What are the benefits to Dry January?

January is a natural time for considering our own behavior and what we want to change for the new year. Like Brooke Shields, I shy away from setting firm resolutions. Really it just comes down to a tedious mental game for me, where if I declare a change another part of me will rebel and say “you’re not gonna tell me what to do!” It’s noisy in my head. Instead I try to make gentle suggestions to myself, and convince myself it’s hugely different from making resolutions. (I know I’m ridiculous, I know.) A similar popular new year’s practice is Dry January, wherein you abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages for the duration of the month. People Mag spoke to Dr. Rocco Iannucci, MD — director of the Fernside Residential Treatment Program at McLean Hospital and Psychiatry Instructor at Harvard Medical School — about the benefits of Dry January, both mental and physical.

Your liver will thank you: First and foremost, Dr. Iannucci points out that abstaining from alcohol throughout January is “helpful for your liver.” He adds that abstaining for “relatively short periods of time” can have a positive impact. “People with significant liver inflammation related to alcohol will oftentimes see their markers of inflammation go back to normal within the course of a month, and that’s people who have a significant level of alcohol intake,” he explains. “Alcohol is a toxin to the liver,” Dr. Iannucci continues. “The good news is the liver up to a point has a lot of capacity to heal and so giving it that chance to heal can be really helpful.”

Alcohol disturbs our sleep rhythms: “The thing that I think many don’t realize is that even small amounts of drinking do disturb your sleep… Most people will notice the immediate effects of alcohol,” Dr. Iannucci says, citing the ability to fall asleep earlier as an example. But while this is true for many people, he says alcohol consumption can also cause “morning awakening and fitful sleep… That can happen with half a drink,” he explains. “It doesn’t take much for alcohol to start to disturb our sleep rhythm so that our sleep isn’t as restorative as it would be otherwise.”

The potential for weight loss: “I think we can underestimate the degree to which alcohol adds calories — and they’re ‘empty’ calories, meaning they really don’t have any nutritional value,” he explains of the oftentimes “quickly consumed” beverages. “Especially in the forms of sugary drinks, you don’t really notice how much you’re taking in.” While the amount of weight lost during Dry January differs per person… Dr. Iannucci says that “many people find that they lose weight during the course of a Dry January.” Drinking aside, new activities during Dry January can aid in weight loss, especially if your weekends or weeknights usually revolved around alcohol.

Strength in numbers: And while “stopping alcohol” may cause “younger people or people who are dating” to fear “isolation” during Dry January, Dr. Iannucci says joining forces for the month of abstinence can make things easier. He suggests convincing some friends to participate or finding support online. “People will do that through social media and or through apps to help support Dry January and can give you that sense of being connected a little bit more.”

The attempt is beneficial, whatever the results: Whether people fully committed to Dry January or opted for a Damp January (cutting back on alcohol over the month), Dr. Iannucci says “both” attempts “offer benefits because you make a change in your behavior… People can sometimes see themselves as having failed it,” a mindset he doesn’t view as helpful because the attempt is beneficial alone. “I think it’s really kind of a win-win,” he says. “Whether you are able to not drink the entire month or whether you do sometimes drink in that month, you’re still likely to see some benefits in terms of psychological health and physical health,” Dr. Iannucci explains. “So it’s worth doing… What we don’t want to do is beat ourselves up over trying to do something good.”

[From People]

Full disclosure: I barely drink, so I actually have done a Dry January, completely unwittingly. For me personally, I just substituted Coca Cola (which I’ve been imbibing way too much lately) for all of the merits Dr. Iannucci lists above. The benefits still hold up for soda! And I’ve already failed for a soda-less January! Sorry Dr. Iannucci, I know you said not to use that word. Most of what Dr. Iannucci says here makes sense. It’s stuff we probably know already, but it’s still a helpful boost to see it presented together in a compelling argument. Elsewhere in the interview Dr. Iannucci stresses that it’s important to acknowledge that everyone is different and will therefore have a different Dry January experience. Your relationship to alcohol before trying a Dry January is a big factor, as is, well, pretty much everything else. Which is why Dr. Iannucci also notes that consulting with your doctor first is the safest way to start a Dry January.

Whatever your goals are for January and beyond (I’m intrigued by CB’s article on thinking about doing less), be kind to yourself along the way. Cheers Bitches, I raise my glass of seltzer in toast to you all!

Photos credit: Cottonbro studios on Pexels

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22 Responses to “What are the benefits to Dry January?”

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  1. Becks1 says:

    I’ve done a dry january before and I like it, but what I do now is more of a damp january, or just a general reset with drinking. Generally I don’t drink Monday-Thursday, but always during December that goes out the window little by little. So in January I just reset back to that. And for me, if I don’t drink during the week, I just naturally drink significantly less on the weekends so it ends up working out and I feel so much better.

    this year in general I’m trying to be realistic about January – like many people I ate like crap during December (and November to be honest) and worked out a lot less than I wanted to. so I’m just trying to get back into my regular routine of generally healthy eating and working out regularly without doing an overly restrictive diet for January or going from 0-60 on my workouts, things I know I can’t maintain long term. I also have not weighed myself in months, lolol. and I’m not going to until February.

