is an exercise in abstaining from alcohol for the entirety of the first month of the year. Undoubtedly, despite the simple explanation, this task will prove to be easier for some than others. The hope, however, is that regardless of if you choose to continue to abstain, the month will be educational and illuminating for everyone who participates. 

Morin says, "Taking a month off from drinking could help you step back and examine your relationship with alcohol. You might learn you depend on it to manage stress or feel comfortable in social situations. Or you might discover you feel better and think more clearly when not drinking."

Amy Morin, LCSW

Taking a month off from drinking could help you step back and examine your relationship with alcohol. You might learn you depend on it to manage stress or feel comfortable in social situations. Or you might discover you feel better and think more clearly when not drinking.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

In addition to more clarity around navigating social situations, there are other potential health benefits to cutting back on your alcohol intake ranging from skin benefits to improved sleep cycles.

Hillary Sheinbaum, journalist, and author of The Dry Challenge says, "Even if you're just giving up alcohol for just one month, you're bound to see positive benefits such as clearer skin, improved sleep, weight loss, more money in your wallet, and more energy -- among other plusses...Alcohol is a diuretic, so it's going to dry out your skin and create the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles."

Sheinbaum continues, "When we drink, alcohol has a sedative effect on the body initially, which can make you drowsy, but the metabolism of it actually causes awakenings and fragmented sleep."

Diet choices are not a concern for everyone, but for those with health or diet concerns or who are interested in limiting daily calories to nutrient-rich foods, this exercise could be beneficial. Because of the lack of vitamins and minerals in most alcoholic drinks, Sheinbaum lists Dry January as a potential way to cut some of those calories. "Alcohol and alcoholic drinks are also full of empty calories, meaning when you aren't drinking them: you're going to consume fewer calories which can lead to weight loss."

Tips for Trying Out Dry January

According to Sheinbaum, cutting out alcohol for a month can prove difficult, but there are some suggestions to help you get started and set yourself up for success. 

  1. Create an environment where you're going to succeed. Put away your stash of booze -- either hide them, give them to a friend to hold on to, or pour them down the drain. Out of sight, out of mind!
  2. Recruit a friend to do the dry challenge with you! Not only will you support each other -- and have the opportunity to vent to each other -- but you can also plan nonalcoholic activities together.
  3. Schedule a calendar of things you love to do throughout the month that don't involve alcohol. Whether that's cooking, working out, learning a new instrument -- whatever brings you happiness! This will not only occupy your time, but you'll have plenty to look forward to during your dry month!

Hillary Sheinbaum

When we drink, alcohol has a sedative effect on the body initially, which can make you drowsy, but the metabolism of it actually causes awakenings and fragmented sleep.

— Hillary Sheinbaum

Safety Considerations

For those who have identified heavy drinking as an issue, cutting out your alcohol consumption all at once may not be the best route. “For someone who drinks heavily, giving up alcohol cold turkey might not be safe. People who consume alcohol regularly might experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop abruptly and for some individuals, that could be dangers. Heavy drinkers may experience seizures and serious side effects if they stop drinking without seeing a physician first.” says Morin. 

What This Means For You

There are many ways to decompress after a stressful event. While there is no shame in partaking in social and safe alcohol consumption, there are opportunities to reexamine your relationship with substances without shame. For many, drinking may have become a coping mechanism. 2020 has been an extremely stressful year, and the national averages of alcohol purchases and consumption have gone up dramatically.

If you have found yourself drinking more than normal, you are most definitely not alone. Consider discussing this exercise with your friends and other members of your support system, and consult with a doctor if you are concerned about any potential health implications.

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  1. Pollard MS, Tucker JS, Green HD Jr. Changes in adult alcohol use and consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic in the USJAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942. Published 2020 Sep 1. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.22942