Dry January is the health and wellness meme of the moment, with people around the world pledging to forego alcohol for 31 days. Now that the British fad is taking hold in the U.S., research shows that losing booze for a month has several health benefits—sometimes months later.
“Basically, it’s a New Year’s resolution,” says Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. “You’ve been drinking during the holidays, and the idea is that if you stop drinking for the next month, your life and health would be better in the coming year.”
But does it really work? There’s considerable evidence that a month without alcohol might indeed benefit your health.
If you’ve found yourself drinking a cocktail or a glass of wine every night, holidays aside, then you’re probably a good candidate for Dry January. “Alcohol has a way of creeping in and becoming a habit or ritual,” says Michael Levy, Ph.D., author of Take Control of Your Drinking and You May Not Need to Quit. “It’s no surprise that booze makes you feel good temporarily. Alcohol hits the neurochemical pathways in our brain and releases endorphins that make us feel good,” he explains.
For women, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 2 drinks on any single day and a maximum of 7 drinks per week, while men should have no more than 3 drinks daily and 14 drinks per week. Abstaining from drinking for a month can recalibrate your habits so you can make 2019 a year that you rely on alcohol less, meet your health goals, and feel better than you ever thought possible.
Top 5 Dry January Health Benefits
Dropping booze for a month can lower blood pressure, improve insulin resistance, and reduce blood levels of a signaling protein linked to cancer, according to a study published online in BMJ Open earlier this year. People who quit drinking during January also find it easier to lay off alcohol for the months afterward.
“The brilliant thing about Dry January is that it’s not really about January,” said Dr. Richard Piper, chief executive officer of Alcohol Change UK, the group that started the annual event. “Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, to socialize. 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.”
If drinking at the end of a long day has become a coping strategy, it may be hiding underlying symptoms of depression or anxiety, writes Ashley Jones, APRN-CNP at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Drinking tends to make these symptoms worse, so you may find that your mood is actually more stable when not consuming alcohol,” she explains.
While Dry January won’t completely treat an illness like depression, it may provide the distance you need to assess your motivation for self-medicating in the first place. Even if you do not suffer from mental health complications, or don’t resort to alcohol for self-medication, taking a break from drinking still might give you the mental clarity you need to refocus and reorient or goals for the new year.
Drinking before bed doesn’t produce a sounder sleep, despite what you might think. If anything, alcohol ensures that your sleep is less than great, even if you nod off quicker. As the National Sleep Foundation explains, levels of the sleep-inducing chemical adenosine rise to help you fall asleep initially, but then it crashes, waking you up in the middle of the night. A study in the journal of Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research concludes that drinking reduces sleep quality by decreasing “restorative” REM sleep, and that giving up drinking for a month may help you sleep better and wake more rested.
Depending on how much you were drinking before you took a month off, it’s possible that you could lose as much as a few pounds per week, says Amy Knoblock-Hahn, Ph.D. “Many times, when people stop or cut back on drinking, they don’t replace those calories. You may find that just this one change helps you lose weight,” she says. Many people also consume more junk food when they drink, so you might discover that you are more mindful about your eating habits when booze isn’t involved.
Your New You
The best part of abstaining is showing yourself that you don’t have to drink every day or even drink at all to have fun, meet people, and cope with life’s trials. For many people, Dry January changes their view of alcohol for the better, leaving them less likely to reach for that mindless glass after a long day.
Dry January kicked off in 2012 with just 4,000 participants, according to Alcohol Change UK, the group that started the event. In 2018, more than 4 million pledged to go the month of January without drinking. Surveys have shown that 88% of participants save money, 71% sleep better, 67% have more energy, and 58% lose weight by the end of the month.
It’s not too late to begin the booze-free challenge. Visit Alcohol Change UK for more information. Sign up. Save money. Feel great.