Whether you’re seeking to recover from an excessive holiday season and improve your health, or you just want to try sobriety on for a specific period, Dry January is the perfect opportunity to change your relationship with alcohol — whether you stay sober in the long-term or not.
But Dry January can be confusing for some, which is why we’re bringing you The Temper’s guide to understanding Dry January, the pros and cons, and how to figure out of this is the (temporary) path for you. And, in the end, how to know if you want to continue Dry January into the rest of the year.
What is Dry January?
Dry January originates from an annual campaign run by UK non-profit Alcohol Change UK, which encourages people to give up alcohol for the month of January. The goals of the campaign are to encourage individuals to take a break from alcohol, assess their drinking habits, and make more informed choices for the remainder of the year. Plus, as a bonus, to normalize not drinking. It started in 2013 with 4,000 people participating and grew to four million taking part in 2018.
Dry January isn’t limited to the UK — people practice it across the US, too. One in 5 Americans took part in 2019.
In a world obsessed with the excessive use of alcohol, anything challenging that norm is a great thing, even if it is only for four weeks.
In a world obsessed with the excessive use of alcohol, anything challenging that norm is a great thing, even if it is only for four weeks. However, there are a range of other health benefits, too.
“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,” Professor Kevin Moore, a consultant in Liver Health Services at the University College London Medical Centre, told New Scientist. “If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they would be raking it in.”
Real-Life Experiences of Dry January
I spoke to several people about their reasons for taking part in Dry January, what they learned from the experience, and how it changed their relationship with alcohol.
“I’d been trying to moderate my alcohol consumption for a few months, to keep it under the recommended amount and been unsuccessful,” says Sara. She explains that she’d struggled to moderate and keep her consumption under the recommended drinking limits, and she became concerned for her safety:
“I could never keep it under 30 units a week. It concerned me and I wanted to quit completely, or see if I could, but it was all around me in my social circles… In the last few months of 2015, I started to blackout and make really bad decisions. I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d get a DUI or hurt myself or someone else,” she says.
“I took a break from being around my friends and took extra good care of myself and immersed myself in sobriety blogs, books, podcasts, and online groups.”
Sara decided to start for a month. “I was curious if I could and if I would feel any different. It was terrifying because of what it would mean if I couldn’t do it,” she says. “I took a break from being around my friends and took extra good care of myself and immersed myself in sobriety blogs, books, podcasts, and online groups.”
After a month, Sara realized alcohol wasn’t doing her any favors and decided to extend Dry January to three months, then six months, and then indefinitely.
“I knew I’d like to never drink again,” she says. “I realized I’d never really wanted to have a drink or two in my life. If I drank it was to party or check out, so moderating was never something I thought was worth attempting again.” Sara will be four years sober on January 9.
Wendy had been trying to find balance in her relationship with alcohol for several years. “Sometimes I would manage it and sometimes I would not,” she says. In 2016, her relationship with alcohol changed as she gained awareness of how it was impacting her life.
“2016 was more of a heavy drinking year for me. I wasn’t enjoying it as much anymore. I started to feel like I was hungover on the first drink, like my body was rejecting the alcohol. Sometimes I would feel like my face and chest would burn on my very first glass of wine, like an allergic reaction that I would just drink through. Sometimes, I wouldn’t remember an evening when I hadn’t had more than three glasses of wine.”
Feeling “partied out” by the end of the 2016 holiday season, Wendy decided to try Dry January in 2017.
“I found it to be difficult to break the habit of my almost nightly wine, so I found an online support group specific to Dry January and began to journal daily.”
“I thought it was a good way to sober up without admitting that I had a problem,” she says. While it wasn’t easy initially, Wendy found help. “I found it to be difficult to break the habit of my almost nightly wine, so I found an online support group specific to Dry January and began to journal daily,” she says.
Wendy describes the moment she decided to maintain her sobriety. “It was recommended that I read This Naked Mind by Annie Grace, and that’s where the big pivot in my brain happened,” she says. “The book put alcohol in a new perspective for me and also confirmed some of my fears and symptoms that I was having from alcohol use.”
Wendy loved being sober so much that she decided to leave alcohol behind permanently. “I loved feeling great and having more energy and losing the brain fog. I loved having more time in the evenings to be productive. I’m healthier; I’m a better, more present parent; my business is really starting to take off — all because of the time I have to dedicate to myself and my passions,” she says. She’ll be three years sober on January 1.
Kimberly approached Dry January to sustain a new relationship with healthier habits. “I felt like we were having a bit too much ‘fun,’ especially over Christmas,” she says. Even though they didn’t have sobriety on their radar, they did see the benefits of a month sans booze: “We both thought it was time for a rest from alcohol. Although we never intended to stop drinking forever, we didn’t touch any over that month,” she says.
Kimberly explained that they both felt the improvements from the challenge. “My partner’s resting heart rate went down and I had reduced anxiety,” she says.
“Abstaining for a month meant I had to refocus myself in other ways. I learned some coping strategies such as having a bath after work to relax instead of going to the pub or the fridge.”
She and her partner also learned some important lessons about themselves and their relationship with alcohol from the experience. “ I learned that I can cut out alcohol if there is a reason or a goal! It reset my ability to stop when I’ve had enough and I learned that sometimes I drink or go to the pub because I’m keyed up, stressed from work, or just bored. Abstaining for a month meant I had to refocus myself in other ways. I learned some coping strategies such as having a bath after work to relax instead of going to the pub or the fridge.”
Jules utilized sobriety to help her develop healthy coping skills before returning to moderate use. “Anyone who is curious about Dry January should give it a shot,” she encourages. “Hitting the brakes and taking a look at your health is always a good thing.
“I wouldn’t trade the completely sober time for anything,” she continues. “That’s when I developed confidence and built healthy habits and relationships. Building real resiliency tools, like running and writing, taught me that alcohol wasn’t one. Having those tools is what allowed me to return to moderate use.”
What is clear from these different perspectives is that taking part in Dry January has had positive effects for everyone I spoke to, whether it resulted in long-term sobriety or a return to moderate alcohol use.
It seems that, for those who already have a challenging relationship with alcohol, Dry January is a less daunting prospect than considering a lifetime of sobriety. One month can be just enough time to dip your toe into what sobriety might look like, even if it doesn’t stick the first time. And what’s great about trying for a month is that it creates a pause to reflect on how alcohol impacts your life, and then you can make a decision based on sober information.
If you’re looking for tips on quitting drinking in 2020, start by exploring your own version of Dry January to start with. And remember: There’s no right or wrong way to do it… and there’s no better time to start than right now.