Try Dry January for a physical and mental health reset


In this article: 

  • The challenge can help you re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol.
  • It's an opportunity to detox from the holidays and increase your energy. 
  • There's no wrong time to make a healthy, positive change in your life. 

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. Dry January started in the U.K. in 2013 and has since built momentum with more people around the world who want to reset their relationship with alcohol. To learn more, we spoke with psychiatrist Susanne Weber, M.D., a Providence Swedish behavioral health expert.

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.

Surveys have also shown Dry January helps improved sleep and energy as well as weight loss and improved skin. Dry January also promotes healthier bank accounts, with many respondents reporting saving money with not drinking alcohol.  

What should we think about while we're trying out Dry January? 

Challenging yourself to a Dry January can also help you evaluate your relationship with alcohol by asking yourself some questions. When you think about the times you drink alcohol, how would those times be different without it? Can you 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 let go of those activities and replace them with ones that add joy and value to your life.

What is considered heavy or problematic drinking?

The U.S. 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.

Am I too late if I missed starting on New Year's Day?

Not at all. Many people identify the first day of the new year as a time to turn the page on things, but there is no right day or time to choose a positive change in your life. A recent article in The New York Times offered some good tips to help set us up for success during Dry January, but they are useful any time and include making a self-care plan, identifying our triggers, telling friends and loved ones about our alcohol abstinence, and consciously making alcohol less accessible. The most important thing is to start and not to give up if you don’t meet your goal for a specific day, or week or month. Focus on the ultimate goals: a clearer head, increased energy, better sleep and a healthier lifestyle.

Learn more and find a provider

If you are concerned about your substance use or the substance use of a loved one, Providence Swedish can help. Contact Swedish Behavioral Health and Wellbeing to make an appointment with a behavioral health expert or visit our website to learn more about our Addiction Recovery services.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Primary Care to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections, and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you. 

Information for patients and visitors 

Related resources

Mindful drinking – how much alcohol is too much?

Don't have another. Alcohol consumption can raise atrial fibrillation risk

National Recovery Month highlights hope for addiction

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Swedish Behavioral Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

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