With holiday overindulgence a not-so-distant memory and healthy resolutions staring you in the face, perhaps you've embraced the idea of a Dry January or "Drynuary."
Giving up alcohol for a full month might be a way to shed extra pounds gained thanks to Christmas cookies and eggnog or just a way to accrue 31 days of health benefits ranging from better sleep and a happier mood to giving your liver and cholesterol a much-needed break.
Whatever the reason, some people say it's worth it.
John Ore is credited with coining the term and popularizing the idea in the U.S. He hasn't had a drink in January (OK, maybe one here and there) for about a decade. Starting in January 2007, he and his then-girlfriend, now wife decided to try a "post-holiday cleanse," daring themselves to abstain from alcohol for a month. His drink of choice? Seltzer with a splash of juice.
"An alternative to a traditional New Year’s resolution, Drynuary was a challenge to ourselves that was more coherent and realistic than going to the gym, but with similar benefits: feeling healthier, sleeping better, dropping a few pounds," Ore, senior vice president of product at Business Insider, wrote in Slate. "Plus, unlike a gym membership, Drynuary saves us money."
The benefits of going dry
There have been studies touting the benefits of indulging in an occasional glass of red wine. But taking a month off from alcohol can deliver a range of positive results, too.
In the U.K. "Dry January" started in 2012 as a fundraising campaign targeting social drinkers. The money raised goes to people affected by alcoholism. Of the 2 million or so people who pledged to go dry in 2016, 62 percent said they slept better and had more energy, 49 percent lost weight and 79 percent saved money.
In fact, researchers from the University of Sussex surveyed over 800 people who participated in Dry January in 2018 and found that the positive results lasted well beyond the month. By August, the average number of drinking days, units consumed and frequency of being drunk were all lower. Most of the participants also reported sleeping better and losing weight. But the benefits don't end there. The participants also reaped many mental health benefits.
The research showed that:
- 93 percent had a sense of achievement
- 88 percent saved money
- 82 percent think more deeply about their relationship with drink
- 80 percent feel more in control of their drinking
- 76 percent learned more about when and why they drink
- 71 percent realized they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves
- 70 percent had generally improved health
- 67 percent had more energy
- 57 percent had better concentration
Other research also shows how differently we consume food when we drink. A 2013 study of more than 1,800 drinkers found significant differences in food intake and nutrition on drinking versus non-drinking days. In general, their diets were poorer on days that they were drinking than on days they weren't.
In a very small study in 2013, 14 staff members at New Scientist (all "moderate" drinkers) decided to put a month-long alcohol fast to the test. Ten of them gave up drinking for five weeks, while four continued to imbibe. They had blood tests and liver ultrasounds done before and after the experiment. Yes, the sample was small, but the results were interesting.
There were no changes after five weeks for those who kept on drinking. But for those who gave up alcohol, their cholesterol, weight, blood glucose levels and liver fat dropped. Their self-reported assessments of how well they were able to sleep, concentrate and perform at work went up.
“What you have is a pretty average group of British people who would not consider themselves heavy drinkers, yet stopping drinking for a month alters liver fat, cholesterol and blood sugar, and helps them lose weight,” said Kevin Moore, consultant in liver health services at University College London Medical School (UCLMS). “If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they would be raking it in.”
Tips to succeed
If you normally drink, whether occasionally or on a regular basis, it might be tough to go cold turkey. Some things to consider:
When you don't have alcohol, you may crave sugar. "Don't be surprised if you try to get that same enjoyment or rush you used to get after a drink from something sweet," Los Angeles-based physician Damon Raskin, M.D., who is board-certified in addiction medicine, tells Prevention.
Watch out for peer pressure. Social influence doesn't end in high school. When you're out with friends, they may not understand why you're not drinking and may try to give you grief.
It can be both challenging and fulfilling. The first week is easy, says Ore. But after a while, there's only so much that is exciting about seltzer ... until you make it to the end of the month. “If you can get this done,” Ore tells the New York Times, “there is this sense of accomplishment.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in January 2017.