Dry January: The Benefits and Sticking with It!
Published: 14th January, 2022 in: Health
With the festive season now behind us, you might be feeling like you’ve overindulged slightly. After what seems like endless days of drinking in December, Dry January is the perfect time to reset and recharge by avoiding alcohol for a whole month.
..and you wouldn’t be alone! It was estimated that in 2021 around 130,000 people took part in Dry January.
Find out how Dry January could benefit you and read our handy tips to help you stick with it!
Why Should You Try Dry January?
The NHS suggests that men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This translates to approximately 6 pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses of lower-strength wine. Regularly drinking more than this can lead to a variety of health issues including an increased risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, liver disease and brain damage. High levels of alcohol consumption have also been linked to the worsening of mental health.
There are many reasons why you might want to take a month off drinking. Maybe you’re feeling a bit run down after Christmas, want to reassess your relationship with alcohol or want to focus more on your health and wellbeing.
Whatever your reasons, there are a wide range of health benefits that can result from just a small break in your drinking habits.
The Benefits of Dry January
Although you may associate drinking with falling asleep quickly, you’ve probably noticed that when you wake up in the morning you’re groggy and tired. This is because alcohol-induced sleep is of a much lower quality.
When you fall asleep after drinking it is common to slip into a deep sleep almost immediately. This means you miss out the first stage of your sleep cycle which can result in lighter, more disrupted sleep throughout the night.
By cutting out alcohol you can improve the quality of your sleep; this has all kinds of knock-on effects. From improving your memory to lowering your risk of certain diseases and even aiding weight loss, quality sleep is essential for maintaining your overall health.
Energy and Focus
With higher quality sleep comes more energy. You’ll find that you are less tired throughout the day and have more motivation when it comes to tasks such as work and exercise.
Let’s not forget, if you’re not drinking then there is no chance of a hangover. Hangovers can cause you to waste entire days in bed. Even if you only suffer from mild hangovers, you will likely still find that you are tired and irritable.
You may also see a noticeable improvement in your ability to focus.
Improved Fitness Levels
When we exercise, our blood flow increases. This allows oxygen and nutrients to reach our muscles. Hydration is key to improved blood flow; this is why you should drink lots of water throughout the day and when you exercise.
Alcohol is a diuretic. This means that when you drink your body produces more urine leading to dehydration. When we are dehydrated our body's systems don’t work as well. Without alcohol in your system, your blood flow will increase resulting in higher levels of energy and improved fitness.
Completing Dry January can result in weight loss for a number of different reasons. The first and most obvious is reduced calorie intake.
Alcohol contains a high number of calories (7 calories per gram). You then also have to think about additional calories in any mixers used. If you usually drink regularly, this can add up to a large amount of calories over the course of a month.
In addition to this, alcohol can impair our judgement. This can cause us to make unhealthy choices when it comes to food. We’re all prone to a post-night out takeaway. Ditching the booze can prevent us from making these choices resulting in a healthier diet and increased weight loss.
Finally, you may find that you have more motivation and energy to exercise. The quality of your workouts may also improve with increased fitness levels resulting in more calories burned and making it easier to hit your fitness goals!
For many, having a drink after a stressful day may seem like the perfect way to unwind however, alcohol intake has been linked to worse mental health. Using alcohol as a coping strategy for things such as stress, anxiety and depression can mask symptoms temporarily but actually cause them to become worse over time.
Hangovers can be particularly challenging, commonly causing feelings of anxiety and depression.
Taking a break from alcohol can help you to recognise your feelings and put in place more healthy coping strategies. For example, if you are feeling stressed or sad, doing a workout can be a natural mood booster. Furthermore, as your sleep quality and energy levels improve you are less likely to be tired and irritable, allowing you to better regulate your moods.
Giving up alcohol is great for your skin!
Our skin needs moisture and hydration to stay looking its best. Alcohol dehydrates the body resulting in reduced levels of moisture leading to dry, puffy and tired-looking skin. Alcohol can also cause your blood sugar levels to spike which can increase levels of certain hormones in your body resulting in breakouts.
Avoiding alcohol can therefore leave you with a clearer, healthier-looking and glowing complexion.
