Living an overall healthier life is a New Year’s resolution that millions of people gravitate toward annually. One of the biggest targets is reducing alcohol consumption in what has become known as Dry January by some, and Sober January by others.
Temporarily cutting back or, in fact, giving up alcohol all together for 30 days is now so common that Dry January is being practiced by people all over the world.
What is Dry January or Sober January?
For as long as anyone can remember, people have been using the dawn of the New Year as a moment to reflect and reset. The beginning of a new year is the perfect time for a fresh start to change old ways or habits for the better.
Dry January is one such way for people to replace the habit of drinking alcohol with a healthier way of living, even if it’s only temporary.
The roots of this particular alcohol-free tradition can be traced to Finland in 1942 where the government created the “Sober January” campaign.
Fast forward 60 years and the first mention of the term “Dry January” was published in an article by the Seattle Times about giving up alcohol for a sober January.
The origin of Dry January as a public-health challenge appeared when the name was trademarked in the United Kingdom by the charity Alcohol Concern in 2014. Alcohol Concern was also responsible for creating the Alcohol Awareness Week event.
The British Dry January campaign was so successful that people in the United States started participating shortly thereafter and other countries followed.
As challenging as it might be, temporarily giving up alcohol for some people may feel like a natural thing to do. Others might view 30 days of being sober with dread and increased anxiety.
Whatever the case might be for each individual, a break from the booze comes with all kinds of benefits, with the most important one likely being the bird’s eye view we get of our relationship to alcohol.
It should be noted that excessive or long-term drinkers should not participate in Dry January or quitting alcohol abruptly without proper treatment because it can lead to dangerous health issues like withdrawal or even delirium tremens symptoms.
Dry January Benefits
There are many Dry January benefits people will notice if they stick to the plan for a full month.
When alcohol hits the neural pathways in the brain, it releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters that make people feel good, which is why so many people turn to beer, wine and spirits in the first place. Alcohol can be a great way to relax, ease stress, and lighten the mood.
Unfortunately, continued drinking, especially if it’s excessive, might lead to many kinds of physical and psychological problems. Alcohol can also be, as most people are aware of, incredibly habit forming and destructive.
This is why periodic breaks from drinking alcohol can yield big benefits.
Here are 6 Common Dry January Benefits
1. Dry January Benefits of a New Perspective
Whether a person drinks a little or a lot, periodically or daily, staying sober for 30 days forces a certain amount of reflection and a new perspective on how we cope with life without alcohol. This is a good thing even if it seems scary.
On one hand, we might find that we drink a daily cocktail (or two or three) more out of habit than anything else, and that very little is lost when it’s skipped or replaced with another activity.
Drinking less is always a healthier choice and we may find we don’t need it at all.
The flip side of the coin is that we find life very difficult to manage without alcohol. We may experience mood swings or find social gatherings more demanding.
Anxiety might become a factor. While these things may seem frightening to learn, they are also warning signs that our drinking may be getting the best of us and pulling back, or even seeking treatment for a substance use disorder, might be necessary.
It’s also important to note here that heavy drinkers, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as 15 drinks a week for men and eight for women, may not want to quit drinking “cold turkey.”
People who are physically dependent on alcohol can experience serious withdrawal symptoms and must seek professional help for alcohol detox before quitting alcohol.
2. Improved Clarity and Concentration
In the absence of alcohol, our ability to focus and concentrate on any number of activities or responsibilities almost always improves.
Even when we’re not hung-over from a boozy night out with friends, regular alcohol consumption or over-consumption can leave us feeling foggy, psychologically scattered, and moving at a slower mental pace than we would normally.
Many people find that without alcohol, most decisions are easier to make and goals are easier to achieve.
3. Sober January Offers Better, More Restful Sleep
One of the reasons mental acuity gets better with a little bit of sobriety is because people sleep better without alcohol in their system.
Yes, a few drinks can help a person fall asleep faster, but the quality of that sleep goes down dramatically despite what most people “perceive” as sleeping better after a few drinks at night.
Even if your body doesn’t wake you for a middle-of-the-night bathroom break, a little alcohol can leave people feeling groggy and mentally slower in the morning because it interferes with the restorative, and much needed, REM sleep that helps reboot the brain.
4. Weight Loss
The empty, liquid calories in alcohol provide no nutritional benefit, because as they’re processed, they turn into sugar and add to the body’s stores of fat.
Giving up alcohol, even temporarily, removes those empty calories and increased sugar so many people find they drop naturally some weight.
