- What it is
- How to do it
- Why do it
- What to be wary of
What is Dry January?
Dry January is an annual campaign run by Alcohol Change UK. It promotes a healthier relationship with alcohol by supporting participants to go alcohol-free for the month of January. The rationale behind doing this is that helps to reset your relationship with alcohol so that you can go on to develop healthier drinking habits afterwards.
Alcohol Change UK is a charity which encourages people to examine and change their drinking so that they’re drinking within healthy limits. The charity does lots of research, campaigning and work within the UK to promote healthy drinking habits and reduce the harm drinking causes. They describe themselves as “not anti-alcohol but for alcohol change”.
Dry January is a challenge that millions of people sign up for every year. Participants can support the work of Alcohol Change UK by either donating all the money they saved from not drinking over the month, or through doing it as a sponsored challenge and raising money that way. Participants can equally decide to donate any money raised to any charity of their choice.
How to get involved
You visit alcoholchange.org.uk and sign up. You can download a Dry January app which tracks your units, money saved and calories consumed or you can just sign up by giving your contact details and you’ll receive email support and tips throughout the month.
There are all sorts of resources on the alcoholchange website, including sponsorship forms which you can use if you want to raise money while you’re doing it.
Of course, you can also do it as a personal challenge without going through the formality of signing up with Alcohol Change UK. You can simply decide you’re going alcohol-free for Dry January and do it yourself. The advantage of doing it more formally though is that you get motivation and support and a higher degree of accountability. For some people, formalising it makes it easier to stick to.
Why do it?
Here are 7 good reasons why doing Dry January is beneficial for you and your health:
You save money
This one is obvious really but when you tot up what you actually spend on alcohol each day, each week, each month, it can surprise you. Especially when you include all the “extras” that getting drunk involves:
- the snacks and treats;
- food that you only eat because you’re drunk;
- things you only buy because you’re drunk;
- cabs you have to pay for because you can’t drive;
- decisions you might make when you’re drunk that have a knock-on impact on your purse.
It can become really motivating to keep track of what you’re saving by not drinking and to put that money to good use in healthier, more fulfilling ways.
88% of people who participated in Dry January last year saved money.
You get better quality sleep
Alcohol affects the quality of our sleep. It can seem to some people that having a few drinks before they go to bed helps them to drift off. But the truth is that alcohol has a negative impact on our sleep patterns.
REM sleep is important for mental restoration, including memory and emotional processing, and it is this type of sleep that’s adversely affected by alcohol. When we wake up after drinking, we’re not as refreshed and rested as we should be. Our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms are disrupted, our energy levels are depleted and we can feel tired, stressed and sluggish.
People who stop drinking completely report that one of the benefits they notice is better quality sleep and feeling more energised and refreshed when they wake up. And, 71% of people who just did Dry January last year reported sleeping better as a result.
You have more energy
Obviously, if you’re having a good night’s sleep and it’s good quality sleep, you’re waking up up feeling more rested, refreshed and revitalised.
You have more energy because your body isn’t having to use it to fight all the problems caused by lack of decent sleep.
Not only that but, of course, you’re no longer suffering from hangovers. It’s like a fog has lifted and you have all the energy, focus and concentration you need to achieve everything you want from your day, whether it’s work, rest or play.
You can lose weight
58% of people who did Dry January last year lost weight. This makes complete sense because alcohol is full of empty calories with no nutritional value. According to drinkaware.co.uk, one “large glass of wine (250ml) with 13% ABV can add 228 calories to your dinner… That’s similar to an ice cream…”.
But not only is alcohol full of empty calories, a lot of people make unhealthy choices about food, both when they’re drinking and when they’re hungover.
When you stop drinking, you get to be in control of your choices and you get to lose all the calories you were consuming in the alcohol you were drinking.
Dr Mehta, Senior Lecturer at the UCL Institute for Liver and Digestive Health, who co-authored a paper in May 2018 on the benefits of periods of alcohol-abstinence like Dry January, says:
“Our work has shown that a month off alcohol, in healthy individuals drinking at moderate to high levels, does lead to tangible health benefits by the end of the month. Our study saw a weight loss of around 2kg”.
