Benefits of Dry January
Dry January is a common trend that encourages people to stop and contemplate their alcohol consumption in the new year. Dry January is the commitment that individuals make to a month of sobriety. By making this one habit change, participants in the challenge learn to experience positive and wholesome fun – while sober. The challenge is geared towards people who may have overindulged during the holidays or who are living a lifestyle where alcohol has a heavy influence. These are people who feel like they’re drinking too much and are exceeding recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption. According to the CDC, adults should follow their Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol to reduce the risk of alcohol-related illnesses, which recommends that adults of legal drinking age drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.
Why You Should Try Dry January
There are many benefits to participating in Dry January, both physical and mental. There’s a benefit to taking a moment to pause and ask if your drinking has become a liability. The Dry January challenge is not a full medical detox for those who have been diagnosed with clinical dependency or addiction. For those trying to avoid alcohol, the challenge provides a ready excuse. Drinking is very much embedded in American Culture and social gatherings are a huge part of that for many of us. It can be difficult for those choosing not to drink to feel like they are missing out on the fun. Dry January gives a socially accepted reason why one has chosen not to indulge. Of course, participants never need to justify their decision to stop drinking.
Participants can think of Dry January as a dry run for the year – a time to practice abstinence in preparation for the remaining eleven months. Most participants agree that a month away from drinking produces many positive effects. Some of the benefits that they claim include better sleep, increased energy, weight loss, stronger hair, clearer skin, and even intentional financial responsibility. Specific to Dry January, current research from The Royal Free Hospital in London has demonstrated that there are beneficial physiological effects from joining in the challenge.
The hospital’s study consisted of participants who consumed more than moderate amounts of alcohol, with moderate being defined as staying within daily recommended limits. Subjects witnessed improvements in their sleep patterns and daily concentration, as well as reduced cholesterol, glucose levels, and blood pressure. Weight loss was also common, and many had lost 40% of their liver fat. In 2014, The University of Sussex did research and found that six months after the challenge 72% of participants were able to sustain those decreased levels.
The Dry January Challenge has support from a majority of experts, including physicians in all specialties, who agree on its benefits. Many practitioners, primarily those in family medicine, are the main advocates. General practitioners are often the first point of care for patients who drink in excess, even if it is not obvious during an appointment. Alcohol is associated with over 60 medical conditions, including cancer, diabetes, depression, and hypertension. Data reveals that over 10% of high blood pressure in men is alcohol-related. It can be difficult for many patients to be open about their relationship with alcohol, and uncomfortable for practitioners to ask about their drinking behavior. Fortunately, Dry January is a positive way to approach the topic in a non-threatening or judgmental way. This approach makes it easier for patients to acknowledge their drinking levels and consider making changes to reduce them.
Improved Quality of Life
Physicians of all different specialties agree that their patients would benefit from reducing their current alcohol consumption. Alcohol disrupts the immune system and slows down the body’s ability to heal, which is critical in the cold and flu season. When an individual is sick and on medication, specifically antibiotics, alcohol can cause a negative interaction. For many drinkers, alcohol contributes to anxiety and depression. Making a change in drinking behavior encourages patients to look at lifestyle choices that may be impacting their well-being.
Although a month-long challenge may seem daunting, the good news is that the benefits start rolling in quickly. According to Keri Gans, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Shape advisory board member, research shows that participants begin to see positive health benefits of cutting out alcohol in just two weeks. The advantages of Dry January are numerous, and it’s not just physiological effects that emerge. After a month of alcohol avoidance, participants can expect improvement in their relationships, overall lifestyle, safety, and well-being. Sleep improves immensely. After just a week, participants will find themselves experiencing more restorative sleep because drinking impacts the essential REM cycle. Of course, better quality sleep makes a person happier, healthier, and more productive.
