With the sometimes-overindulgent holiday celebrations behind us, lots of people use the fresh start of the new year to build healthier habits. One popular health trend is “Dry January,” where participants forgo alcohol for the first month of the year.
The observance launched after half-marathoner Emily Robinson quit drinking for a month while training in 2011. After losing weight, sleeping better, and increasing her energy, Robinson eventually launched the Dry January campaign in 2013 through her role with Alcohol Change U.K. She went on to hear from many people about their own experiences giving up alcohol.
The first Dry January had about 4,000 participants. By 2023, the number of registrants on the organization’s website reached 175,000. The popularity has caught on with Americans, with an estimated 15% of U.S. adults participating in 2023, according to surveys by the firm Morning Consult.
Risks of alcohol
Dr. Cynthia Fisher, a Family Medicine Physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh, says Dry January can offer an opportunity to start making healthy changes that last for the long term.
“Alcohol consumption is associated with many negative health effects and risks,” Dr. Fisher says. “The hazards increase with a greater amount of alcohol consumption, but drinking even small amounts of alcohol can increase your chances of developing certain types of cancer.”
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that men should have no more than two drinks per day and women should drink no more than one. Drinking no alcohol, however, is best. In fact, the World Health Organization made headlines in 2023 when it declared that no level of alcohol consumption is safe for people’s health.
In addition to health impacts like increased blood pressure and risk of chronic disease, alcohol increases instances of violence, risky sexual behavior, and motor vehicle crashes. The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration says 31% of all fatal crashes involve drunken drivers.
Alcohol also contributes to obesity, which increases your chances of developing numerous health complications including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Benefits of cutting back
“If one of your other new year’s resolutions is to reach a healthy weight, giving up alcohol can help,” Dr. Fisher says. “Simply considering the calories you can eliminate from your diet by forgoing alcohol can help make that an easy decision.”
Just think: A glass of red wine contains about 125 calories and a can of beer about 150. A shot of alcohol like vodka or rum contains less — about 70 to 115 calories. However, a mixed drink can quickly become calorie-laden. Specialty drinks like piña coladas or white Russians can pack more than 500 calories.
“That means if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve just consumed a third to a fourth of your daily recommended calories,” Dr. Fisher says.
Eliminating alcohol consumption has other benefits. People who participate in Dry January often discover they sleep better, have better moods, feel more energetic, and develop clearer skin.
“Alcohol can increase insomnia and sleep apnea, making you tired throughout the day,” Dr. Fisher says. “Alcohol also leads to dehydration and inflammation, which contribute to the aging process and those chronic diseases in our bodies.”
Dry January tips
If you’re interested in participating in Dry January, here are a few steps to take:
- Download the Dry January app, “Try Dry,” to help track your progress.
- Tell your friends and family that you’re participating. This helps keep you accountable.
- Try making your own non-alcoholic specialty beverage recipes — sometimes called mocktails — or ordering them if you go out. Many restaurants and bars have caught on to the Dry January trend and developed special drink items for participants. Sales of non-alcoholic beer, wine, and spirits are on the rise as well.
- Avoid social triggers where drinking is common or expected.
- Don’t quit if you do have a drink. The idea is to increase awareness and reduce your alcohol consumption. Pick up where you left off.
- Plan alternative activities for the times when you might normally have a drink, such as when you get home from work or cook dinner with your spouse. The new year may be a great time to try a new hobby or activity.
“There are so many benefits to giving up alcohol, and you can see them start to happen within the month,” Dr. Fisher says. “Once you recognize the impact that alcohol is having on your well-being, you may even want to continue abstaining throughout the year.”
It often takes more than a month to develop new habits that become routine. Keeping a journal of your experience and continuing the actions and activities that helped you through Dry January may help you maintain your good habits.
Dry January also can offer a good way to develop an awareness of how much alcohol really means to you, Dr. Fisher says. Substance use disorder is a chronic medical issue with many treatment options. “If you discover that you have trouble slowing down or stopping, resources and help are available to you,” Dr. Fisher says. “That’s why it’s important to talk to your primary care provider and to be honest with them — and yourself — about your alcohol consumption.”