More than a week into the New Year, you might still be feeling the residual hangover from the holiday season. Too much food, too much socializing and too much alcohol can all take a toll during the busy months of November and December. That makes January the perfect time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol, and maybe even participate in a Dry January. It’s not too late to jump into the challenge, which can have wide-ranging health benefits for the whole year.
What is Dry January?
Dry January is a challenge where people who are not normally sober commit to not using alcohol for the 31 days of January. The challenge was started by the awareness group Alcohol Change UK, and it’s since become a global phenomenon with millions of participants.
Although the month has already started, it’s not too late to start the challenge. You can even extend it into February to make up for lost time and cover the full 31 days.
The timing isn’t necessarily important. What is key is taking the time to reflect on your relationship with alcohol, and become more mindful about how, when and why you drink. For many people, drinking becomes a habit that we engage with rather mindfully. Taking an intentional break from alcohol consumption can shed insight into your alcohol use. That rings true whether you take a break in January, July, October or any other month.
“The brilliant thing about Dry January is that it’s not really about January. Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, to socialize,” said Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK. “That means that for the rest of the year we are better able to make decisions about our drinking, and to avoid slipping into drinking more than we really want to.”
A quick safety note: It’s healthy for most people to scale back on their alcohol use, but stopping cold turkey can be dangerous for very heavy drinkers. If you are dependent on alcohol, it’s best to seek professional treatment to stop use, according to Sunshine Coast Health Centre.
Benefits of Dry January
A month is short — just four Friday nights spent sober. And yet, it can have a big impact on health. In 2018, researchers from the UK published a study on Dry January in the British Medical Journal. The paper found that moderate to heavy drinkers who abstained from alcohol for a month saw a reduction in insulin resistance, weight and blood pressure, as well as fewer biomarkers for cancer growth.
Dry January can also leave you feeling better, mentally emotionally and financially. Another 2018 study found that roughly 70% of people who participate in Dry January reported getting better sleep, and having more energy. No surprisingly, there was also monetary benefit to laying off the booze: 88% of participants said that they saved money during the challenge.
Those benefits last longer than just the month that you’re abstaining. The same 2018 study found that people who started the year with a Dry January were still drinking less in August, suggesting that taking a few weeks off from drinking can result in a lasting change to one’s relationship with alcohol.
Dry January During the Pandemic
During the pandemic, many people have been drinking more, often when they are stuck at home. Alcohol stores have even been exempt from many mandated closures. With dreary news about the pandemic spreading with the omicron surge, Dry January could potentially help people from skipping into even more problematic drinking patterns, according to Sharon Wilsnack, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of North Dakota.
Most participants in Dry January reported that the challenge made them think more closely about their relationship with alcohol. More than 70% reported that they realized that they don’t need to drink to have fun and relax. During a time when the negative health implications of alcohol use are on the rise, that can be a welcome change in perspective that helps usher in a new year of health and wellness.
Sunshine Coast Health Centre is a non 12-step drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in British Columbia. Learn more here.