Despite its name, the Dry January challenge leads to increased hydration. Drinking alcohol causes the body to lose around four times as much liquid as you consume, leading to severe dehydration. The human body needs enough water to function well, both physically and mentally, so without alcohol, the body functions more efficiently. Participants may begin to notice that their so-called “beer belly” begins to shrink; it’s called a “beer belly” for a reason, as alcohol has a ton of empty calories. By participating in Dry January, individuals may begin to notice that they have lost weight effortlessly by reducing their caloric intake. In fact, drinking a glass of wine or a bottle of beer every day for a week is the same as eating three fatty hamburgers or five large pieces of cake. Most people wouldn’t treat themselves to a slice of sugary cake every day, but they may have failed to consider the caloric effect of a glass of wine with dinner each night. It’s likely that by removing alcohol out of your diet for a month, you’ll lose some weight and shed that “beer belly”.
Avoiding alcohol can improve the appearance of your skin. Harmful dehydration caused by drinking can cause dry skin, premature aging, and even eczema. The good news is that when you stop drinking for a month, hydration levels improve, resulting in more water absorbed than released. As a result, participants will likely have a healthier complexion, and reduced dandruff and eczema coming out of January and into Valentine’s Day.
Aside from the aesthetic benefits of not drinking for a month, there are also financial benefits. It’s simple; by not drinking, participants will inevitably save money. Alcohol is expensive, especially when drinking is a frequent habit. Participants may even begin to notice that when they are not drinking, the things that they couldn’t afford before now become possible.
Giving the Body A Chance to Heal
In addition to the mental clarity and gratification of staying committed and disciplined, you’re giving your body the chance to heal all kinds of health concerns, from gastrointestinal issues to serious liver problems. Alcohol has the power to slowly and subtly poison the human body over time, contributing to many health concerns. By removing alcohol for a month the body will experience decreased acid reflux, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease or stroke. Liver function will recover. Most importantly, without alcohol in the body, overall immunity is immensely improved.
Exploring A Sober Lifestyle
Some people believe that Dry January is just about “resetting” the human body and “detoxing” from all the alcohol consumed over the holiday season. The truth is that Dry January brings your relationship with alcohol to the surface and is an opportunity to explore a sober lifestyle without a long-term commitment. No one enjoys a headache after a long night out at the bar. It can cause negative effects on your performance at work and even your ability to get along with a partner. Are you getting regular complaints from friends or spouses about having to be the designated driver? Try giving the challenge a shot and see if your relationships improve.
Laura Ward, a certified professional life and addiction recovery counselor, believes that Dry January attracts “sober-curious” drinkers who fall anywhere on the “gray-area drinking” spectrum before they reach rock bottom. Ward defines gray-area drinking as the space between the extremes of rock bottom and occasional drinking. Many people who fall into this gray-area don’t realize that they do not have to hit rock bottom before they begin evaluating their relationship with alcohol. As a society, we’ve normalized drinking to the extent that many people find it hard to tell if they have a problem with alcohol. Dry January is a great opportunity to see how your body feels without alcohol in the way.
Long Term Benefits of Dry January
Research has found that Dry January can result in long-term changes in drinking behavior. In fact, according to a 2018 survey conducted by The University of Sussex, Dry January participants drank, on average, one day less per week in August, and the frequency of being drunk dropped 38%, from an average of 3.4 days per month to 2.1 days per month. It’s no wonder that the challenge is immensely successful – the commitment to Dry January has grown, with over two million people in the U.K. participating in 2015.
If you feel that a loved one needs to cut back on their drinking then participating in Dry January yourself sets an excellent example. It will be easier to support them in reducing their drinking if you’re willing to do it yourself. Try announcing the challenge as a New Year’s goal, and explain it as a 31-day alcohol-free period to improve one’s health in the new year. Of course, participants never need to justify their decision to stop drinking.
It’s essential to note that if you suffer from an alcohol use disorder, then Dry January won’t be a good fit for you. Professionals warn that it’s not a good idea to use the challenge as a way to avoid getting professional help. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, please reach out to Boardwalk Recovery Center to get that professional support.