If you drink regularly, does one month of no alcohol even do anything?
Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Happy New Year! Clink. That’s the sound of many people enjoying their last sip of bubbly, as they say goodbye to the holidays and the past year, and hello to Dry January.
Dry January is popular month-long no-alcohol challenge among people who want to start the year on a healthier note—especially if they boozed excessively over the holidays.
Giving up anything you partake in regularly—whether it’s alcohol, dessert, or soda—is tough, even if you know you’re probably better off without it. If you’re thinking of doing Dry January, are in the middle of a no-sip month, or have done it in the past, you may be wondering: Is all this effort really worth it?
How Dry January Impacts Your Health
If you’re a moderate drinker—meaning about 1 drink a day for women and 2 for men—participating in Dry January can lead to a plethora of positives. (If you’re a heavy drinker, check with a doc before doing Dry January—cutting booze cold-turkey may cause alcohol withdrawal symptoms.) Here’s how Dry January can benefit your health:
Not drinking for 31 days can improve your relationship with alcohol. In 2016 UK study, researchers from the University of Sussex found that folks who participated in Dry January formed healthier drinking patterns and stuck with them for up to six months after. Participants reported that after Dry January they drank less in general, and had also improved their ability to say no to alcohol in social situations. This was true even for participants who didn’t abstain for the entire month—although the benefits were much more likely among those who completed the challenge.
Laying off the booze may help you lose weight. You’re probably aware that alcohol isn’t a health food. Most alcoholic beverages are high in calories and offer very little nutritional value (if any). Cutting any form of calories, including booze, may help you shed pounds.
Say you drink a glass of Chardonnay every night (in your non-dry months, of course). A glass of Chardonnay, which is a 5-ounce serving, is about 130 calories. Cut out that Chard for a whole month? You just saved yourself a whopping 4,030 calories. Learn more about the calorie counts of different kinds of wine.
Skipping the nightcap can lead to better sleep. It’s a myth that alcohol helps you sleep. Drinking can affect your sleep quality—especially if you enjoy a bedtime sip to help you nod off. While it’s true that a bit of alcohol before bed may help you get to sleep, having that booze in your system can affect how well you sleep.
A nightcap can block your REM sleep, which is considered the most restorative type of sleep. Without enough REM sleep, you’ll likely wake up groggy, unrefreshed, and unable to focus.
Cutting out the bubbly may help you look younger. If you’ve ever had a hangover, you’re probably well aware that a night of drinking can dehydrate you. (Here are other health effects of binge drinking.) That’s because alcohol slows down the production of a hormone in the body that helps the kidneys absorb water. So instead of being absorbed by the kidneys, fluid is flushed out of the body via urine. Drinking just four cocktails can cause you to lose nearly a quart of water.
Alcohol’s dehydrating effects can impact, and dry out, the skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, over time this can damage the skin and make you look older.
Taking an alcohol break could give your health numbers a boost. Want healthier blood pressure and insulin levels? Going alcohol-free may help with that. Learn more about how alcohol affects your heart.
One small study conducted by the researchers at the Royal Free Hospital followed 94 participants as they took the Dry January challenge. At the end of the month, they were asked to take a blood test. Participants not only dropped weight, but they also showed significant reductions in their blood pressure and insulin resistance.
It may be no surprise that drinking less is a good thing, but remember: If you can’t make it to the end of January without imbibing, don’t beat yourself up. The most important thing is to learn to moderate your alcohol long term. That way, you can sip occasionally without guilt and be able to cheers to better health all year ‘round.
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Alcoholic beverage, wine, table, white, Chardonnay. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release. (Accessed on January 9, 2019 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/14160)
Frequently Asked Questions. Alcohol and Public Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on January 9, 2019 at https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm)
Voluntary temporary abstinence from alcohol during "Dry January" and subsequent alcohol use. United Kingdom: School of Psychology, University of Sussex. Alcohol Concern, 2016. (Accessed on January 9, 2019 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26690637)
How Alcohol Affects the Quality—and Quantity—of Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on January 9, 2019 at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/how-alcohol-affects-sleep)
What Causes Our Skin to Age? American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on January 9, 2019 at https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/anti-aging-skin-care/causes-of-aging-skin)
Evidence that Dry January changes behaviour for good. British Medical Journal. (Accessed on January 9, 2019 at https://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.i599)
What Is Dry January? London: Alcohol Concern, 2016. (Accessed on January 9, 2019 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684010)