Many people round out each December with a season of celebration, and greet the new year by setting intentions for health and wellness. This collective optimism makes the first month of the year a natural fit for “Dry January” — a designation created by U.K. charity Alcohol Concern, which, in 2013, started a public health campaign calling for people to put drinking on hold for one month.
Taking such a pause can bring relief after holiday indulgence, and help you become aware of your relationship with alcohol during different occasions — celebration, grief, joy, stress, parenthood, dating, and any reason in between. However, Dry January is not a pass for overconsumption the rest of the year; it’s a chance to gauge your alcohol consumption and investigate the benefits of spending one month alcohol-free. At social functions, you can say you’re participating in this official event to explain why you’re passing on that glass of cabernet.
Health Benefits of an Alcohol Break
My own month-long experiment with alcohol abstinence led me to long-term refrainment, during which I’ve reveled in the benefits and new habits listed in this article. You can put these recommendations to use during your own Dry January, or at any time of year when you feel you need a break to reassess or complement other health goals.
Rise and shine. Alcohol is a diuretic that causes dehydration, so a period of refraining will help you stay hydrated throughout the night. With no chance of waking up hungover this month, you’ll get out of bed feeling refreshed more frequently. Your Dry January commitment may also assist you in accomplishing other goals you’ve set for yourself, because you’ll have more time in the morning and throughout the day to fit them in.
Sleep tight. Your nights will get a boost from Dry January too. Alcohol interferes with sleep cycles, leading to disrupted slumber and daytime drowsiness. You may have an easier time sticking to a consistent sleep schedule while abstaining, and once you fall asleep, you’ll sleep more deeply.
Glowing skin. Alcohol’s dehydrating effects may impact the skin, leading to breakouts, dryness, and inflammation — so taking a break from alcohol may clear up your complexion, especially when paired with improved sleep. Redness and puffiness will retreat, leaving behind rehydrated, radiant skin.
Immunity boost. According to research published in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews in 2015, intoxication reduces immunity, so abstaining from alcohol will help your immune system more easily defend against infection and disease, and if you do become ill, you may recover more quickly if you cut out alcohol.
Improved mood. Contrary to the intoxicating effects of alcohol, which lift mood temporarily, the long-term effects of drinking are increased anxiety and depression. Therefore, going alcohol-free could have a positive effect on your mental health and outlook. You’ll also gain confidence from sticking to a commitment.
Financial savings. Even if I use a modest estimate of how much I was spending per month on alcohol, the savings I’ve seen since refraining are astonishing. Just like if you were to stop buying your daily cup of coffee for a month, your daily or weekly alcohol purchases add up pretty quickly. Calculating your own potential savings (and planning what you’ll do with that cash) could be a great motivator.
Mindful Tips for Staying Dry
The following list of activities and tools helped me during my alcohol-free month and beyond. However, your choice to refrain (temporarily or otherwise) won’t look like anyone else’s; rather it will be based on your unique health and history. Perhaps you feel fully equipped to handle a month of complete abstinence; if not, consider speaking with your health care provider beforehand about possible withdrawal symptoms and treatments.
Stay social. When I stopped drinking, I made room for more of my favorite pursuits, such as meeting up with people for coffee, cooking with friends, exploring parks and beaches, thrifting, reading, and writing. I’ve also enrolled in a class to learn more about herbs, and made travel plans with the money I’ve saved.
Enlist herbs. The act of making hot tea can be a calming process that takes me out of an alcohol craving, regardless of what effect the tea itself has. However, I also turn to herbs to address specific afflictions. I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was a teenager, and without alcohol, my habit of staying awake late has been exacerbated. My before-bed routine now includes a lot of lavender — lavender Epsom salts, lavender essential oil, and lavender lotion. I’ve also used teas and tinctures of hops, lemon balm, passionflower, and valerian root to fall asleep. (NOTE: Valerian root is contraindicated for use with barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and other sedatives, as it can potentially increase the effects of these drugs.) In her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar lists the four herbs above as nerve sedatives, and she also includes California poppy, St. John’s wort, catnip, lobelia, skullcap, and cramp bark in this category.