Obviously, the results will vary from person to person and are based on other lifestyle factors too, but it’s quite common for people to lose weight when not drinking regularly.
When people are drinking alcohol, they frequently turn to junk food, fast food or unhealthy meals to accompany their drinks. However, when people aren’t drinking alcohol, they tend to make healthier meal choices, which can also lead to weight loss.
5. Better Overall Health
With better sleep and a healthier diet comes more energy. Most people will discover that they’re far more active without alcohol in mix.
For some people, this might simply mean getting more done during the day. Others, however, may use the extra energy for exercise or more time spent outdoors.
These Dry January benefits often lead to an improved, happier, and more stable mood, as well as better overall health.
That’s not to say we won’t experience life’s regular ups and downs, but as we lead a healthier, more balanced day-to-day life without alcohol, things that upset us previously become less complicated and frustrating.
6. More Money in Our Pockets
Each person has his or her own preference for beer, wine, or spirits, and depending on the favorite and frequency, the price spent each week can go from a little to a lot in a hurry.
One wine drinking couple estimates that they regularly drink just over one bottle of wine a day, for an average of 8 bottles a week.
At $20 per bottle of wine, they spend approximately $160 a week, $640 a month, and $8,320 a year, if they stick to their average daily consumption.
That number is probably on the low side because it doesn’t account for drinking out at restaurants or bars, where the price can be much higher, or an increase in drinking around the holidays or special occasions.
Using this couple as an example, it’s easy to see that cutting back on regular drinking can put more money in our pockets. And the longer we abstain, the more money we’ll have for other things, like a nice vacation at the end of the year.
It’s easy for most people to recognize these Dry January benefits, but for some of us, the hard part is being able to pull it off.
Dry January Tips for Success
With any challenge, it’s always a good idea to go into it with a plan for success.
Dry January is no exception, and there are some simple steps everyone can take to help the month go as smoothly as possible.
Here are 4 Dry January Tips for a Sober January
1. Take it Easy and Be Flexible
First and foremost, learn to be flexible with this health challenge.
If going 30 days sober doesn’t work out exactly as planned, that is to be expected for some people. Beginning promptly on January 1 might not work for everyone and that’s okay.
Starting on the third or fourth day of the month and continuing until the same time in February works just as well and allows for a cushion around New Year’s Day festivities.
Next, if there’s a hiccup during this time and you happen to drink, don’t automatically assume that you have to keep drinking.
The goal is to cut out as much alcohol consumption as possible in a 30-day period. Just pick up where you left off and don’t dwell on it. If you feel it’s necessary, tack on an extra day or two at the end to make up for it.
2. Expect Triggers and Cravings to Drink
Every habit, whether healthy or not, comes with triggers and cravings. For regular drinkers, this might be a certain time of the day, like late afternoon after work for example, or simply the weekend when people tend to drink more.
Knowing that the desire to drink will arise gives us the opportunity to find an alternate activity during that time, or change our routine enough that we don’t dwell on having a cocktail during the normal time.
For others, going out or seeing friends socially may trigger the desire to drink.
This is understandable, but you might be surprised how simply holding a glass of club soda, water, or a Mocktail will ease the craving.
True friends will have no problem if you’re not drinking while out, and in some cases, they may even join you on your sober January journey.
3. Announce Your 30 Day Goal Ahead of Time
One way to stay accountable is to tell the important people in your life what your goals and intentions will be for sober January.
You don’t have to necessarily announce your 30-day challenge to the world, but a little bit of accountability can go a long way.
The other Dry January benefit of telling people what we intend to do is that it may inspire them to join us in our sober journey.
There’s safety in numbers so having others around us who are doing the same thing can certainly help ease the pressure and give each person involved someone else to talk to about the process.
4. Stick to One Thing at a Time
It’s human nature to want to pile challenges on top of each other and do too much at one time.
In other words, we might think that because we plan to not drink for 30 days, it’s also a perfect time to start writing that novel we always wanted to do, or begin some massive home improvement projects.
In truth, the added stress of additional challenges can sometimes lessen the chances that we accomplish our primary goal and we fail at all of them.
During Dry January, don’t over-burden yourself with too many additional challenges.
Take 30 days to focus on not drinking and only that. You might be surprised at how many other things you accomplish naturally, without making additional demands on yourself at the outset.
If the Dry January benefits are noticeably worthwhile and the process was easier than anticipated, feel free to add another month and keep it going.
Some people have found they liked feeling better each morning without alcohol, enjoyed having more money, and made a complete lifestyle change after a month without drinking.
Best of Luck and Have a Happy New Year!