The holidays are often a time of indulgence, which, for many, means enjoying a festive alcoholic beverage (or two). Social drinking is widely accepted and is a tool we use to lighten the mood and bring folks together.
When the New Year rolls around, many people see it as a perfect time to reset and refresh. After all the indulgences and holiday meals common New Year’s Resolutions often include eating healthier and exercising more regularly. You may also be feeling like your liver needs a bit of a break. Dry January was designed to encourage people to abstain from alcohol for the entire month, with the goal of restoring both physical health and a healthy relationship with alcohol.
8 Benefits Of Dry January
Intuitively, you probably know that starting the year with Dry January is a good idea for your finances and emotions. But removing alcohol, even for a mere month, can do a lot of good for your body, too.
When it comes to your physical health, some of the most common benefits of Dry January are:
Supporting Liver Health
The liver breaks down most of the alcohol you drink so that it can be removed from the body. This process creates substances that are more harmful than alcohol. Large amounts of these substances can damage liver cells and cause serious liver disease. Taking a break from alcohol for the new year gives one of your most essential organs some time to heal and restore itself.
Lowering Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is also one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease. Cutting back on the booze means blood flows more easily throughout your body. This results in lowering blood pressure
Improving Gut Health
Alcohol is highly inflammatory and damages the delicate lining of the intestines.
A few weeks of abstinence from drinking has been found to significantly improve gut barrier function.
The intestinal lining isn’t the only part of your digestive system negatively impacted.
Alcohol also contributes to disrupting the gut microbiome. One month won’t likely fully reverse digestive imbalances, but it is long enough to significantly increase the number of healthy bacteria in the gut. This will improve your physical health, immune system, and mood.
Helping With Weight Loss
Alcohol can lead to weight gain for many reasons including
- Disrupts metabolic processes
- Increases hunger and cravings and lowers inhibitions around food
- Spikes cortisol levels
- Encourages sedentary behaviour
- Increases the risk of depression and anxiety
Adding to that, if your drink of choice is beer or cider, abstaining will result in a marked decrease in calories and carbohydrates.
As long as the alcohol is not replaced by processed and manufactured nutrient poor drinks and snacks for 31 days, weight loss will be supported. Many participants in Dry January challenges report losing weight.
Read more on weight loss strategies here
Ever notice how you always feel tired when you wake up the day after drinking? Even if you’ve been asleep for eight or more hours? Alcohol disrupts the most restorative phase of sleep. Even though alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, this does not translate to promoting high-quality sleep. As alcohol begins to leave the system, the body experiences subtle arousing, which makes for more restless sleep with frequent waking up.
The majority of people taking part in Dry January generally report improved sleep!
In a 2018 University of Sussex study of the effects of participating in Dry January, a whopping 71% of participants reported improved sleep.
Creates Healthier Skin
Alcohol is a diuretic and triggers inflammation, both of which are not ideal for your skin. Alcohol results in a dry, red, puffy appearance and also accelerates the aging process.
Drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol regularly (the equivalent of one drink per day) can result in:
- Dilated vessels
- Dull, lackluster complexion
- Loose skin
- Fine lines and wrinkles
By taking a month off from drinking, you’ll give your skin a much-needed opportunity to recuperate. As your body begins to rehydrate and balance itself out after cutting out alcohol, skin begins to regain its healthy glow.
Drinking makes it more challenging for the body to properly tend to its other critical functions, like fighting off a disease. Excessive drinking has been shown to suppress the immune response. Taking a break from alcohol could definitely support fighting off any seasonal illnesses, especially during the cold months of winter which are notoriously cold and flu season.
Changes Your Relationship With Alcohol
Dry January can help you examine your relationship with alcohol and understand whether you are relying on it as a coping mechanism for stress, as a crutch in social situations, or otherwise feel some sort of dependency on it. By challenging yourself not to drink for a month, you can discover other potentially healthier substitutes for alcohol. Even if you decide to resume drinking after completing Dry January, there’s a good chance you will drink less in the future.
How To Try Dry January
Cutting out alcohol for a month can prove difficult and it’s important to set yourself up for success:
Create the right environment: Put away your stash of alcohol. You can either hide it, give it to a friend to hold on to, or pour it down the drain. Out of sight, out of mind!
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Recruit a friend to do the challenge with you: Creating some accountability will keep you more focused on your goals. Not only will you support each other (and go through the challenges that come up together), but you can also plan non-alcoholic activities together.
Avoid triggers: If you have specific locations, experiences, or even certain people that cause you to want to drink, it will be helpful to avoid these triggers whenever possible.
Schedule other things you enjoy that don't involve alcohol: this could include cooking, working out, learning a new instrument or anything else that brings you happiness! This will not only occupy your time, but provide some non-alcohol related things to look forward to during your month. One of the most helpful tips is to replace old drinking habits with fun, new activities instead.
Practise compassion: Remind yourself that it is definitely not the end of the world if you slip up. If you had a drink or two, and feel as if you failed Dry January, be compassionate to yourself, forgive the error and continue forward. Making a mistake is okay and a slip up doesn’t mean you have to give up. You can always get back on track the next day, and you’ll ultimately feel better for staying the course.
Beyond Dry January
Dry January can be the perfect catalyst to reduce drinking, but what should you do after that? You may choose to return to drinking alcohol, with a renewed awareness of how it fits into your life. Alternatively, you may decide you’d prefer to stick with sobriety for a longer term.
If you fall into the second category, what’s the best way to keep the momentum going? How can you cut back on alcohol for good?
Generally, the tips that got you through Dry January in the first place can help you keep going strong through the rest of the year, whether your goal is to remove, reduce or simply create awareness around your drinking.
Getting a good start to 2023 with a Dry January can support you in learning some new, healthy habits for now and the future! Happy New Year!