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What is Dry January?

A person hiking during Dry January, wearing a coat and earmuffs.

If you woke up after ringing in the New Year and decided your resolution is to drink less, you’re far from alone. You also might be interested in taking on Dry January.

This public health initiative encourages participants to abstain from alcohol during the month of January. It can be a big change, but its impact could inspire you to make Dry January your annual resolution.

According to Morning Consult, a global intelligence company, millions around the world participate in Dry January each year. Their poll found almost one-in-five adults in the United States planned to participate in 2022, and 77% of Dry January participants from 2021 chose to repeat the challenge.

If you decide to join this year, you’ll be in good company. So what makes Dry January a challenge worth accepting?

What is the Point of Dry January?

Dr. Leanne Skehan with the text Dr. Leanne SkehanAccording to Dr. Leanne Skehan, a clinical faculty member from the public health degree programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), the Dry January initiative helps you realize the effect alcohol may be having on your health and encourages you to reconsider your habits.

Many public health professionals work to improve community health by addressing prevalent health concerns, promoting healthy behaviors and providing health education. Skehan said Dry January began in 2012 as a public health initiative from a British charity called Alcohol Change, UK.

“Dry January is a great time for self-reflection around alcohol and can help people reveal potential problems with ‘needing’ alcohol,” she said. But she noted the challenge is not for those with an alcohol use disorder*.

“Dry January is not about detoxing after the holidays, nor is it meant to help people with dependency issues,” said Skehan. Instead, she said the campaign is directed toward more moderate drinkers, who might drink a bit too much or too often.

According to the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP), the Dry January campaign aims to:

  • Encourage you to consider your alcohol consumption
  • Inspire changes in your future behavior
  • Start new conversations about alcohol

And the initiative is a proven success. “Research has shown that Dry January is an effective behavior change campaign,” Skehan said. She noted 72% of participants maintained lower levels of drinking six months after Dry January, according to the BJGP’s study.

Living healthier, losing weight and meeting financial goals are among the most common New Year’s resolutions, according to a 2021 survey on Statista. If Dry January’s your resolution, you could make headway in all of these areas at the same time.

“People who took a 30-day break from their regular consumption of alcohol were found to sleep better, they had more energy, lost weight and saved money,” said Skehan. Still, those are only some of the positive effects this challenge can manifest.

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking for a Month?

Drinking too much can put your body at risk.

“Alcohol is correlated with over 60 health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, depression and hypertension,” said Skehan. But changing your behavior can improve your well-being.

“Research shows that cutting out alcohol for a month can make a positive difference in a person’s overall health,” she said. And you might not realize how much alcohol affects your body until you take a planned break.

The BJGP’s study on Dry January participants found a majority experienced positive physical effects while abstaining from drinking. Some of these observed health benefits included:

  • Healthier sleep patterns
  • Higher energy levels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced cholesterol
  • Reduced glucose levels

“People also saw improvements in concentration, a reduction in cancer-related proteins in their blood, and studies have found that liver fat can be reduced by about 40%,” Skehan said.

Some participants in this study observed improvements in their skin and hair as a result of abstaining from alcohol for the month, too. All of that is in addition to the weight loss many observed when they cut out drinking for the month.

How Can You Stick With Your Dry January Resolution?

If alcohol is a part of your routine — say you like to end your day with a drink, for example — breaking that routine can take work. But there are ways to make it easier.

For many, finding non-alcoholic beverage options and trying different ways to relax are important steps. And those aren’t the only ways you can set yourself up for success. Consider these ideas to help you through the month.

What Can You Drink Instead of Alcohol?

There are a lot of beverage options you can try while taking a break from alcohol. Some of them might even remind you of your favorite drinks, which can make coping with the change in your routine a bit easier.

Skehan recommended trying these beverages during Dry January:

  • Mocktails. You can have a virgin bloody mary, virgin piña colada or a signature mocktail. Look up some recipes before your next trip to the grocery store or ask your server what mocktails are available next time you’re out to eat.
  • Non-alcoholic beer. If you’re a beer drinker and miss the taste on your tongue, you might like non-alcoholic beer when you're not drinking the real thing.
  • Club soda with lemon or lime. Go classic and simple. Fruit on the rim can make it feel like a special treat.
  • Tea or hot chocolate. Stay warm and dry during the winter months with a nice hot drink.
  • Water. Many people don’t consume the recommended amount of water to stay hydrated, according to Mayo Clinic. You might decide to replace drinking with a more positive habit by focusing on your water intake throughout the month.

You need to drink something. Start thinking about your new beverage of choice before you open up your refrigerator at the end of the day.

How Can You Relax Without Alcohol?

If you like to have a drink to unwind, you might be looking for other alternatives to alcohol during Dry January, too.

Skehan noted a few different ways to relax that you can try throughout the month:

  • Meditate. Try out a guided meditation video or read up on different techniques to clear your mind. Mayo Clinic noted meditation as an effective way to relieve stress and improve your well-being.

  • Read a good book. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, reading is therapeutic and studies have shown reading can reduce stress levels by 68%. Crack open a book instead of a beer during Dry January.

  • Spend time in nature. Skehan said spending time outside in the fresh air taking a walk or hike can be another great way to reset and reduce stress. The American Psychological Association (APA) also noted nature can improve your mental health and your brain function.

  • Take a long bath. Buy yourself some bath bombs and get in the tub for a soak. According to Healthline, a hot bath releases endorphins, reduces pain, improves breathing and more.

  • Yoga or other exercise. Go to a yoga, kickboxing, spinning or dance class in person or follow along with a video online. Try out skateboarding, surfing or archery if that's something you’ve always wanted to do. Exercise can be a great way to reduce stress, improve your health and have fun.

It’s always important to practice self-care and mindfulness, but during Dry January these practices can help keep you at ease and on track while you get used to the change in your routine and develop new habits.

How Else Can You Fight the Urge to Drink?

There are other ways to set yourself up for success throughout the challenge. Skehan noted these tips to help you get through Dry January successfully:

  • Avoid temptations. According to Skehan, it can be beneficial to keep alcohol out of your house during Dry January, and if you are invited out for a social occasion, you can bring your own non-alcoholic beverage.

  • Create a support group. “Let friends and family know about your goals for Dry January or any other time you decide to take a break from alcohol,” she said. Sometimes realizing you aren’t alone makes it easier to cope, and your friends might provide you with some inspiration. A support group can also help with accountability.

  • Utilize the Try Dry app. Skehan recommended the free app to help you track your drinking, set goals and offer motivation to help you be successful.

These tips can help make Dry January a bit more manageable, but that doesn't mean it will be easy. If you have a misstep, Skehan said not to throw in the towel.

“Don’t give up. If you have a drink during Dry January, don't feel guilty,” she said. “Just start fresh the next day.”

Learn more about community health and wellness with an online degree in public health from SNHU. Find out what courses you'll take, skills you can learn and how to request information about the program.

Mars Girolimon '21 is a writer and student at Southern New Hampshire University, pursuing a master's in English and creative writing. Connect with them on LinkedIn and Twitter.

*Warning on Alcohol Dependence

According to Alcohol Change UK, if you’re dependent on alcohol, it can be dangerous — or even lethal — to suddenly stop drinking. The organization noted if you experience these symptoms when you stop drinking, you should NOT go “cold turkey” without medical supervision:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Seizures
  • Shaking or sweating
  • Visual hallucinations

Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you’re dealing with alcohol dependence. You can also consult these resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for support:

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