Dry January is one of the most popular sobriety challenges in the world. Whether participants are looking to reap the health benefits of drinking less or gain perspective on what sobriety might feel like, everybody’s reasons are valid, and any reduction in drinking is an act of self-care. It’s important to note that Dry January isn’t always a walk in the park, and you don’t have to do it alone. Read on for therapist tips on how to get the most out of Dry January.
What is Dry January?
Dry January is a sobriety challenge where participants spend the first 31 days of the new year without alcohol. The challenge was started in 2013 by the nonprofit Alcohol Change U.K. Since then, it has risen in popularity worldwide. Now, hundreds of thousands of people participate every year. In the US alone, nearly 1 in 5 adults reported they were participating in 2022.1
So why January? The new year is often a time for reflection and building healthier habits. Many people also feel like they need to press the reset button after the holiday season. Because of what happens to your body when you stop drinking, many people finish Dry January feeling refreshed and energized for the year ahead. No matter what your reason for participating, it can be encouraging to know that thousands of others have taken on the challenge with you.
What Are the Benefits of Completing Dry January?
Removing alcohol from your life can restore and improve sleep. Alcohol use disturbs your sleep cycle in multiple ways. Drinking before bed can decrease the amount of REM sleep you get that night. It can also cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night with hangxiety or the need to urinate. Learning more about alcohol and sleep can help you understand the many benefits of cutting back on drinking.
Many people are surprised to see just how much they save by not spending on alcohol for 31 days. Per the Journal of Health Psychology, 79% of Dry January participants reported that they saved money. You can see how much you might save using this alcohol savings calculator. On top of the money saved from not buying alcohol, you’ll also save money on hangover cures, late-night food ordering, and unnecessary cab rides.
Improved Physical Fitness
There are several reasons why cutting out alcohol can improve your physical fitness. Firstly, alcoholic beverages are known for their empty calories and, depending on the drink, high sugar content. Cutting out these drinks can result in weight loss. Also, many people have more energy and free time when they stop drinking alcohol, which can allow for more exercise. Lastly, getting better quality sleep can help improve your physical fitness as well.
Better Mental Health
Alcohol use is known to exacerbate and even cause depression and anxiety. Time away from drinking gives your brain the ability to replenish all of the neurotransmitters, chemicals, and signals that get disrupted by frequent alcohol consumption. This can help your body and brain re-stabilize, and reduce mental health challenges. Plus, cutting out alcohol can help you avoid any day-after-drinking shame and stress that may have been taking a toll.
Improved Relationships and Professional Life
Cutting out alcohol can help you feel more capable of fulfilling all of your various roles and responsibilities. You’ll likely be more productive at work, and more present with your loved ones. If drinking had previously been straining your relationships, taking a month break can be a great first step towards repairing those connections.
Dry January can teach you more about yourself and your relationship with alcohol. To quote Kelly, MAC, LMHC, and therapist at Monument, “You have the unique opportunity to authentically get to know the amazing person you are.” With the experience of an alcohol-free month behind you, you will have developed the habits and insights to sustain a healthier relationship with alcohol throughout the rest of the year.
How to Stay Motivated During a Sober Month Challenge
A month without alcohol can come with ups and downs. Here are three tips from therapists on the Monument platform for staying engaged and motivated.
Define Your ‘Why’
Kelly, MAC, LMHC: “Answer the question, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Let this reason surround you through reflection and reminders. It can be as simple as writing it on a sticky note. Practice grounding, deep breathing, and asking for support when you need it.” This is also a great way to combat the fading affect bias.
Listen to Your Triggers
Sabrina, LSW, CASAC: “Let yourself listen to the triggers that make you feel like quitting Dry January. Triggers are teachers, and you can learn from them, and address them. That way, when confronted with a trigger, you can recognize it and put healthy coping mechanisms like breathwork and meditation into practice.”
Build a Support System
Adrianne, MA, LPC, CAADC: “Reaching out is one of the best things you can do. Call a close friend, or join the conversation at Monument! We have an online community, moderated alcohol support groups, and holistic alcohol treatment programs. You don’t have to look far to find a supportive network.”
Dry January vs. Drinking in Moderation
You don’t have to commit to a totally Dry January in order to make meaningful progress. Weighing abstinence vs moderation is a personal decision that can be discussed with one’s therapist. Some may find that setting moderation goals for January feels more attainable. It’s all about taking that first step towards a healthier self.
To quote Mark, LMHC, “A totally dry January is realistic for some, and moderation is realistic for others. The thought of remaining sober for 30 days straight can be daunting. Just starting the process is a success, even if you only remain abstinent for 5 days. Then try for 6 days. This is a journey of progress, not perfection.”
It’s also important to note that anyone thinking about cutting back or cutting out alcohol should consult with a healthcare professional first. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and even life-threatening, so it’s vital that you have a plan to moderate or abstain safely. Depending on what you and your provider discuss, tapering down your drinking may be the right approach for you.
Should I Attempt Dry January Alone, With Support Groups, or With Medical Supervision?
Experts agree that the more tools you have in your toolkit, the greater your chances of success. Sabrina Spotorno shares: “Countless evidence-based studies show group support increases success rates for sobriety and moderation goals. It’s absolutely ideal to find the group atmosphere that works for you and begin changing the patterns that keep you feeling stagnant. I would also strongly advise talking to a doctor first to make sure Dry January is right for you.”
Free Support Group: Turning a sobriety challenge into a lifestyle
Who Is the Best Candidate for Adopting a Dry January Goal?
People might think that Dry January is a “cleanse” designed for someone who doesn’t have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. In reality, Dry January can be a motivating time for everyone to reflect on their relationship with alcohol, support each other, and build healthier habits in the new year.
Before beginning Dry January, take an assessment of your overall alcohol intake. It can be unsafe to stop drinking if your body has become dependent on alcohol, and safely changing your drinking may require finding the appropriate level of support. At Monument, we connect you to licensed professionals who can help you identify the right next steps for you.
After completing Dry January, many people notice major shifts in their physical health, mental wellbeing, and confidence. It can be a great way to kickstart long-lasting change, and establish the tools that will help you achieve it. Dry January isn’t easy for everyone, and that’s okay. You are not alone. No matter where you’re starting from, we’re here to get you to where you want to be in January, in the new year, and beyond.
1. Morning Consult. “Dry January Movement Grows in 2022, but for Many It’s More Damp Than Dry, https://morningconsult.com/2022/01/10/dry-january-movement-grows-in-2022/.” Accessed Nov 29, 2022.