"Dry January" Benefits and Hazards

Considering a sober January? Find out whether it's actually good for you.

Posted Dec 21, 2018

The holidays evoke mixed feelings for everyone. While it can be an exciting time to reflect on the previous year, make resolutions for the coming year, and reconnect with loved ones, it can also be an extremely stressful time. We know that stress is a major trigger for addiction relapse and this can be a particularly difficult time for people who are struggling with their own addiction. Interacting with difficult or strained family members and relationships, attending obligatory events and dealing with the financial pressure of buying gifts can be particularly anxiety-provoking.

That’s why it’s worth taking some time to prepare for the potentially stressful holiday by making yourself aware of your triggers, establishing healthy boundaries, and filling your toolbox with some helpful coping strategies.  And with the New Year being the epitome of a fresh start, January is often a time when people want to get a better handle on their drinking or drug use. Dry January offers an appealing, community-driven and inclusive approach to going sober in the new year.

I myself have been participating for the past 5 years.

What is Dry January?

Dry January is a one-month challenge created by Alcohol Change UK. It started in 2012 with 4,000 people and has grown to 4 million people taking part in the 2018 challenge.

The research tells us that alcohol consumption during the holiday period peaks during the two-week period just prior to Christmas until New Year’s Day. Binge-drinking is at its highest during this time.

In 2013, researchers focused on the effects of the Dry January campaign. Of the people who participated in the challenge and the survey afterward, seven out of ten people reported they were drinking less heavily six months later than before the campaign. Not only that, but many had moved from “harmful” levels of drinking to “low” levels of drinking.

I’ve experienced a substantial reduction in drinking for months after every January in which I’ve participated.

So, why is going sober in January so appealing to people? Well, there are many of us who may feel we drink a little too much sometimes, but not necessarily considered an “alcoholic” or a “binge-drinker.” What if you were thinking, “actually, I’d like to cut down a bit and lose weight, save money, maybe start a family?” The beauty of this challenge is that it helps unify people, it destigmatizes the notion of “alcoholism” as it’s not necessarily aimed at people with an addiction. Dry January is about transforming your relationship with alcohol, taking some time-off drinking, and observing the impact. The side-effect is that some people continue to stay sober or resume a healthier pattern of drinking.

Why a Dry January resolution can work for you

Let’s look at the pros of Dry January and some of the reported benefits of going sober for one month: 

            • More mindful of alcohol consumption

            • It’s better for your overall health and wellbeing

            • You may lose weight as a standard drink typically has around 150 calories

            • You’ll likely feel more alert and better able to concentrate

            • Your sleep may improve (alcohol can disrupt sleep and even cause insomnia)

            • You will be more hydrated (alcohol dehydrates your body and skin)

            • Many people experience increased energy and motivation

            • You will save money

And when you participate in a community challenge like Dry January, there’s a sense of camaraderie and pride in knowing you’re doing something good for yourself and others. It can feel less shameful to say “I’m participating in the Dry January challenge” than “I’m not drinking at the moment….”

What's more, if you cut down on drinking in the long-term you lower your risk of developing more than 60 different alcohol-related health conditions such as liver disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and depression.

Reasons Dry January may not work for you

Let’s look at some of the circumstances under which Dry January may not be the best option for you:

            • If you experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, seizures, sweating, appetite loss the likes, than stopping "cold-turkey" can be dangerous to your health, particularly if you have been a heavy and daily drinker for years.

            • If you go "cold turkey" you may be tempted to replace drinking with other unhealthy habits (such as smoking or eating high-sugar drinks or food) to cope with the withdrawals or the underlying issues that drive you to drink

            • Abstinence may cause future binging. When you deprive yourself of something for a period of time then it may cause the opposite effect when it is reintroduced. You could end up drinking more than you did before!

Helpful hint: Try managing the ‘sugar crash’ (cravings for sweets) associated with alcohol withdrawals by replacing it with healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado, as well as vegetables such as cauliflower, asparagus, and broccoli. These foods will help keep your blood sugar levels balanced.  Also, replace the alcohol with drinks love like Le Croix, Ginger beer, or seltzer water. That way you still get to enjoy a drink you enjoy!

Should YOU go sober in January?

Dry January is a good answer for those looking to sample abstinence but may be scared of committing in the long run. Aside from the physical danger (in which case you shouldn't participate) it's a pretty solid way to get a little time away from booze and to experience some of the benefits listed above like enhanced physical health, better mental health, and improved sleep.