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What is Dry January?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 21, 2024

Table of Contents

Dry January is your opportunity to take a break from alcohol and to reevaluate your drinking habits.

Whether you choose to stay sober for one month or to moderate your alcohol intake, you could achieve myriad physical and mental health benefits.

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What Is Dry January?

Alcohol Change, a U.K. non-profit, developed Dry January in 2013 as a public health campaign. While it is not the same thing as National Recovery Month, it is similar.

The first iteration of Dry January involved 4,000 participants. Since then, the movement has grown worldwide, and the term Dry January has entered the cultural lexicon.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of Dry January, one in seven U.S. citizens participate in Dry January.

For many, Dry January serves as a welcome reset button after a lengthy spell of holiday indulgences. A 2019 evaluation of Dry January reports that people take on this challenge for the following reasons:

  • To cut back on spending.
  • To improve their health.
  • As a weight loss tool.
  • As a personal challenge.

Additionally, research indicates that reducing your alcohol intake could deliver the following health benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure levels.
  • Improved sleep health.
  • Decreased risk of liver disease.

The potential benefits you will achieve by staying sober for the month of January will vary. If you have been exceeding moderate drinking guidelines, you are more likely to notice pronounced benefits when you take a break from drinking. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) define moderate drinking as no more than two standard drinks daily for men or one standard drink daily for women.

Dry January does not need to be all or nothing. It is estimated that half of dry January participants intend to remain completely abstinent from alcohol, while the remaining participants plan to reduce consumption to varying degrees.

It can be dangerous and possibly even deadly to abruptly stop drinking if you are physically dependent on alcohol.

For those who have experienced any of the following symptoms after a period of drinking, Dry January withdrawal symptoms could be dangerous:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations

If you feel that you are physically dependent on alcohol, or if you have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder – the clinical descriptor for alcoholism – you should consider engaging with professional treatment. Voice your concerns to your clinician and request a referral or recommendation for inpatient or outpatient alcohol rehab.

What Are the Benefits of Dry January?

Everyone will have different expectations of Dry January, and everyone can expect sobriety or a reduction in alcohol intake to deliver varying benefits. The most common of these, though, include:

  • You will save money
  • You may lose weight
  • Sleep habits may improve
  • Mood may improve during Dry January
  • Sobriety strengthens your immune system
  • You will feel better in the mornings

You will save money

Whether you drink a bottle of wine with dinner or go out for drinks after work, the cost of alcohol soon mounts.

One of the primary benefits of taking a month off is that you could make significant savings. Try saving half of the money you would otherwise have spent on alcohol. Buy something nice for yourself with the other half.

You may lose weight

Dry January weight loss is another benefit that could increase exponentially depending on the amount of alcohol you have been consuming.

Boozy beverages are often laden with calories, but without delivering any nutritional benefit. Additionally, many people find themselves reaching for junk food when they have been drinking. By removing alcohol from the equation, you could find yourself feeling less bloated, more energized, and possibly losing a few pounds.

Sleep habits may improve

You may have noticed that you fall asleep easily after drinking alcohol, only to wake a few hours later. Research indicates that this may occur due to the way alcohol disrupts the way your body handles adenosine, a chemical associated with the relaxation and dilation of blood vessels.

Studies also suggest that drinking alcohol, whether in moderate amounts or high amounts, can interfere with restorative sleep. There is also research that associates drinking alcohol with a reduction in sleep time and sleep efficiency.

By sidestepping alcohol during the month of January, you could notice an improvement in the quality and quantity of sleep you get.

Mood may improve during Dry January

While drinking small amounts of alcohol can temporarily boost your mood, chronic alcohol consumption can be a coping mechanism for underlying mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Alcohol can inflame these symptoms over time, worsening mood.

Even moderate drinking can induce feelings of unease the following day, a concept known as hangxiety. This emotional slump has been linked to fluctuating levels of GABA triggered by alcohol consumption. GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger.

Abstaining from alcohol in January is not a cure for mental health conditions, but it may help to improve your mood if alcohol has been destabilizing this.

Sobriety strengthens your immune system

Research suggests that binge drinking can cause your immunity to rise and then fall a few hours later. While this does not necessarily mean you are more likely to catch a disease, it is never good when your immune system is compromised. Dry January offers your system a complete break.

You will feel better in the mornings

Even if your alcohol consumption does not leave you suffering from hangovers, you will not be waking at your best after drinking. Consuming alcohol typically impairs sleep and has a dehydrating effect. Wake feeling energized and ready to embrace the day during Dry January and you might question returning to your old drinking habits.

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How to Do Dry January

If you’re unsure how to get started, here are some Dry January tips:

  1. Start journaling
  2. Look for a substitute for alcohol
  3. Switch up your routine
  4. Develop and implement new coping mechanisms
  5. Reframe happy hour
  6. Remember to be kind to yourself during Dry January 
  7. Start a healthier new regime
  8. Take the Dry January challenge with a friend
  9. Keep up the momentum moving forward
  10. Know when to seek professional assistance

1) Start journaling

Start Dry January by exploring your reasons for taking a break from alcohol. Write down these reasons.

