Dry January: The benefits of a month without alcohol

Key Takeaways

  • “Dry January” is the first month of the year to exercise complete abstinence from alcohol.
  • People who do not have an alcohol use disorder, but have increased drinking habits in the past year, may benefit from this practice.

For many, drinking is common during the holiday season. Social drinking is widely accepted and seen as a way to lighten the mood and bring people together. Unfortunately, over the past few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in alcohol consumption, largely due to the stressful situation induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amy Morin, LCSW, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind says, “Alcohol sales have skyrocketed as people feel increasingly stressed. And during these stressful times, many coping strategies were taken away – like going to the gym or having lunch with friends. Therefore, many people turn to alcohol as a way to cope with their distress. But a drinking problem can make things worse.”

As the holidays are a critical time of year for many regardless of the pandemic, we might wonder if alcohol consumption should be examined a little more closely during this time. Many people feel stressed during the holidays each year due to family situations, worries about organizing gatherings, or the untimely loss of loved ones. However, not everyone fits into the category of needing to quit drinking.

If you’re unsure, consider the following questions to determine if your relationship with alcohol could use some restructuring. If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, consider a practice this month: Dry January.

  • Are you using alcohol as a coping tool for stressful situations?
  • Do you find yourself stressed without it?
  • How many drinks are you drinking per week? What about every day?
  • Has your drinking affected your personal relationships or your professional life?

What is Dry January? How can it be helpful?

One consideration for those interested in changing their routine is trying a “Dry January.” It is an exercise in abstinence from alcohol completely for the first month of the year. Undoubtedly, this task will prove easier for some than others. It is hoped that regardless of whether you choose to abstain, the month will be educational and enlightening for everyone who participates.

“Taking a month off from drinking can help you step back and examine your relationship with alcohol,” says Morin. “You may learn that you rely on it to manage stress or feel comfortable in social situations. Or you may realize that You feel better and think more clearly when you don’t drink.”

Amy Morin, LCSW

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

— Amy Morin, LCSW

In addition to greater clarity around navigating social situations, there are other potential health benefits to reducing your alcohol intake, from skin benefits to improved sleep cycles.

Journalist and author of “The Dry Challenge,” says Hilary Shinbaum, “Even if you give up alcohol for just one month, you’re bound to see positive benefits like clearer skin, better sleep, weight loss, more money in your wallet, and more energy— Among other pluses…alcohol is a diuretic, so it will dry out your skin and cause fine lines and wrinkles.”

“When we drink, alcohol initially has a sedative effect on the body, which can make you drowsy, but its metabolism actually causes wakefulness and sleeplessness,” Scheinbaum added.

This exercise may be beneficial for those with health or dietary concerns or those interested in limiting daily calories from nutrient-dense foods. Due to the lack of vitamins and minerals in most alcoholic beverages, Dry January is a possible way to cut some of those calories.

“Alcohol and alcoholic beverages are also full of empty calories, which means when you don’t drink them, you’re going to consume fewer calories which can lead to weight loss,” says Sheinbaum.

How to try Dry January

According to Shinbaum, cutting out alcohol for a month can prove difficult. These tips can help you get started and set yourself up for success.

  1. Create an environment where you are going to succeed. Put your stash of wine away—either hide it, give it to a friend to hold, or pour it down the drain. If the eyes are hidden, the mind is hidden!
  2. Recruit a friend to challenge you with. Not only will you support each other—and get a chance to vent to each other—but you can plan alcoholic activities together.
  3. Set a calendar of things you like to do That does not involve alcohol. This could mean cooking, working out, learning a new instrument—whatever makes you happy! Not only will this occupy your time, but you will have plenty to look forward to in your dry months.

Hilary Sheenbaum

When we drink, alcohol initially has a sedative effect on the body, which can make you drowsy, but its metabolism actually causes wakefulness and sleep fragmentation.

— Hilary Sheenbaum

Security considerations

For those who have identified heavy drinking as a problem, reducing your alcohol consumption all at once may not be the best course of action. “For someone who drinks heavily, it may not be safe to quit alcohol cold turkey,” says Morin.

“People who drink alcohol regularly can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop suddenly, and for some people it can be dangerous. Heavy drinkers can experience seizures and serious side effects if they stop drinking without first seeing a doctor,” says Morin.

What does this mean for you?

There are many ways to decompress after a stressful event. While there is no shame in participating in social and safe alcohol consumption, there is an opportunity to re-examine your relationship with the substance without shame. For many, drinking can become a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, the last few years have been extremely stressful, and the national average for alcohol purchase and consumption has risen dramatically.

If you find yourself drinking more than usual, you’re certainly not alone. Consider discussing this practice with your friends and other members of your support system, and consult a healthcare provider if you are concerned about any potential health effects.

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

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