What is Dry January?

Dry January is a popular trend where people abstain from consuming alcohol for the 31 days of January. It started in 2012 by Alcohol Change UK, but has grown in popularity in the U.S. with 35% of American adults participating in the challenge in 2022. 

Why try Dry January?

Excessive alcohol intake increases the risk of health conditions such as breast and colon cancers, liver disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Past observational studies suggested a link between moderate alcohol consumption and health benefits for some people, however, the evidence has become clear that the safest level of drinking is none.

For the “sober curious” Dry January offers an opportunity to reset and focus on health goals, after what may have been an overindulgent holiday season. Regular drinkers who abstained from alcohol for a month saw improvements in insulin resistant, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight, and cancer-related growth factors, according to a 2018 study.

Better Sleep, Energy, and Mood

Another benefit of decreased alcohol intake is better sleep. Although alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it impairs the overall pattern of your sleep, leading to poor quality sleep and feeling groggy in the morning. By abstaining from alcohol, you may notice improved sleep quality and wake up feeling more refreshed. A 2019 study by the University of Sussex found that 71% of Dry January participants had improved sleep quality and 67% had better energy levels.

Abstaining from alcohol can also have a positive effect on your mood. Alcohol is a depressant, which may feel like relaxation when consumed, but the next morning can leave you with feelings of anxiety and low mood. By taking a break from alcohol, you may experience increased energy, improved mood, and a greater sense of well-being.

Benefits Beyond January

Amongst the health benefits, abstaining from alcohol offers a time to pause, reflect on drinking habits, and make better choices. Some good questions to ask yourself during this time:

  • Why am I drinking this amount?
  • What role does alcohol play in my life?
  • How do I feel without it?

 A study by the American Psychological Association found that those who successfully completed Dry January, drank on average one day less per week, and consumed around one drink less each day they did drink, even 6 months later.

Tips for a Successful Dry January

  • Find a non-alcoholic substitution. For social situations, or when you crave a drink after a long day, reach for alcohol-free beverages like sparkling water, kombucha, mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails), and non-alcoholic beer or wine. The number of product options in the non-alcoholic drink space has boomed in the past 5 years and is expected to continue growing.

  • Buddy up. Pair up with an accountability buddy or create a support group of like-minded friends, family members, or co-workers to complete the challenge with you. Checking in with a friend or group can help you stay on track.

  • Keep a positive mindset. Understand why abstaining from alcohol is important to you and view the commitment to Dry January as a form of self-care, rather than punishment. If you slip up, there’s no need to feel guilty; forgive yourself and start again.
  • Use the Try Dry app. This free app helps you track your drinking, set personal goals, and offers motivational information like calories and money saved from not drinking.

Who should abstain from Dry January?

Although Dry January can be helpful for moderate drinkers, it’s not recommended for those who are daily or near daily heavy drinkers (5 or more drinks for men, 4 or more for women). Stopping alcohol all together can result in withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild to very severe. Mild withdrawal can include shaky hands, headache, anxiety, nausea, vomiting and insomnia. If left untreated, it can progress to life-threatening symptoms including seizures, delirium tremens, or even death. If you suffer from any alcohol withdrawal symptoms at any time, you should seek medical help.

If you struggle during the month, or go off the rails, come February, you may need help cutting back. Massachusetts General Hospital’s West End Clinic and the Rethinking Drinking website from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) are excellent resources.