Dry January is an observance by many held during the month of January. It’s called Dry January because participants give up all alcohol for the full 31 days.
Believe it or not, when the practice began informally in the United Kingdom, it generated quite a lot of buzz and interest. What is the motivation to take part and what are the health benefits? We examine both below.
But before we do, a bit of a caveat. The official site for the National Library Of Medicine advises, “To be absolutely clear; this challenge is not a detox or for those with dependency issues.”
Dry January, also known in some circles as Drynuary, is intended for “the huge numbers of people who are steadily drinking a bit too much, too often” and not realizing the effect such habits may have on human health.
Multiple sources cite Slate writer John Ore as being the originator of an informal version of Dry January. He and his wife began taking the month of January off from drinking alcohol as far back as 2006.
Ore coined the term Drynuary for this practice, but is quick to point out that the couple doesn’t claim to have invented the practice but have simply given it a catchy name.
But things do get a bit more formalized. In 2011 a U.K.-based half-marathon runner named Emily Robinson decided to give up booze in January to prepare for her next race.
But while she’s in training, Robinson discovered people with a growing interest in what it’s like for her to temporarily give up one of her habits for a solid month.
In 2012, Robinson accepted a job at the U.K. non-profit Alcohol Aware; she was asked even more questions about her giving up alcohol for a month (she tried it again the following January) and before long, she and her colleagues at Alcohol Aware were planning their first Dry January public awareness campaign in 2013.
In 2014, the campaign grew larger thanks to support from the National Health Service and local health authorities. Dry January has definitely grown in popularity; by 2016 some 14,000 people were using Dry January apps to help them participate; in 2018 some four million people pledged to give Dry January a try. That year some 40,000 people used Dry January apps.
Dry January also has a strong following among some in the USA. According to one 2021 survey, some 13% of Americans took part in Dry January with nearly 80% of those polled reporting they wanted to improve their health, with nearly half participating due to perceived excesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The potential weight loss alone is a major benefit of Dry January. Harvard.edu notes that giving up alcohol for a month also leads to better sleep, more energy, and potentially lower blood pressure. Some sources note that alcohol can cause acid reflux issues in some people; cutting out the alcohol in January could lead to noticeable relief for some.
Reducing alcohol in general can help reduce inflammation of the liver, and most notably some Dry January participants report drinking less the rest of the year as a result of participating.
Naturally your experience may vary, but it’s a factor worth considering. Remember, Dry January is not meant as a substitute for professional treatment among those who have chronic addiction issues.
Dry January is not meant to be an endurance contest or a trial by ordeal. It’s meant to be fun, which means treating this month as a time to have some new experiences rather than to spend it counting the days until you can drink a beer again.
Having a fun and productive Dry January means anticipating some of the problems you may run into. One of those is related to the human need for routines and habits. Drinking is, for some, a ritual of sorts, or a means to relax in social situations that may otherwise cause a bit of anxiety (or more).
Replacing one routine with another is important. Some people rely on swapping the drink itself out for a non-alcoholic version, sometimes called a mocktail. But others don’t want to repeat the ritual for fear of being unable to resist the temptation to drink the “hard” version. Both viewpoints are valid, it just depends on your perspective.
The key is to either replace the ritual with a new, unrelated one or modify your current ritual to be healthier, whichever works best for YOU.
It also pays to have a support group. Are your friends also trying Dry January? Helping each other through a first dry month should not be undervalued–your friends and family are there to help.
Conversely, don’t be annoying about your health choices during this time. Your friends who are still drinking may eagerly support you, but it’s just as important not to judge your friends and co-workers who choose NOT to do Dry January. It’s one thing to be excited about your new lifestyle; it’s quite another to talk to everyone who will listen about it endlessly until they agree to give it a try with you.
One problem some have with Dry January comes from the temptation of having their December liquor cabinet nearby. If you have a tough time staying away, consider putting your alcohol stash into storage or giving it away so that you don’t have the ability to walk into the next room and opt out of Dry January for a night.
Some people choose apps to help them navigate Dry January, some people prefer to do it without the aid of their mobile devices. Regardless of which you choose, be sure to keep your larger goal in mind; it’s not just that you’re giving up one of your vices for the first month of the new year, you are also trying to improve your health.
Starting a new fitness regimen or working on your other lifestyle habits during Dry January can be a great way to make a longer-term commitment to your overall health.
It is always smart to consult your Primary Care Provider about making big changes to your health and wellness routines; a doctor may be able to help you know what to expect during Dry January and show you how to set reasonable expectations for weight loss and health improvement during the month.
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Joe Wallace has been covering real estate, mortgage and financial topics since 1995. His work has appeared on ABC, The Pentagon Channel, Veteran.com plus a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.