NEWS

Dry January: The Benefits of a Month Without Alcohol

man drinking a cup of tea and smiling

Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • "Dry January" is the exercise of abstaining from alcohol for the entirety of the first month of the year.
  • People who do not have an alcohol use disorder, 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. Unfortunately, throughout the past several months, we have seen dramatic increases in alcohol consumption, largely due to the stressful situations prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind. She 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. But problem drinking is likely to make things worse.”

The holidays are a complex time of the year for many independent of the pandemic, We may wonder whether alcohol consumption during this time should be examined a little closer. Many feel increased stress during the holidays every year, due to familial situations, the anxiety of hosting gatherings, or the premature loss of loved ones. However, 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. If the answer is yes to any of these, consider an exercise this month: Dry January.

  • 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?

What Is Dry January? How Can It Be Helpful?

A consideration for those interested in changing their routine is trying a “Dry January.” This is an exercise in abstaining from alcohol for the entirety of the first month of the year. Undoubtedly, this task will prove to be easier for some than others. The hope is that regardless of whether 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 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."

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, Dry January is 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," says Sheinbaum.

How to Try Dry January

According to Sheinbaum, cutting out alcohol for a month can prove difficult. These suggestions may 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 it, give it to a friend to hold on to, or pour it down the drain. Out of sight, out of mind!
  2. Recruit a friend to do the 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 that don't involve alcohol. That might mean 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," says Morin.

"People who consume alcohol regularly might experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop abruptly, and for some individuals, that could be dangerous. 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. Unfortunately, 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.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

Was this page helpful?
1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pollard MS, Tucker JS, Green HD Jr. Changes in adult alcohol use and consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.22942