Dry January can help people to abstain from alcohol and improve their health, but for some, suddenly stopping alcohol use can be harmful.

Each January, people across the world stop drinking alcohol for the month. Some are sober curious. Some participate for the challenge of abstaining for 31 days or to create an opportunity to explore if sobriety would improve their health. Others avoid alcohol because they realize that drinking has caused problems in their lives and want to try sobriety.

“Dry January,” as it is called, has several benefits. However, people who are addicted to alcohol must be careful when abruptly abstaining from the substance. If you have drinking problems, the sudden absence of alcohol can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can sometimes be fatal.

That being said, there are both advantages and disadvantages to Dry January.

What Is Dry January?

Dry January is a public health campaign that encourages people to pledge to abstain from alcohol for the entire month of January. While the campaign actually began in the United Kingdom, the practice has made its way to the United States. In fact, CNN reported that 35% of American adults over 21 skipped alcohol for the entire month of January 2022.

Dry January can be an opportune time to explore sobriety after the excesses of the winter holiday season and the desire to start the new year fresh or with healthy goals.

Pros of Dry January

Cutting alcohol from your diet can result in several physical, mental, emotional and social health benefits. These benefits include:

  • Weight loss: Alcohol contains a varying amount of calories. By abstaining from alcohol use, you can potentially reduce your calorie intake and lose weight. Sites like Drinkaware allow you to calculate the calories in your alcohol consumption to give you a better idea of how many calories alcohol is adding to your diet.
  • Better sleep: Multiple reports, including one by the University of Michigan, indicate that reducing your alcohol intake can result in better sleep. Alcohol is known to affect sleep patterns. Disrupted sleep can lead to low energy levels and endurance.
  • Improved organ functioning: Alcohol abuse can lead to fat accumulation around the liver, which can damage cells, cause inflammation, and lead to other functioning issues. A recent study found that even among moderate drinkers, abstaining from alcohol for one month had a beneficial effect on liver functioning.
  • Clearer mind: Reducing your drinking can help your cognition. Sobriety can assist you with thinking more clearly, which increases your likelihood of performing well at school, home and work.
  • Enhanced relationships: In addition to affecting a person’s physical health, alcohol can harm their relationships. The substance can cause people to act erratically or in abnormal ways. Sobriety can make people calmer and more easily approachable. This could help build current and new relationships.
  • Saving money: Drinking can be expensive, especially binge drinking. With the financial strain many of us feel after the holidays or due to the pandemic, saving a bit of extra money in January can be helpful.

Dr. Rajiv Jalan, a professor at University College of London, spoke to NPR about a small study of people who gave up alcohol during January. The study compared 40 people at a hospital who stopped drinking to 40 who did not. Those who stopped for the month experienced improvements in liver function tests, some cancer-related blood tests and blood glucose tests. The subjects also lost weight, reported better sleep and experienced improved sexual function.

A much larger study of 857 Dry January participants was published in the journal Health Psychology. The study followed up with participants at one and six months, concluding that there were positive impacts from giving up alcohol for a short period. Roughly 50% of the group ended up drinking less overall. However, 10% had a rebound effect and drank more than before the period of abstinence.

Cons of Dry January

While Dry January has plenty of benefits, some people may experience drawbacks to suddenly abstaining from alcohol for a month. Some disadvantages of Dry January include:

  • The health benefits are lost when you return to drinking: During a month of abstinence from alcohol, your health can improve. However, the health benefits can be lost by drinking again when the month ends.
  • It could affect your social life: Many people drink in social settings as a way to meet people or cope with social anxiety. By giving up alcohol for a month, you may not participate in social gatherings as much, which can affect your social life. However, there are plenty of sober activities, such as playing sports, that can help you forge relationships. Sober bars are also starting to emerge for social communities who want to abstain from drinking. Social interaction has also decreased or moved to video chat for many during the pandemic, where there is less pressure to drink.
  • Abstinence could cause withdrawal symptoms: People addicted to alcohol can experience intense or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium tremens, upon sudden cessation from alcohol. In extreme cases, alcohol withdrawal can lead to death.

If you drink regularly, it is important to speak with your doctor about the pros and cons of abruptly stopping drinking and avoiding alcohol for a month. If you experience alcohol addiction, you may encounter withdrawal symptoms that should be managed safely at an alcohol detox facility.

Alcohol Use Disorders in the U.S.

According to a 2020 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 28.3 million Americans, approximately 10.2% of the population, have an alcohol use disorder. According to the SAMHSA data, of the 38.7 million adults who had a substance use disorder in 2020, 71% of them had an alcohol use disorder.

Treating an Alcohol Use Disorder

Some people participate in Dry January to recover from the overindulgence of alcohol that may have occurred during the holidays. It also gives you the opportunity to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. You may not realize your drinking habits have gotten out of hand and are harming you.

People with an alcohol use disorder regularly use the substance. A pledge of abstinence is a good place to start, but you might need additional help for your comfort, safety and to increase the likelihood of long-term sobriety.

When you receive personalized alcohol addiction treatment, you have access to services that support your long-term recovery. A medically-supervised detox facility can ensure that you are comfortable as toxins leave your body and safe from some of the dangerous side effects of alcohol withdrawal.

You can also receive education about alcohol addiction and therapy services you need to create a solid foundation in recovery. Our app, Nobu can give you access to additional resources, including videos, mental health assessments, teletherapy and more.

Treatment can help people dependent on or addicted to alcohol learn ways to better manage their drinking problems. To learn more about how treatment can help you cope with alcohol issues, contact The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab today.

Melissa Carmona
Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Jenni Jacobsen
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.