The liver is an extremely complex and important organ. Its purpose is to filter toxins from the blood, aid digestion, regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels and help to fight infection and disease.
The liver is capable of regenerating itself making it very resilient, however, each time it filters alcohol some of the liver cells die. More cells can be developed but prolonged alcohol use can damage the liver beyond repair.
Taking a break from drinking allows your liver a chance to repair and regenerate. Lowering your alcohol intake also helps you to reduce the risk of liver disease.
Stronger Immune System
Drinking alcohol can compromise the body’s immune system. This can make you more susceptible to infections from viruses or bacteria.
By cutting out alcohol you can strengthen your body’s immune system to help fight off any nasty infections.
Some people choose to do Dry January because they want to reassess their relationship with alcohol. Even if that’s not your primary motive, you may find that your attitudes to alcohol permanently change after completing the 4 weeks.
Taking a break from alcohol can help you to find new coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety so that you are not reliant on alcohol to relax. You may have also found that you can have just as much or more fun without alcohol.
Because of this, many people find that Dry January kickstarts a lifestyle change resulting in more control over your drinking and reduced or even no alcohol intake moving forward.
We’ve talked a lot about the health benefits of Dry January but there are some monetary gains to be made from ditching the booze!
Think about how much you usually spend on alcohol at home. Now think about how much you spend on alcohol on a night out. Choosing to forgo alcohol in favour of water or other soft drinks can save you a lot of money.
Not to mention, if you are going on fewer nights out you are also saving money on taxis, club entrance fees and post-night out takeaways.
The Health Benefits of Dry January: Week by Week
Now we’ve talked you through the main benefits of Dry January, you may be wondering how long it will take for you to see a difference.
We’ve broken it down week by week on when you can expect to notice key changes.
After Week One
After just one week of no alcohol, you are likely to see improvements in the quality of your sleep. You may find it more difficult to initially get to sleep whilst your body gets used to it but once you do, the quality will be much higher.
After Week Two
After the second week, you are likely to reap the rewards of that better quality sleep. You should feel like you have more energy and can think more clearly.
By this point you should also be much more aware of how much water your body requires resulting in better hydration. Higher levels of hydration can help you to reach your fitness goals more easily and see results quicker.
After Week Three
After the third week of no alcohol, you might begin to notice that your clothes fit a little looser. By cutting out drinking you are reducing the amount of calories going into your body; it is at this point you may start to notice the pounds melting away.
You may also notice that your memory has improved and that you are able to focus more easily.
After One Month
It is after a month that the largest changes in your body take place. A month of no alcohol significantly reduces your risk of certain diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Your blood pressure and cholesterol levels may begin to reduce, as well as your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Further to this, giving your liver a break has been shown to significantly reduce liver stiffness - this is one of the first signs of liver disease. You may also see an improvement in your digestion resulting in a reduction in symptoms of bloating, wind, diarrhoea or constipation.
4 weeks without alcohol is the point at which your immune system will be more able to fight off infection. You may also see noticeable changes to your skin at the month mark, leaving it plump, hydrated and blemish-free.
How to Stick to Dry January?
A month without alcohol sounds great right? All of the benefits above and not to mention, no hangovers…In practice, it can be a little more challenging than that though.
If you are used to drinking regularly, the thought of a whole month without alcohol can be quite daunting. We’ve put together some helpful tips that can help you to stick to your goal.
Remind Yourself Why
Think about why you wanted to complete Dry January in the first place. Some common reasons include:
- Allowing your body to recover and re energise after Christmas
- Reassessing your relationship with alcohol
- Focussing on your health and fitness goals
- Reducing time spent hungover allowing you to do more important things such as spending time with the family
- Improving energy levels
- Looking after your mental wellbeing
Everyone will have different reasons for wanting to reduce their alcohol intake; they must be personal to you. Write them down or repeat them to yourself when you feel like drinking to remind yourself of why you started Dry January.
Shake Up Your Daily Routine
Sometimes drinking is more of a force of habit than a genuine desire. Maybe you usually come in after work, cook tea and have a glass of wine on the sofa? Try changing up your routine to break the habit.