  2. manda says:

    Soda really is such a treat, to me at least. I love it and will never give it up all the way because I love it, it is SUCH a treat. So if you ever need someone to encourage that habit, LMK!

    I did basically dry December this year because every year I over indulge in food and drink and feel TERRIBLE, so this year I really didn’t. I drank a bunch of water, made sure to eat plenty of fiber rich food, and felt fantastic! Then, the day after christmas my husband and I were both struck down with covid and are just now starting to feel a tiny bit better. I was thinking I would probably stick with the not drinking too much, at least until the summer

  3. Chaine says:

    I would do dry whatever they want if it came with cuddling that gorgeous cat

  4. Rosie says:

    Mr. Rosie and I have done Dry January every year since 2020. Last year, he also cut back drastically on soda, from like 6-7 a day to just 1. He was going for no soda in January as a reset but had caffeine withdrawal symptoms for the first two days and ended up just doing one in the mornings. He’s stuck with it for the whole year now and is really proud of himself! As for Dry January, if this is your first time doing it, great job and keep it up! It gets easier to do every year. 🙂 Try switching to tea or sparkling water instead.

  5. Stef says:

    This is such a great message, thank you!

  6. kgeo says:

    We just figured out about a two weeks ago that my husband has auto-brewery syndrome. Basically, his body makes it’s own alcohol. When we figured it out, he was sober looking, but registered a 0.14 BAC. So for him a dry anything means cutting out all sugar and carbs. We’re working on getting a diagnosis because there can be treatment. Anyway, he’s having his first dry week in what I’m thinking is years. He’s a completely different person. He slipped up and drank a lemonade a few days ago and that had him over 0.15 for almost 24 hours, so it’s not completely dry, but anyway progress is progress. It’s exciting to see his personality come back. I think quitting sugar is the hardest part about his ‘dry january’. Good luck to everyone. I think if alcohol has become burdensome for you, dry January is a great low stakes way to dip your toe back into sobriety.

  7. Kate says:

    Lots of good alcohol free beers and (to a lesser extent) wines these days too that you can sub for the alcoholic version. I find that can help a lot when you want something to demarcate the day or have gotten into the habit of having an alcoholic beverage at night, because it has the taste but not the alcohol.

    • Normades says:

      Yes the NA beer market has really taken off with great hoppy tastes and beautiful packaging.

    • mellie says:

      There sure are, my husband bought the alcohol free Guinness because we both love Guinness so much, especially in the winter, and it is really good.

    • Becks1 says:

      I also love all the mocktails that are popping up in restaurants and bars. I like having something fun and fancy when I’m out but it doesn’t always have to be alcohol – a pretty mocktail works for me too. I am super sensitive to caffeine so I can’t drink iced tea or soda after 12 or 1, so if I dont want to drink at dinner at a restaurant but don’t want just water, the mocktails are a good alternative (although they can be just as $$ as an alcoholic drink lol.)

  8. salmonpuff says:

    I usually cut back in January after the holidays over-indulgence, but this year, I decided to do dry January and am hoping to be a strictly special occasion drinker when I reintroduce alcohol. It’s so easy to get in the habit of a daily glass of wine, especially since my husband has a couple of beers after work every day. It becomes a nice ritual to share. But I just don’t want to do that anymore. Cheers to lots of tea and seltzer!

    • [insert_catchy_name] says:

      I was the same- used to only be a “social” drinker occasionally on weekends, but with Covid ended up having a glass of wine pretty much every day. FINALLY managed to quit the habit last year.

  9. Normades says:

    I do dry January and sometimes a sober October every year. I am a very compulsive person and can’t do the damp thing. It’s all or nothing and each year I toy with the idea of just going completely sober.

    I find that having a special and expensive ‘adult drink’ while others are drinking helps a lot. Like a fancy NA beer, kombucha or fruity seltzer.

  10. [insert_catchy_name] says:

    I don’t do dry “January” as I start after I get back from my two weeks away with family and friends. But the older I get, the more I feel it when I overindulge with alcohol, sugar and meat, and look forward to my normal (relatively healthy) diet. So yes, a month of “detox” for me!

    Side note: last year I cut out alcohol for a few months at the beginning of the year, then maintained seriously reduced consumption for the rest of the year. In combination with intermittent fasting I lost loads of weight.

  11. Ladiabla says:

    I don’t need a dry January as I’ll only have a glass of red wine occasionally, however, a soda-less January would be a real challenge for me. I love my mini cokes and 7ups and I have about 3 a day (total). I don’t mind switching them out for a topo chico every once in a while but nothing beats a coke. So I’m there with you, Kismet. I love herbal teas as well, so I’m not just drinking soda, but eating a burger or having tacos with water?! No.

  12. SpankyB says:

    What month is no dessert? That’s what I need. For some reason I’m stuck on believing I NEED dessert after dinner. I look forward to dinner just so I can have dessert.

  13. tealily says:

    There’s something to that community aspect. I had been planning on doing a “damp” January and was drinking on a night out with some friends. One of them told me she was going dry, and it inspired me to jump on the bandwagon for the rest of the month.