Dry January: Should You Quit Drinking in January?

Dry January is gaining in popularity. But what is Dry January and does it have any benefits? Here's what you should know before giving a sobriety challenge a try.

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Close-up of two men clink glasses of whiskey drink alcoholic beverage together while at bar counter in the pubPopTika/ShutterstockLike many relationships, the one between humans and alcohol can be, well, complicated.  Dry January, Sober January, or Drynuary, is a movement that’s gathered steam in recent years where people swear off alcohol for the month of January to examine that relationship. (And sometimes to “dry out” after the excesses of the holiday season.)

What Is Dry January?

Although the concept has been around for years, Dry January was started as a 31-day challenge in 2013 by the non-profit group Alcohol Change UK. That year, 4,000 people signed up. By 2018, 100,000 people had signed up and millions more took the pledge to spend the month of January alcohol-free. Dry January is an opportunity for anyone to experiment with a sober lifestyle, at least temporarily. And it’s not just for January. There’s a growing sober curious movement based in part on Ruby Warrington’s book of the same name, which was published at the end of 2018. People who are sober curious often avoid drinking for other reasons besides having a problem with alcohol. They may want to explore the potential health benefits—both mental and physical—of an alcohol-free life or because they want to push back against a seemingly alcohol-dominated culture. If you’re sober curious, you may think about starting your new lifestyle with a Dry January challenge. However, keep in mind that if you are a heavy drinker, it’s dangerous, even potentially life threatening to abruptly stop drinking alcohol. It’s never a bad idea to tell your doctor you are thinking about trying sobriety, but it’s essential if you are a heavy drinker.

The Science Behind Dry January

About 86 percent of people in the United States 18 or older will have an alcohol-based drink at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. About four times a month, one in six adults will binge drink (defined as four or more drinks per drinking session for women and five or more for men), reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 6 percent, or 16 million people, have an alcohol use disorder, which is defined as compulsive drinking, loss of control over drinking, and feeling bad when not drinking—although the disorder can range in severity. The fact is, alcohol is an addictive and potentially dangerous drug for some people. About 88,000 people die every year of alcohol-related causes, and alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death (after tobacco and poor diet/sedentary lifestyle). Of course, millions of people also drink and enjoy alcohol without a problem. (Here’s how to tell if your social drinking is normal—or something more serious.)

Are there any proven or long-term benefits of trying a Dry January? There is some research that suggests that participating in a Dry January is associated with healthier drinking habits even after the challenge ends. For example, a 2015 study published in Health Psychology, found that Dry January participants consumed less alcohol after they tried it. The research, conducted by University of Sussex researchers and Alcohol Concern, was based on questionnaires given to 249 men and 608 women one month and six months after they tried a Dry January. The researchers noted that “very few people” reported a rebound effect, or drank more alcohol after trying the challenge. For more information about the risks of Dry January, as well as tips on how to do it successfully, check out what doctors need you to know about Dry January.

Personal Stories

When it comes to trying a short or longer period of time with sobriety, the impact will largely depend on your relationship with alcohol, how committed you are to trying to avoid alcohol, and the amount of support you get from friends, family, and other people in your life. Before you get started, consider reading the following personal stories about alcohol:

Dry January Tips

If you are ready to try a Dry January challenge, there are many ways to make sure you succeed. (Here are 14 tips for doing a successful Dry January.) If your social life currently revolves around going to bars or participating in other alcohol-fueled entertainment, it can help to plan fun, alcohol-free events. Although there are creative ways to have an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve, you can also do many of these activities in January or other times of the year. And if you rely on a glass of wine to unwind after a long and stressful day, don’t underestimate the powerful psychological pull of alcohol. Prepare ahead of time by thinking about what alcohol-free beverages you might drink instead. If you need some inspiration, we asked bartenders and nutritionists for their favorite alcohol-free drinks; they gave us 10 mocktail recipes that you can make any day of the year. You don’t have to sign up for Dry January (you can just do it!), but if you want, you can download the Alcohol Change UK app to sign up or to track your drinking (as well as calories and money saved from not drinking) any time of the year. Not ready to skip alcohol completely? Here are 17 tips for cutting back on drinking if that’s more your speed.

Here are more reputable sources to learn about alcohol and get help if you think you might have a drinking problem, as well as blogs and social media accounts to follow for inspiration and support.

Share Your Story

Have you tried a Dry January or other period of sobriety? We’d love to hear about it. At The Healthy, we believe that sharing your knowledge and experience about a personal health issue or challenge can take you one step closer to feeling better about or solving that issue for yourself. You can use the field below or this link to share your own experience and thoughts about Dry January.

We may use your story in future content that may help other people who are attempting a sober lifestyle or a Dry January. We want to know why you made that decision, as well as your obstacles and roadblocks, how you dealt with them, and who helped you on the way. What worked? What didn’t? So if you have tips and advice, bring it on! And if it helps to tell your story, please submit a photo that we could share with other people.

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Sources
Medically reviewed by Tia Jackson-Bey, MD, on February 03, 2020

Theresa Tamkins
Theresa Tamkins has more than 20 years of experience as a reporter, writer, editor, and director of editorial teams covering health and science content. Formerly the health editor at BuzzFeed News and editor in chief of Time Inc’s Health.com, Theresa is a specialist in health, wellness, nutrition, fitness, and condition content. She has written for CNN, The Lancet, MSNBC, WebMD, The Scientist, Healthday, and Reuters Health, among others. Before becoming a journalist, Theresa was a research scientist in immunology. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program at New York University.