You could arrange to meet a friend after work for a walk, go to the gym or start a new hobby? After a while, you might find that you’re not even craving that after-work drink anymore.
Do it with a Friend or Partner
Often the hardest part of not drinking is that everyone around you is. It can feel like you’re missing out when you’re the only one drinking water on a night out. Having the support of a friend or partner who is doing it with you can be just the support you need to keep going.
If they’re not sure, just show them this blog on all the benefits of Dry January and they’re sure to be on board in no time!
Find a Replacement
If you’re relaxing after a long day or out for a meal with friends, the feeling of a drink in your hand might actually be more important than what is in the glass. Try replacing your alcoholic drink with something else to curb the craving.
If you usually drink gin and tonic, try a lime and soda for a similar taste. You could also try mocktails or 0% alcohol options.
Focus on Your Fitness Goals
Having a goal to focus on could help to motivate you for Dry January. As we know, quitting alcohol can help to make reaching your fitness goals easier.
By focussing on this and using the time to make gains in another area of your life, you can see physical rewards that will motivate you to keep going.
Drinking is heavily ingrained into British culture. When meeting up with friends, often the first suggestion is a trip to the pub. If you turn up and begin ordering soft drinks it may come as a shock to those around you. This can result in uncomfortable questions or pressure to drink.
By telling people beforehand that you won’t be drinking you can give them chance to get used to the idea and help to reduce the chance of your mind being changed while you’re out.
Who knows, you might find that a lot of people you know are also trying to complete Dry January!
The chances are you will be invited to events or locations where alcohol is on offer. It can be hard to resist if everyone around you is drinking but, by planning ahead you can be prepared.
Think about what you are going to drink instead - are you going to drink alcohol-free alternatives of drinks or stick to water and other soft drinks? It may be beneficial to buy your own drinks rather than participating in rounds.
Don’t be Afraid to Say No
Not drinking can be a challenge. Sometimes it’s easier to remove temptation altogether. Don’t be afraid to say no to alcohol-fuelled activities such as nights out and pub trips if you don’t feel like going.
Once you get used to not drinking you may find that it becomes easier to be around those that are drinking but until then, don’t feel guilty about putting yourself first.
You may also find that some people try to pressure you to drink when you are out. Practice saying no but remember, there is no need to explain yourself.
Plan Non-drinking Activities
If you’re one of the few people in your friendship group or family doing Dry January, it can feel a little lonely at times but, by planning non-drinking activities you can make sure you never feel left out!
Some non-drinking activity ideas include:
- Exploring the countryside by going for a walk
- Taking a trip to the cinema
- Visiting your favourite cafe for lunch
- Getting your culture fix at the local art gallery or museum
- Working out together
- Getting a little retail therapy with a shopping trip
- Relaxing with a well-earned spa day
Being sober will also allow you to spend quality time with your friends and loved ones without that next day hangover anxiety.
Don’t Let a Slip Up Ruin Your Whole Month
Remember that you are human. If you slip up drying Dry January that doesn’t mean you have to fall off the waggon completely. Even if you can’t manage the whole 4 weeks, drastically reducing your alcohol intake in January can still do wonders for your body.
If you do drink during January, reflect on why. Were you feeling sad or stressed? Did you feel like you were missing out? If you can identify what caused you to drink, you can be more prepared to combat it in the future. All of these things help you to have more control over your drinking moving forward, not just during January.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Dry January?
The benefits of Dry January seem almost endless but are there any drawbacks to 1 month sober?
Your body will generally always thank you for taking a break from alcohol; however, those who have alcohol dependency may suffer from withdrawal symptoms.
If you are concerned about alcohol dependency speak to your GP.
Dry January usually helps people to forge a better relationship with alcohol but for some, it may be a temptation to overindulge during February. Don’t think of it as a month-long project, think of it as a kickstart to a healthier lifestyle.
It’s also important to not be restricted by the concept of Dry January. You can take a break from drinking at any point throughout the year and reap the same benefits.
For more information on the benefits of Dry January visit Alcohol Change UK.
You can also visit us in branch for pharmacist advice.