Any detoxification can increase stress or reveal stress in body systems and organs. I use chamomile, kava, and motherwort to reach a calmer state. Gladstar identifies chamomile as a nerve tonic, among “herbs that feed, tone, rehabilitate, and strengthen the nervous system.” And she recommends kava for lifting spirits, and motherwort for reducing nervous stress (though neither should be taken during pregnancy).
Journal. Document the day-to-day details of your Dry January experience. And when January ends, write about what you liked and disliked about participating. Note any changes in your mood, energy, sleep habits, and general well-being. These notes will help you understand your relationship to alcohol and inform your decisions going forward.
Swap Sips. Create a list of nonalcoholic drinks that excite you. For me, kombucha has served as a healthful substitute that offers effervescence and flavor (though some people avoid it during abstinence because it has trace amounts of alcohol). When out with friends, I’ll order ginger beer or a Shirley Temple, or ask the bartender to surprise me with a nonalcoholic “mocktail.” I’m also learning to make my own mixes. (See Rooibos Tea & Pomegranate Mocktail.)
Build coping skills. If you’re uncomfortable in social situations where you normally drink alcohol, you’ll likely need some rituals to turn to when tempted to ditch your commitment. To replace an after-dinner drink, try making tea, walking, meditating, or bathing. Brainstorm coping skills that correspond to each state of mind. Additionally, see “Resources” below for more help with your Dry January.
Seek support. A simple text to a friend telling them you plan to participate in Dry January will help keep you accountable — and your friend may even join you. Encouragement will be invaluable to you on days when abstaining feels tough or impossible.
If you decide to reduce or eliminate alcohol as part of your New Year’s resolution, be proud of the tone you’ve set for a healthier year ahead. Just one month can bring enough awareness for deep change, and jump-start a new you.
Assess Your Alcohol Use
Whether you choose temporary or permanent abstinence, Dry January could be your next New Year’s resolution. To see if this is right for you, here are a couple of points to keep in mind:
- If you drink, how frequently and how much? According to a 2015 survey, 56 percent of adults in the United States have reported drinking in the past month. If you do choose to drink, the Mayo Clinic recommends doing so in moderation: for all women, and men over 65, this means up to one drink per day, and for men under 65, up to two drinks per day. Where do you place yourself in relation to these numbers?
- On what occasions do you find yourself drinking? Is alcohol your go-to choice? More importantly, if it wasn’t available, would you still enjoy the event?
Based on your answers, a break from alcohol could help you develop a healthier awareness and therefore pace your drinking habits the rest of the year. Keep exploring the benefits of this unique resolution, and strategies for sticking to it!
Love Your Liver
One of the largest and most important organs in the body, the liver is tasked with more than 300 bodily functions. Some of its responsibilities include regulating hormone activity; converting nutrients from food into usable substances; and cleaning toxins and alcohol from the bloodstream and body. High alcohol consumption, therefore, can be especially damaging to this vital organ, resulting in liver diseases if not regulated long-term.
In addition to participating in Dry January, show your liver some extra love by adding certain herbs or foods to your diet. I’ve used dandelion root and milk thistle; according to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, these herbs can cleanse and support the liver. Steep them in tea, or enjoy them as extracts or capsules, depending on your need. Foods and drinks that may also aid liver health include green tea, fish, nuts, and olive oil. Consult with your health care practitioner to determine if the addition of certain herbs, supplements, extracts, or foods is right for you.
Concoct a dry drink with this Rooibos Tea & Pomegranate Mocktail Recipe, whether during or outside of your Dry January.
- Dry January website
- Mayo Clinic
- Rethinking Drinking
- Tell Better Stories
- This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
- Hip Sobriety
Amanda Sorell is a senior copy editor for Ogden Publications. She enjoys brewing herbal potions, cooking, making DIY beauty products, reading, and writing.