As we approach January, you’re bound to hear friends and colleagues begin discussing their New Year’s resolutions. One way to kick off those resolutions is with a 31-day challenge in the new year.
You might hear friends mention an elimination diet such as Whole30 or Veganuary (following a vegan diet and avoiding animal products for the month of January). But if you want to improve your sleep, drop a few pounds, and even boost your mood, you may consider participating in “Dry January” — which basically means omitting alcohol from your diet during the first month of the year.
Dry January has been increasing in popularity ever since the UK-based non-profit, Alcohol Change UK, created the sobriety challenge in 2013. In 2022, more than a third of U.S. adults (35%) participated.
If you’re up for the Dry January challenge, here’s what you need to know:
Benefits of Dry January
People participate in Dry January for a multitude of reasons. A Harvard Health editor describes one survey conducted during the COVID pandemic that showed alcohol intake had increased among nearly two-thirds of survey respondents, with more than a third of survey respondents saying they engaged in binge drinking (consuming at least four or five servings of alcohol in less than two hours). If you feel like your alcohol consumption has increased in recent years or if you know you binge drink regularly, then Dry January can make you more mindful of your relationship with alcohol, so you can evaluate whether it plays a healthy role in your life.
Even if your alcohol consumption doesn’t concern you, though (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men), Dry January can also help you kick-start any other health or wellness goals that you might have, such as weight loss (alcohol is filled with empty calories!) or sleep health.
Drink Aware UK notes that many people who cut back on alcohol consumption experience:
- Deeper, higher-quality sleep and, as a result of that better sleep, enhanced mood, and greater concentration
- Decreased stress and anxiety
- More energy
- Better, more hydrated skin
- Fewer empty calories in your diet, which could result in weight loss without the need for any other lifestyle or dietary changes
- Lessened gastrointestinal issues, especially if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, or heartburn
- Reduced risk of longer-term and more serious health issues
Tips for a Successful Dry January
If you regularly drink, and especially if you consume alcohol beyond the CDC’s recommendations, then you may find Dry January challenging.
Here are a few steps you can take to increase your chance of success:
Define your goal
This may sound like a bit of a no-brainer but getting specific about your goals increases your chances of achieving them. Specificity is identifying your “why” behind the goal and using the SMART approach as you create a plan to achieve it, which means making sure your goal is (S)pecific, (M)easurable, (A)ttainable, (R)elevant, and (T)ime-bound.
If you want to do Dry January and commit to 31 days with no alcohol whatsoever, that goal may look like:
“I will completely abstain from alcohol for all of January and avoid social engagements where alcohol will be served in order to improve my overall health.”
If you simply want to cut back on your alcohol consumption and have a dry-er January, set a specific goal regarding how much alcohol you want to drink and how often you want to drink it. For example:
“I will limit my alcohol intake to no more than two days a week, for no more than two 12-ounce glasses of beer per allotted day, to improve my sleep.”
Write down your goal specifics and keep them somewhere handy.
Track your progress and goal
Even if you don’t end up cutting out alcohol completely, it can be extremely helpful to note your goals, progress, and habits around your alcohol consumption.
By using a habit tracker, you can become more mindful of your triggers and emotions while measuring your behavior.
Once you stop drinking for an extended period, you might realize just how much of your time you spend drinking. You may find yourself bored or listless during Dry January, so use that extra time to work on new projects or start up a new hobby. Staying occupied is especially important during the times you might normally drink (such as in the evenings and on weekends).
You can make difficult habit changes, such as cutting out drinking alcohol, easier by working with an accountability partner. Find a friend, family member, or colleague who’s also undertaking the Dry January challenge, so you can support one another.
Don’t throw it all away if you have a misstep
If you give in to temptation before the end of the month rolls around, don’t throw away your entire goal. If you really want to cut back on your alcohol consumption, recommit to your goal, and get back in the game. Don’t let one bad day spoil the entire month.
What Happens After Dry January is Over?
If you successfully complete Dry January, we don’t recommend going out and binge drinking on February 1 to celebrate your success (though, after you see the benefits of cutting back on alcohol, you may not even want to). Instead, it’s a good idea to examine your drinking habits and relationship with alcohol by asking yourself questions, such as:
- Was the month incredibly difficult for me?
- Were the results worth the sacrifice I made?
- Are the benefits worth extending my abstinence?
If you do decide you want to add alcohol back into your lifestyle but want to remain within the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption, a habit tracker, such as Arootah’s habit-tracking app, can support you in sticking to your goals.
Of course, if you feel like you need additional support, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health specialist.
The Bottom Line
Taking up a health challenge like Dry January can be a great way to kick off the new year. Going alcohol-free for 31 days can significantly benefit your health, but it also helps you become more aware of your habits and your relationship with alcohol.
If you want to make a long-lasting change surrounding your alcohol habits, whether in January or any time of year, you’ll want to set a reasonable goal with a realistic deadline that works for you. Consider downloading a free habit tracker such as Arootah’s Habit Accountability Tracker (H.A.T.) to track your good habits, avoid falling into bad habits, and avoid missing your goals.