You become physically and mentally healthier
When your sleep is restful, you have more energy and you make healthier choices about how you fuel your body - maybe you’re even finding it easier to stick to fitness and exercise commitments too! You do your body good. You improve your physical health.
Going without alcohol also reduces the risk of contracting medical conditions that are linked to high alcohol consumption, from cancers to diabetes.
Dr Mehta also said that their study on short periods of alcohol abstinence showed: “a decrease in blood pressure of around 5%, and improvement in diabetes risk of almost 30%. We also noted large decreases in blood growth factors that are linked to certain cancers. However, we don’t know how long these benefits last, or whether they translate to long-term improvements in health.”
But, did you know that alcohol affects your mental health too? Going without alcohol, even for a short time, can help reduce symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety.
If you’re losing the shame, regret and paranoia that comes with heavy drinking and an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, you’re also gaining self-respect. When you have self-respect in place, it’s much easier to start building more self-confidence and belief. And, all these things help to maintain balanced and healthy mental and emotional health.
It helps you reset your relationship with alcohol
Taking a month off drinking can help you evaluate and develop more self-awareness around your drinking habits.
When people go alcohol-free for a month, they discover alternative ways to do all the jobs that alcohol was doing for them. They realise that having fun, socialising, relaxing, etc is all possible and often better, sober. They’re then more likely to carry on with healthier habits after Dry January.
Research by the University of Sussex showed that Dry January participants were still drinking lower amounts six months after the challenge had ended.
When you stop drinking, you start thinking more clearly and you gain more control over your life. You get the opportunity to evaluate and make decisions about how you want to be and how you want to do things without alcohol clouding your judgement or getting in the way.
It helps you kickstart an alcohol-free life
If you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and want to stop drinking completely, you can use Dry January to kickstart you into an alcohol-free life.
This can work on two levels:
One, because you don’t have to worry about explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing – everyone understands Dry January and you don’t need to come up with excuses and reasons as to why you’re not drinking. This can save you embarrassment and you don’t need to feel self-conscious about choosing to go sober.
And two, because there are millions of people doing it with you. This makes it easier on you because it feels more “normal” and you’re part of something bigger than just you. You can allow yourself to be carried along on a wave of national understanding and support for Dry January.
When January is over and you’ve made it through successfully sober, you can explain to people that you feel so much better without alcohol, you’ve decided to continue with it for a while.
What to be wary of
- If you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and you’re using Dry January as a way of kickstarting yourself into stopping drinking, you need to be aware that lots of other people doing Dry January will start drinking again when February comes around.
If you’re determined to remain alcohol-free, you need to anticipate that things will change when everyone else goes back to drinking again. You need to have strategies in place to deal with this. For instance, if you’re not telling people about why you want to stop drinking, if you don’t want to go into detail about why alcohol has been a problem for you, what are you going to say to people about why you’re continuing with sober living? There are lots of things you can say, it’s just important that you’re prepared and ready to say them.
If you’re doing Dry January with a group of people (colleagues, mates, family), it’s also important to anticipate that some of them or all of them might not stick with it. Plan what you’re going to do if this happens. The only issue with doing the challenge alongside other people is that their decisions and actions can affect you too. You need to guard against this by anticipating problems and planning for them.
- The other issue with using Dry January as a spring-board into changing an unhealthy drinking habit is it kind of goes hand-in-hand with New Year’s Resolutions. And, New Year’s Resolutions are notoriously unsuccessful. If you have a history of making resolutions in New Year and then breaking them, it’s possible that you’ll associate going alcohol-free in January with a pattern of being unsuccessful and not sticking with it so be wary of this and plan for it if it’s an issue for you.
- If you are physically dependent on alcohol, you need to get medical advice and support before you stop drinking. It can be dangerous to stop drinking if your body needs alcohol to function. If you are unsure whether this is the case for you or not, seek medical advice before you take any action. You can still do it, but you might need professional medical support to detox and do it safely.
For tips on how to successfully stop drinking and stay stopped for as long as you want - for the month of January and beyond - read this article: