Each January, many people across the world stop drinking alcohol for the month. Some individuals abstain from alcohol to see if they can do it for 31 days. Others avoid alcohol because they realize that drinking has caused problems in their lives.
“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 (alcohol withdrawal) can harm your health.
Alcohol Use Disorders in the US
According to a 2018 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 14.8 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder. Of those, 11 million were ages 26 or older, but 3.4 million were between the ages of 18 and 25.
While there have been reductions in youths ages 12-17 who initiated substance use, alcohol addiction remains a prolific problem in the United States. In about 13.1% of cases, people with a substance use disorder struggle with addiction to both alcohol and illicit drugs.
What Is Dry January?
Dry January is an annual ritual of alcohol abstinence started by the British charity Alcohol Concern in 2013. The organization became alarmed that 31% of men and 16% of women in England were consuming more than the recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol in a single week.
An estimated 5 million people in the United Kingdom participated in Dry January last year. The practice has made its way to the United States. To participate in the ritual, people need to pledge that they are going to abstain from drinking alcohol for the entire month of January.
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 reduce your calorie intake and lose weight. The website Drinkaware allows people to calculate the number of calories in several types of alcohol.
- 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: A study by University College London found that avoiding alcohol intake for a month can reduce liver fat by 15%. Fat around the liver can damage cells, cause inflammation and lead to other functioning issues.
- 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 an expensive habit, especially binge drinking. Amid the financial strain many of us are feeling due to the pandemic, saving a bit of extra money in January is always 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 against 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: Dry January lasts one month. During a month of abstinence from alcohol, your health can improve. However, your health can decline 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. 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. Social interaction has also moved to video chat for many during the pandemic, where there is less pressure to drink to pass the time.
- Abstinence could cause withdrawal symptoms: People addicted to alcohol can experience intense 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 avoiding alcohol for a month. You may not realize your drinking habits have gotten out of hand and are harming you. If you experience alcohol addiction, you may encounter withdrawal symptoms that should be managed safely at an alcohol detox facility.
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.
However, 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 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. The Recovery Village patient portal can give you access to many of these resources, including videos, assessments 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 today.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” August 2019. Accessed December 18, 2020.
National Health Service. “Health Survey for England, 2016.” December 13, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2020.
NPR. “The Benefits Of A Dry January.” January 7, 2018. Accessed December 18, 2020.
Osborne, Hannah. “Dry January: Pros and cons of not drinking alcohol for a month.” International Business Times. December 29. 2014. Accessed December 18, 2020.
Robinson, Emily, de Visser, Richard & Bond, Rod. “Voluntary temporary abstinence from alcohol during “Dry January” and subsequent alcohol use.” Health Psychology, March 2016. Accessed December 18, 2020
Wisely, Rene. “How ‘Dry January’ Benefits Your Mind and Body.” The University of Michigan. January 2, 2019. Accessed December 18, 2020.
Coghlan, Andy. “Our liver vacation: Is a dry January really worth it?” New Scientist, December 31, 2013. Accessed December 18, 2020.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.