14 Expert Tips for a Successful Dry January

Looking to go "dry" this January? Follow our experts' 14 tips for a successful alcohol-free month, from detoxing your house to identifying your drinking triggers and knowing how to avoid them.

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Dry January is exactly what it sounds like: A month where you abstain from drinking alcohol. While the idea is pretty simple, the execution can be trickier. The first step is the commitment to do it. However, don’t stop there. “A lot of people think they can easily quit drinking any time they want only to be surprised at how hard it ends up being,” says Keith Heinzerling, MD, MPH, an internist and addiction medicine specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and the medical director of the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine.

To ensure you have a successful Dry January, follow these expert tips.

Make a list of the health benefits you’re noticing

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“One of the best things about this challenge is how quickly you can start to see positive changes in your mental and physical health,” Dr. Heinzerling says. Over the course of the month, just a few of the benefits you may experience include lower blood pressure and heart rate, improved blood sugar regulation, better sleep, clearer skin, fewer headaches, less chronic pain, a better sex life, mental clarity, more energy and focus, and less anxiety and depression, he says. Writing down the benefits you experience will help keep you sober and focused on your goal. (Read about one woman’s experience: I Tried Dry January and It Saved My Life.)

Detox your house

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Trying to get through Dry January while having a basement full of alcoholic beverages is setting yourself up for failure, says Taylor Graber, MD, a physician who has participated in Dry January for the past three years. “It’s all about access—if you don’t have easy access to any drinks then it will make it so much easier to resist temptation,” he says. “Get all the drinks out of your fridge and your house.” If you’re not ready to ditch your wine collection, consider moving it to a friend’s house for the month. This is one of 17 simple tips to cut back on your drinking.

Offer to host get-togethers

When you’re the host, you get to set the rules. This means you can ask guests to bring their own alcohol (if you’re comfortable being around it but not drinking) or you can keep the party dry and provide a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and foods, says Lauren Grech, adjunct professor of hospitality at New York University and co-founder of LLG Events, which specializes in planning dry events. “If you’re hosting a dinner party, instead of having everyone bring a dish to share, open up your kitchen to allow the cooking to be part of the party—this will give everyone an activity to do together that doesn’t involve drinking,” she suggests. Make sure you know the 10 rules of being a great host.

Come up with a witty response

People are going to ask you why you’re doing Dry January and some may even get pretty pushy about it, particularly if they see your choice as a judgement about their drinking and get defensive, says Sharelle Klaus, founder of DRY and an active ally in the sober curious movement. You don’t owe anyone an explanation—a simple “I’m not drinking for January, let’s talk about something else now” is totally fine—but a little humor can go a long way in smoothing over hard feelings, she says. One idea: “I’m already so charming I don’t need alcohol!”

Do activities that have no connection to alcohol

Some activities, like Friday night happy hour or watching the big game, are inextricably linked with drinking in many people’s minds. So instead of risking triggering yourself, change your activities to ones you don’t associate with alcohol, like hiking, bike riding, or going to a flea market, Dr. Graber says. “These activities are less likely to make you realize you are giving up alcohol at all and still provide meaningful social interaction,” he says. “As a bonus, the extra exercise will improve your health even more.” (Here are 12 creative ways to celebrate New Year’s Eve without alcohol.)

BYOD

If you’re going somewhere where you know alcohol will be served, be prepared by bringing a drink you genuinely enjoy, Klaus says. It could be a specialty soda, flavored water, fancy juice, caramel latte, hot tea, or even chocolate milk. This will give you something to hold and sip on without feeling deprived, she says. If you don’t want to attract questions or stares, you can pour it into a tumbler or wine glass. (Here’s what happens to your body when you drink just one glass of wine a day.)

ID your drinking triggers and avoid them

Are you used to having a glass of wine with dinner? Do you wind down with a scotch before bed? Do you always order a margarita at your favorite restaurant? Even if your body doesn’t physically need a drink, your mind may be addicted to the role alcohol plays in your life and those triggers can be really powerful, Dr. Heinzerling says. “Don’t try to just ‘gut through’ triggering situations, eventually you run out of willpower,” he says. “Instead, make a plan to avoid them all together.” For instance, eat dinner in a different room, do a guided meditation at bedtime, and avoid your favorite restaurant in January.