Are you looking to feel less bloated and lose some weight?

Do you feel that a break from alcohol would improve your sleep habits?

Are you considering the Dry January challenge to set a positive example for your kids?

Use these reasons to reestablish your commitment to sobriety if you encounter any roadblocks or temptations during Dry January.

A journal of your Dry January experience can also help to illustrate the many benefits delivered by abstaining from alcohol. You have the opportunity to document improvements in:

  • Mood
  • Skin tone
  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Fitness levels
  • Sleep health

You might find that you extend Dry January beyond the end of the month once you determine what’s in it for you. You will gain much more than you give up during one month of sobriety.

2) Look for a substitute for alcohol

If you find yourself drinking habitually, find a replacement beverage for Dry January.

Water is the best option, although you may not find this appealing. Use some berries, citrus fruits, mint, or cucumber to liven up a tall glass of iced water.

You may want to consider some premade mocktails, or you might experiment with making your own alcohol-free cocktails.

Finding a suitable alternative to alcohol can help you to negotiate Dry January without feeling like you’re missing out.

3) Switch up your routine

When you want to change a habit, it is often a smart move to switch up your daily routine.

The desire for an alcoholic drink is often triggered by environmental cues – taking off your shoes and settling into your favorite chair after work, for example.

In the above example, you could try delaying your return home by meeting a friend, running some errands, or taking a fitness class at the gym.

Everyone drinks for different reasons, and everyone has varying personal triggers. Use Dry January to better understand your motivations for drinking and take the opportunity to implement positive lifestyle changes to help you stay sober for a month.

4) Develop and implement new coping mechanisms

Alcohol has become an almost universally accepted coping mechanism but blotting out stressors with alcohol is not healthy or advisable.

If you find yourself craving an alcoholic drink during times of stress in January, use the technique of distraction and delay. Cravings may be intense, but they are also fleeting, subsiding in fifteen minutes or so. Try leaving the room and heading outside for a walk. Alternatively, do some light stretching or some breathing exercises.

Use Dry January as an opportunity to investigate practices like meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. All of these practices can help you to destress without reaching for a glass of wine.

5) Reframe happy hour

Perhaps you often meet friends at a bar for happy hour. If so, you might find it too challenging to be around alcohol without indulging. Consider taking a break from activities that revolve around alcohol. Find other ways to have fun with friends, from movies or the theater to days out at the beach or some retail therapy with your loved ones. By removing alcohol from your budget for a month, you should have more spare cash for these activities. Treat yourself!

6) Remember to be kind to yourself during Dry January 

If you approach Dry January with the best intentions but slip up and have an alcoholic drink, don’t get down on yourself. Don’t give up, either.

Reframe Dry January as Damp January or One-Drink January and move on.

The purpose of this month of sobriety is not to feel about yourself. Rather, the aim is to become more mindful of the role that alcohol plays in your life. Be kind to yourself if you attempt Dry January 2023. 

7) Start a healthier new regime

Drinking alcohol, even moderately, can leave you feeling dehydrated and fatigued.

Use Dry January as a springboard and launch a new fitness regime. Harness your increased energy levels and commit to the gym or fitness class you have always wanted to engage with.

8) Take the Dry January challenge with a friend

By embracing Dry January at the same time as a friend, you will have an accountability partner if you find temporary sobriety challenging to maintain. You will also have a sober companion for any events that crop up during this month of abstinence from alcohol.

9) Keep up the momentum moving forward

If you want to use Dry January as a catalyst for making lasting change, be specific about the alcohol-related changes you want to make.

Instead of committing to drink less alcohol moving forwards, impose specific limits in line with your personal goals and stick to those limits.

10) Know when to seek professional assistance

Maybe Dry January illustrates your inability to moderate or discontinue use of alcohol. If so, you might consider engaging with professional treatment for alcoholism (alcohol use disorder). We can help you with that here at Renaissance Recovery Center.

Alcoholism Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

If you feel the time is right to extend Dry January and commit to sustained sobriety, we can help you achieve this at Renaissance Recovery Center in Orange County.

We specialize in the outpatient treatment of addictions, mental health disorders, and co-occurring disorders. This allows you to get the help you need without the costs or the restrictions of residential rehab.

If you require a supervised medical detox to withdraw from alcohol as safely and comfortably as possible, we can connect you with licensed medical detoxification centers throughout Southern California.

Once you have detoxed from alcohol, choose from one of the following treatment programs:

Regardless of the level of treatment intensity that best suits, you’ll have access to the same pharmacological and behavioral interventions here at Renaissance. Your treatment team will draw from these therapies:

When you complete your treatment program, you will either transition to a less intensive form of treatment – from a PHP to an OP, for instance – or you can move directly back into day-to-day living. Either way, your treatment team will equip you with an aftercare plan that includes actionable relapse prevention and management strategies. We are here to help you from detox to discharge and beyond.

Call admissions today at 866.330.9449 for immediate assistance.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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