Dry January: Health Benefits That Last Longer

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Dr. Nina Radcliff

Rising in popularity, millions of people are opting to participate in “Dry January” for physical and mental health reasons – along with other benefits — to help manage their drinking habits. 

Dry January began ten years ago as an annual initiative by Alcohol Change UK, a British organization. Today, millions of people take part in the challenge, with more Americans taking notice and participating each year. It’s a month when many people voluntarily stop drinking alcohol and start the new year on a healthy, more refreshed, sober note. And yes, the timing of January is set to coincide with the New Year’s call-to-action, when people are making resolutions. 

And, “Sober Curiosity” is also at the heart of many who participate in Dry January. Sober curiousity is a movement that involves becoming more aware of drinking habits/behaviors to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol–some say, mindful drinking or mindful abstinence.

Here’s some reasons people have reported “why” to participate in Dry January:

  • “Sample sobriety” without being overwhelmed by the concept of skipping alcohol forever
  • “This time helps to assess alcohol use – and misuse — and reset drinking habits.”
  • “Taking more control, ditching any hangover while reducing the waistline and saving some serious money by giving up alcohol for 31 days”
  • “Expect to experience some pretty profound benefits after quitting booze”
  • The hashtags #soberissexy, #soberisbetter, and others are popular on Instagram sharing more personal comments. Interestingly too, research suggests that alcohol abstinence events like Dry January are more than a fad, with consumers identifying improving their physical health and mental well-being as the main reasons for remaining dry in January and drinking less.

Whether you’re doing it for health reasons, a personal challenge, or you’re sober curious, or want to take a step to change your relationship with alcohol, there are many benefits for you – here are a few:

  • Improved Digestion – Alcohol is inflammatory and damages the intestinal lining, which leads to increased permeability known as “leaky gut.” Studies show that after 3-weeks of abstinence from drinking, subjects can experience a complete recovery of gut barrier function. 
  • Better Quality Sleep –Alcohol disrupts the most restorative phase of sleep, robbing you of quality sleep as well as more frequent awakenings  
  • Weight Loss – Experts explained that based on your consumption habits (drink of choice) you’ll likely be dropping thousands of empty, liquid calories from your diet, benefitting your waistline as long as you don’t exchange alcohol for other added calories.
  • Saving Money – Expenses on alcoholic drinks adds up. Tracking too, other foods or related costs revolving around those drinks.
  • Improved focus, greater productivity, and mental clarity – Alcohol impairs judgement and nerve function in the brain can be slowed.
  • Stronger Immune System – Alcohol impairs immune cells in key organs, leading to increased risk of serious infections. It can actually trigger inflammation in the gut and destroy healthy microorganisms.

Considerations: 

  • Mental Health: Alcohol is a depressant and alcohol use is associated with negative mental health outcomes including lack of life satisfaction and psychological distress including depression and anxiety.
  • Assessing your relationship with alcohol. Experts note that since alcohol is often a part of socializing, drinking can essentially become mindless—something many people never really question. 
  • Taking a step back provides time to rethink and be mindful of choices. Alcohol consumption — including the fact that even one instance of excessive drinking — can lead to unintentional injuries, aggression, and risky behaviors. And alcohol can be particularly risky if you’re drinking when stressed or in a negative state of mind. Additionally, if you regularly take medication for a health condition, it’s often safer to abstain from alcohol use. Alcohol can interact with a variety of medications, causing serious side effects.
  • Health benefits in the long term. Consistent alcohol use can lead to a number of chronic diseases and neurological problems, including dementia, stroke; cardiovascular impairments like increased blood pressure, heart attacks; depression and anxiety; cancer; liver diseases and gastrointestinal problems. Avoiding alcohol consumption altogether decreases your likelihood of suffering — or even dying — from a number of serious diseases.

Dry January Options. Even a month break can make a difference. One body of research reported that regular drinkers who abstained from alcohol for just one month were found to have a “rapid decrease” in certain chemical messengers in the blood that are associated with cancer progression. Participants also saw improvements in their insulin resistance, weight, and blood pressure.

For more information and personalized tips on Dry January go to the https://alcoholchange.org.uk/

Along with the mental and physical science behind Dry January, choosing to go sober will bring personal awareness and help support a better understanding of how alcohol affects your body, mind, life and overall well-being. 

Author Profile

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.