Write down your reasons for doing Dry January

Everyone will have slightly different reasons for wanting to do a month-long sobriety challenge but the important thing is to know exactly what your reasons are and to write them down so you can remember them when you’re tempted to drink, Dr. Graber says. “The social pressure from people around you commenting on your lack of drinking and making you justify it can be overwhelming,” he says. “Understanding your personal reasons and goals makes it easier to stick up for yourself when challenged, and increases your success with abstaining as well as your satisfaction from doing so.” Here’s how to tell if your social drinking has become a problem.

Note all the money and time you’re saving

If you’re feeling like socializing with friends just can’t be as fun without alcohol, focus on the positives of dry events, Grech says. For instance, not spending money on booze means you can spend more on better food and great entertainment, she says. You also won’t have to worry about being too inebriated to enjoy all the fun activities, like going to a late movie after dinner. Then there’s the freedom of not having to worry about having a designated driver, shelling out for an Uber, or someone driving under the influence.

Learn a few delicious “mocktail” recipes

Just because you’re abstaining from alcohol doesn’t mean you’re stuck with plain sparkling water for the month. Instead, learn a few delicious “mocktail” recipes, Grech says. “A tip from professional mixologists is that fresh ingredients—think fresh mint, edible flowers, or citrus fruits—will always make your mocktails taste better,” she explains. “There are plenty of beautiful and tasty drinks that can be made without alcohol.” If you’re out with friends, don’t hesitate to ask a bartender to make you a non-alcoholic drink as most can craft an amazing beverage with flair and fun but minus the booze.

Tell your close friends and family

Resist the impulse to hide that you’re doing Dry January; letting loved ones know your goal not only allows them to support you but saying it out loud makes it more likely that you’ll accomplish it as it will keep you accountable, Dr. Graber says. “Having a support group can make all the difference in your success,” he says, adding that the key is to tell people whom you know will be positive and supportive. You may also inspire some of them to take the challenge with you; alcoholism is up 50 percent in the US and many people are concerned about their drinking habits.

Stock your fridge with non-alcoholic beer

Watching the big game without a beer in hand can be a deal-breaker for a lot of sports fans so instead of feeling deprived, stock up on non-alcoholic beers, Grech says. “Fortunately, there’s plenty of nonalcoholic options nowadays that taste almost as good as the real thing. Even popular brands like Heineken and Coors have sober-sipping options that you can get at your local grocery store,” she says.

Focus on how your whole life is improving

Dry January can help improve your life in ways you may not have even thought of before, Dr. Heinzerling says. In addition to the health benefits and money savings, you may notice that it has broader impacts, like showing you can accomplish hard goals, helping you strengthen your willpower in other areas, making you feel accomplished, and making it easier to relate to others. Plus, quitting alcohol often makes it easier to start and maintain other good habits, like daily exercise and healthy eating, which in turn leads to even more health benefits, he says. For instance, drinking alcohol also makes you hungrier and more likely to eat junk food so quitting may help you lose weight.

Know when to get help

One of the best things Dry January does is give you a chance to really examine your relationship with alcohol and whether or not it’s healthy, Dr. Heinzerling says. However, if you are typically a heavy drinker, abruptly quitting alcohol can be dangerous (even life threatening), so consult your doctor. Even if you’re not a heavy drinker, and you notice that the mental and/or physical impacts of not drinking are very difficult or painful, you may need medical help to get sober. “There’s absolutely no shame in telling your doctor about your drinking,” he says. “We are here to help you, not judge you, and we have a lot of options to manage the pain of detoxing.” Read these 20 secrets addiction counselors want you to know.

Sources
  • Keith Heinzerling, MD, MPH, an internist and addiction medicine specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center and the medical director of the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine
  • Taylor Graber, MD, physician and founder of ASAP IVs
  • Lauren Grech, adjunct professor of hospitality at New York University and Co-Founder of LLG Events, which specializes in planning dry events
  • Sharelle Klaus, founder of DRY and an active ally in the sober curious movement

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.