A fair amount of my friends and colleagues are in recovery and don’t drink alcohol at all. Some of my friends are triathletes and drink only occasionally in order to maximize their training time. Other folks I know probably drink fairly regularly and upped their game around the holidays and certainly during COVID. Several studies have tracked the dramatic increase increase in alcohol use during the pandemic and one study found that binge drinking jumped 19% for every week during COVID quarantines.
Combine excessive drinking with the widespread desire for a fresh start as we begin a new year that with any luck, will be better than 2020 and you have “Dry January,” an annual tradition launched a few ago years in the UK where participants ditch alcohol for the first thirty-one days of the year.
It’s a little gimmicky, but eliminating alcohol from your diet has some clear benefits. Here are a few:
- Eliminating alcohol – even for a month – reduces health risks, especially if your liver and immune system have been under stress due to excessive alcohol use.
- You will likely lose some weight because alcohol contains big empty calories. You’re also more likely to make lousy food choices when under the influence.
- Your skin will be clearer because you won’t be chronically dehydrated or accelerating the aging process with the toxins in alcohol.
- You will probably sleep better as alcohol messes with REM sleep and electrical wavelengths in the brain.
- Your moods will level out and you’re less likely to experience depression; alcohol is a powerful depressant.
- You’ll save money because booze is expensive. Water is not.
Most importantly, you’ll have a chance to re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol. Will staying sober for a month be challenging? What are the benefits to limiting your alcohol use? How did you feel during the first, second and third weeks? How did other people react to your pledge? What’s your game plan for February?
If you’re serious about committing to “Dry January,” here are a few tips that will help you stay alcohol-free for 31 days:
- Avoid people, places and things that will increase cravings.
- Tell others about your goals and ask for their support. Post on social media using the #dryjanuary hashtag.
- Find a favorite beverage to replace the beer, wine or booze. Try cranberry juice, flavored seltzer or tea.
- Start or double down on an exercise plan that will keep you feeling occupied, healthy and with less stress.
What happens if you drink two weeks in?
You get back on track. We don’t trash an entire diet plan because we snuck a cookie. This is the same. If you drink, you’ll likely regret it, but spend some time thinking about what set the stage for the slip. How were you feeling at the time? What could you have done differently to avoid alcohol? How did you rationalize drinking at the time? How are you feeling now about it? Why is it important to you that you continue on with this challenge?
Remember this: Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. You can finish January feeling healthy and strong.
There is one really important caveat here: If within a day or two of going sober, you experience shaking, headaches, nausea, increased anxiety or insomnia, it’s potentially a sign that you were drinking too much alcohol and your body is now struggling to adjust to life without it. It can be dangerous if you are a moderate to heavy drinker and you abruptly stop drinking. In those instances, please consider getting professional help by calling SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
Now, who’s in?