What Is Dry January and is it Right for You?

Dry January on a Yellow Stick-it-Note

Dry January, or committing to abstaining for alcohol for the month of January, may not be a household catchphrase just yet, but it continues to gain traction as more people discover its health benefits.

The concept behind Dry January is to use the new year as a springboard for encouraging people to change their behavior and adopt a positive approach to mindfully abstaining from alcohol for one month.

It is certainly a timely conversation following the holiday season, which is traditionally abundant with festivities and outings that involve alcohol and general overindulgence.

The Cost of Alcohol Consumption

The potential negative consequences of heavy alcohol consumption are numerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol consumption is the cause of 140,000 deaths each year– and 20% of deaths among adults ages 20 – 49. Excessive alcohol consumption raises the risk for injuries due to motor vehicle crashes, violence, and drownings. It can cause chronic diseases of the heart and liver. It is a cause of cancers of the mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast. Excessive alcohol consumption has also been linked to negative outcomes for pregnancy.

Benefits of Dry January

Healthy drinking habits differ slightly for men and women. For men, two drinks per day, and for women, one drink per day is considered mild to moderate drinking.

But anyone can reap the health benefits of eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, according to Imran Iqbal, MD, a physician with Baptist Health Medical Group Behavioral Health in Elizabethtown.

“There are a variety of benefits of abstaining from alcohol,” said Dr. Iqbal. “Alcohol is related to diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. More energy is noted when people go from drinking to not drinking...also, increased mental clarity.”

Dr. Iqbal acknowledged that some may experience some social isolation when abstaining when they are among others who are not. He suggests finding others with the same goals can help ease this concern.

“Some of the health benefits of sobriety are weight loss; decreased risk of medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and multiple cancers; and mental health benefits such as improving mood and decreased anxiety.” He said that even just 30 days of eliminating or reducing drinking may result in improved sleep and concentration, “...as well as a healthier pocketbook.”

Is Dry January Right for You?

While Dry January is a worthwhile concept, Dr. Iqbal advises that abruptly stopping drinking is not for everyone. While the potential side effects of “going cold turkey” for a moderate drinker are typically mild, they may be challenging for heavier drinkers.

For those who drink above the recommended guidelines, have a history of alcohol abuse, or have multiple chronic health concerns such as heart or liver conditions, Dr. Iqbal recommends a gradual reduction in alcohol. For these individuals, he recommends the concept of Damp January instead of Dry January, suggesting they cut down on alcohol consumption incrementally. “For these people, the goal would be control rather than sobriety to help an individual cut down drinking over time – maybe six months or a year.”

Tips for Dry January Success

Dr. Iqbal offers these tips for succeeding with Dry January resolutions:

  • Accountability is helpful. Commit to alcohol abstinence together with friends or family.
  • Set milestones – even during the 30 days – to keep yourself focused.
  • Find your favorite mocktails and non-alcoholic beverages, and only enjoy them when you go out.
  • Avoid bars or choose sober bars where you can enjoy socializing with less temptation. 

Anytime Is a Good Time to Start

If quitting or reducing alcohol consumption is one of your goals or New Year’s resolutions, Dry January is an ideal opportunity. Even if you haven’t started yet, it’s never too late to begin reaping the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.

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