7 reasons to consider taking part in Dry January
Giving up alcohol, even for a month, can bring dramatic health benefits.
It’s official: Dry January has become a thing.
Following the excesses of 2022’s holiday season, 35% of Americans gave up alcohol for the whole of January, according to the research firm CGA — and, with 21% of adults participating in 2019, the trend looks to be on an upward curve.
The growing interest in this mass detox exercise is in counterbalance to a darker truth. According to the American Medical Association, the number of alcohol-related deaths increased by 25% from 2019 to 2020.
Are you thinking about going dry this month? Tricia Hudson-Matthew, Ed.D., chair of the Department of Human Services and Counseling at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and Patrick Griswold, MSN, M.Ed., R.N., associate professor in the same department, explain why it’s such a good idea.
Profoundly impact your overall health
Hudson-Matthew: Even for occasional drinkers, completing Dry January can be a revelation. Most abstainers will notice significant differences in how they feel and how their body is functioning. But for anyone who actually “lifts the hood” and undergoes an end-of-month physical-health check, the good news will be even more striking.
Your medical results will likely show reduced cholesterol, lower glucose levels and blood pressure and a decreased risk of cancer or heart disease. Crucially, your liver will have started to regenerate and repair itself. (When you drink regularly, there is no opportunity for this to happen.) The reason for such profound improvements, though people often forget it, is simple: Alcohol is technically a poison that actively damages the body.
Be surprised by how much better you feel
Griswold: Stopping drinking for an evening means no hangover the next morning. Stopping drinking for a month can lead to wholesale health improvements that may well surprise you.
Besides the proven medical benefits listed above, you’ll likely notice increased energy levels, improved sleep, weight loss, an increased ability to concentrate and problem-solve, better hydration (important at our higher elevation), a sturdier stomach (due to decreased acid reflux), better skin tone and healthier hair. In other words, you’ll feel like a whole new, and better, version of yourself.
Improve your relationship with alcohol
Hudson-Matthew: Sometimes, we don’t realize how much we do (or do not) need something until it’s not there. Almost 140 million Americans currently use alcohol, and many of them do worry about how much they drink, which is why Dry January is so useful.
Going without alcoholic drinks for a month can act as a handy litmus test, forcing us to reflect on our relationship to alcohol. If you find you’re struggling to abstain, for example, that might be an indicator that it’s time to see your doctor and have an honest conversation.
But in truth, many Americans tend to worry too much and be overcritical when self-diagnosing their drinking habits. And for those people, Dry January is fantastic when it shows they don’t miss alcohol all that much.
Note: There are great tools online that can help you to empirically test and measure whether or not you fall within a medical categorization of overdrinking.
Lose a few pounds…
Griswold: It’s very easy to underestimate the caloric burden of alcohol. That tiny-looking (but very sugary) margarita, for example, can contain more than 300 calories. And a standard 12-ounce beer holds around 125-200 calories.
This means a person accustomed to drinking 10 beers a week could cut out around 8,000 calories throughout the course of a dry month, which is quite a number (3,500 calories is the equivalent of 1 pound). Following Dry January is a good idea for many reasons, but one of the more underrated benefits is attaining a smaller waistline.
…and gain a few dollars.
Griswold: While your body may get lighter during Dry January, your wallet should get a little heavier. Suppose you usually put, say, two $15 bottles of wine or three $10 six-packs of beer in your weekly shopping cart: cutting the habit for a month would save you $120 in total.
And of course, your savings will only increase if you’re the kind of person who normally enjoys going out for drinks because the markups in bars and clubs are much more pronounced.
Chase away the winter blues
Hudson-Matthew: It’s ironic that most of us associate drinking with “loosening up” and having fun because alcohol is technically classified as a central-nervous-system depressant. By scrambling the balance of our neurotransmitters, it induces anxiety and increases our stress levels.
If you’ve ever woken up feeling a bit out of sorts following a night out, it’s worth considering that you most likely wouldn’t feel that way if you’d just had a couple of sodas. And while most people don’t appreciate the link between drink and depression, it still impacts them.
I always say January is the ideal time to stop drinking because it’s such a tough month anyway — the cold and darkness; post-holiday hangover; likely absence of vacations until spring. At such a time, the last thing any of us needs is a medically proven “downer.”
Shift the conversation
Tips for making it through Dry January
Avoid high-risk situations such as parties or other places where alcohol will be served and it may be challenging to say no.
Remember the acronym HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) and address these issues to help you resist turning to alcohol.
Enlist the help of a buddy who is also participating in Dry January for support and encouragement.
Set a realistic goal. “Although the full benefits come with abstinence, that may be too daunting a goal for some,” Griswold said. “Decreasing your drinking or just becoming more intentional are great outcomes as well.”
Griswold: Alcohol abuse is a serious issue in our country, with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reporting around 140,000 alcohol-related deaths per year. We may well be reaching a point where we need to entirely rethink the U.S.’s drinking guidelines.
Our current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alcohol guidelines recommend two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women. But Canada has changed its advice to recommend two drinks or less per week, and I think they’re on the right track. There’s a growing school of thought that we will eventually come to think of alcohol as we currently think of tobacco.
An important note for those with alcohol dependency
Griswold: When contemplating Dry January, it’s very important to differentiate between those who only drink casually and dependent users of alcohol. For dependent users, abrupt withdrawal from alcohol could be damaging and even life-threatening and so isn’t recommended without medical supervision. But moderate drinkers can expect to see a considerable range of physical and mental-health benefits from going alcohol-free for 30 days, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.