Dry January can help you re-set for the new year and improve your mental and physical health.
- Detox from the holidays
- Increase your energy
- Evaluate your relationship with alcohol
[3 MIN READ]
If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution to improve your mental and physical health, then consider trying Dry January, a public health campaign that promotes stopping alcohol use for the month of January. The idea was popularized in the U.K. starting in 2013, and has built momentum since with more people around the world downloading the Try Dry: Dry January app.
We sat down with Susanne Weber, M.D., psychiatrist at Swedish Medical Center, to discuss the benefits of Dry January. Additionally, Dr. Weber shared some notes on patients who were surprised by how well this tactic worked to reset their health.
- Dr. Weber describes a patient in his 60s felt that his low energy and decreased mood were related to depression and age. After cutting out alcohol for one month, he reported having more energy and feeling better overall. And because of his improved concentration, he was able to start back with some of his favorite hobbies.
- One of Dr. Weber’s female patients had developed a habit of drinking in the evenings to help her unwind. After she quit drinking for a month, she noticed improved sleep and feeling mentally clearer during the day. And it was a snowball effect of healthy changes – she restarted a weekly exercise class and improved her diet with more vegetables and regular mealtimes. She learned that she didn’t “need” alcohol to relax.
As you make plans for the new year, consider a Dry January to reset your health. Read on to find out the benefits.
What are the benefits of Dry January?
The main benefit of Dry January is improvement in your overall health. In 2013, 14 staff members at the New Scientist, an U.K.-based science magazine, conducted a small study that involved a health screen before and after a month of sobriety, including blood work and a liver scan. After a booze-less month, the study participants had lower blood sugar levels, less liver fat and lower cholesterol. They even lost some weight, which isn’t a surprise considering that one IPA beer can have more calories than a chocolate candy bar. Participants also reported better sleep, and improved concentration and alertness.
Additionally, in a 2018 survey of over 800 people in the U.K., over two-thirds of the participants who practiced Dry January also had improved sleep and energy, and a whopping 88 percent also reported saving money. Half of the participants noted weight loss and improved skin.
Challenging yourself to a Dry January can also help you evaluate your relationship with alcohol. When you think about the times you use alcohol, how would those times be different without it?
Challenging yourself to a Dry January can also help you evaluate your relationship with alcohol. When you think about the times you use alcohol, how would those times be different without it? Is it possible to relax at the end of the day with a cup of tea instead of a glass of wine? Would your friends at the bar notice or care if you were drinking seltzer water? Would you be better able to refuse drinks if you set a boundary for yourself?
Another fringe benefit of quitting alcohol for a month is the ability to re-evaluate your activities. You may be surprised to find that you’re more engaged in watching sports without alcohol dulling your attention. And it’s possible that some activities you thought were enjoyable aren’t as much fun without a few drinks. You may choose to weed these activities out of your routine and replace them with ones that add joy and value to your life.
What is considered heavy or problematic drinking?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that women have seven or fewer alcoholic drinks per week, and men have 14 or fewer alcoholic drinks per week. Drinking more than five drinks in a sitting (around two hours) is considered binge drinking for men, while four alcoholic drinks in a sitting is considered binge drinking for women.
Drinking alcohol on an ongoing basis and above CDC-recommended amounts is considered heavy alcohol use, which can be harmful to your physical and mental health. Your alcohol use may be problematic if it negatively impacts your relationships, impairs your ability to function daily, or do things you used to enjoy. If you experience these signs, it may be worth decreasing alcohol use or stop drinking alcohol altogether.
The benefits of a Dry January can be far-reaching, improving your overall mental and physical health, especially after a long holiday season of indulgence.
Are there any downsides to Dry January?
Some doctors worry that a sober month may lead to overindulgence or binge drinking before or after the alcohol-free month. However, surveys of people participating in Dry January do not show a rebound effect. If anything, people who spend a month sober tend to drink less overall for the next six months.
If you are physically dependent on alcohol, stopping alcohol use abruptly can cause serious withdrawal symptoms of anxiety, nausea and poor sleep. If you experience confusion, high blood pressure, fever or heart rate changes one to three days after stopping alcohol, then you should seek emergency care for alcohol withdrawal. Severe alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening and involve seizures.
The benefits of a Dry January can be far-reaching, improving your overall mental and physical health, especially after a long holiday season of indulgence. Take the time to make a plan and challenge yourself to try it. Your body will thank you.
Susanne Weber, M.D., is a psychiatrist at Swedish Medical Center. Her specialties include helping people make healthy lifestyle changes and treating anxiety, depression and psychosis. Dr. Weber takes a comprehensive and holistic approach in order to make the most accurate and useful diagnosis possible. She works with each patient to find treatment approaches that are evidence-based and fit each individual’s preference.
Find a doctor
If you are considering this resolution and you have any questions about whether it is right for you, consult your doctor. You can find a Swedish primary care doctor in our provider directory.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
About the AuthorMore Content by Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team