"Dry January" began as a campaign in 2014 to improve the health of U.K. residents. In the past few years, it has taken off in the United States as well. The idea: Ditch alcohol for the entire month of January as a way to step back and evaluate your drinking habits.
"The new year is a time when people look at their lifestyle choices and get clear about how they can support their health and well-being," says Chris Nixon, LMSW, an addiction medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health.
Benefits of a Dry Month
For some people, Dry January is a way to kick off a New Year's resolution to limit or reevaluate drinking habits. For others, it's a post-holiday detox strategy. In either case, approaching the experiment with intention can pay off in big ways.
"Excessive drinking can have serious health effects, ranging from increased risk of cancer and heart disease to premature death. So it makes sense that people want to curb their intake," Nixon says.
You might discover that going dry in January offers some long-term perks, including:
- Improved health: "Alcohol can affect a lot of different parts of the body," Nixon says. Drinking, especially binge drinking, can have serious consequences. While going dry for one month isn't likely to reverse arterial damage or fatty liver disease, it may be a step toward improved health and well-being.
- A slimmer waist: Ditching alcohol for one month could help you lose weight in the new year, even if you only have a few drinks each week. A standard bottle of beer or glass of wine hovers around 150 calories and offers no nutritional benefits. What's worse, drinking can sabotage your willpower when you're confronted with junk food, so you're more likely to overindulge.
- More restful sleep: Alcohol is a depressant, so it may initially help you feel sleepy, but it also increases the odds that you'll wake up at 3 a.m. According to the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol interferes with “restorative” REM sleep, so you're likely to wake up feeling groggy rather than rested.
- A fatter wallet: Alcohol doesn't come cheap and paying routinely for your libation of choice adds up. Save money on alcohol and you can spend it on a newfound hobby.
- A chance to evaluate your drinking habits: Stepping back from your nightly cocktail may provide the distance you need to assess your drinking. When you reach January 31, check in with yourself and ask yourself whether a permanent change is in order. Do you feel healthier and lighter? Do you feel less anxious? Or do you feel exactly the same? Whatever the outcome, it offers important insight for your lifestyle habits moving forward.
Dry January: A How-to Guide
For some people, Dry January is a great way to hit the reset button and start the year on healthier footing.
"One dry month may not be a huge health-changing event but it's important to recognize that you have the ability to do it," Nixon says. "If you can take a month off from alcohol, that empowers you to say, ‘I can control this and other health habits.’"
If you drink only occasionally, steering clear of alcohol for one month probably won't make much of a difference. But if you're regularly sipping four or five drinks each night, several nights a week, Dry January can be a big deal.
Here's how to make it stick:
- Check in with your doctor. If you're accustomed to binge drinking, don't quit cold turkey. "If you've been drinking a lot, you may experience severe withdrawal symptoms, including delirium, seizures and even a stroke," says Nixon. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help you safely scale back your drinking.
- Change your routine. If you're used to having a nightly glass of red, keep yourself busy with another activity. Dive into a new book, take a virtual yoga class, put together a puzzle. It doesn't matter what you do, just make sure you're occupied with something other than booze.
- Get support. Aside from attending a virtual Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you can also buddy up with a friend or ask your local church if they offer a virtual support group. You can even find an online group through a social networking site.
- Come up with a sipping substitute. While water is always the best bet, it can get boring, particularly when you're comparing it to a cocktail. Try infusing water with fruits and herbs, or mix a spritzer with carbonated water, lime and mint. Or change your usual ritual of a boozy nightcap to a soothing cup of herbal tea.
To find a doctor or therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.
Christopher Nixon is the director of Addiction Medicine at Henry Ford Maplegrove Center.