New year, no booze – at least for the month of January. That’s the idea behind the “dry January” trend.
Like many New Year’s resolutions, dry January is about making healthy lifestyle changes following the holidays, which are often a time of overindulgence, says Jen Bruning, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who serves as the national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
“Dry January is a desire to restore the body and find a healthier pattern,” she said. “There are lots of health benefits to it.”
Since alcohol interferes with sleep cycles, many people will experience improvements in sleep, which has “trickle-down effects,” says Bruning. “You may have a better outlook and mood. You may be able to focus and perform better at work. There’s also potential for weight loss, depending on the level of drinking.”
In addition to health benefits, dry January is “an incredible opportunity for people to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol and the role it plays in their life,” Bruning said.
Many people may not realize how prevalent alcohol is in their lives, says Stephanie Gorka, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the assistant director of UIC’s Recovery Clinic. “I see all the time how alcohol use becomes a pattern,” she said. “You stop thinking about it and whether you even want the next (drink). … But if you’re at a bar with your friends, that’s what you do. It’s become so automatic that people rarely think about it.”
Like Bruning, Gorka hopes dry January can be a learning experience for people to “gain a new perspective” on their alcohol use.
But before embarking on a month of sobriety, Gorka says people should have realistic expectations.
“If someone drinks regularly, stopping cold turkey could be hard. That doesn’t mean they’re an alcoholic, but changing behavior and habits can be difficult,” she said. “They could experience cravings and urges that could feel hard to manage. … It’s not just easy-peasy because they made a one-month commitment.”
Bruning agrees. “I think people end up being a little startled by how much they miss having alcohol in their lives (and) how much they were using it in a way they didn’t recognize,” Bruning said, adding that it’s normal and that people shouldn’t give up.
“If someone does go into dry January and they find they aren’t able to stop drinking even though they have every intention of not drinking and … experience a loss of control, that is definitely a red flag,” said Gorka. “Or maybe they are successful in not drinking, but they experience extreme distress and cravings and mood disturbances. That is a sign to us that something else is going on.” She recommends those individuals contact their doctor or mental health professionals.
During the course of the month, people could also experience anxiety and depression that may have been previously masked by drinking, according to Gorka. “Some level of anxiety is normal,” she said. “When it starts to interfere with a person’s life, that would be a bad sign.” Anyone experiencing anxiety or depression that impairs their life should seek professional help, says Gorka.
To help people have a successful dry January, Bruning has a trio of tips. “No. 1 is to establish ‘the dry why,’” she said. “What is your motivation for going dry and what are you hoping to learn from this?”
Bruning also recommends telling others that you won’t be drinking for the month. Not only does this create a support system, but it also prevents people from inadvertently serving you alcoholic drinks.
Last but not least, Bruning advises removing temptations by emptying the liquor cabinet and purging the fridge of alcoholic beverages. “Replace those (beverages) with flavored or sparkling waters. Or have fun experimenting with mocktails,” said Bruning, who likes to incorporate fruits and bright colors in non-alcoholic drinks. She recommends trying pomegranate, cherry or cranberry juice with a lime wedge and sparking water.
Faux-jitos, or mock mojitos, are another easy drink, says Bruning. Muddle fresh mint and lime slices and add a mix of lime sparkling water and lemon-lime soda.
“Another drink that’s not a mocktail per se, but a fun beverage in its own right is something called switchel: a water and vinegar-based drink sweetened with honey or maple syrup and commonly features ginger,” said Bruning. “More bars and restaurants are offering this as an option—I try it whenever it see it on a menu.”
Alcohol can also be replaced with a hobby or passion, says Gorka. “Individuals really need to make a conscious effort to brainstorm alternative activities that they can engage in during the month of January because they could find themselves alone on the weekends and bored because everyone else is out having fun at the bar,” she said. “Now’s a good time to go back to old hobbies that you’ve been neglecting or take the plunge and try something new.”
While January is already well underway, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to go dry. “You don’t have to start now. Pick a different month for motivation,” Bruning said. “February is looked at widely as heart month, so focus on your heart health. A reduction in drinking is good for your heart.”
Note: This story was originally published on Jan. 11.