By Honoreé Brewton, ComSciCon-Triangle 2022
Think back to New Year’s Day. It’s a brand new year, and you’re ready to wipe away the previous one and start with a clean slate. You might have some resolutions for improving yourself. Maybe you feel uncertain about what the new year will bring. Or maybe it’s just another day to you–nothing special. For many people, however, the new year is an optimal time to form better habits. Some people vow to exercise more, meditate more, save more money, and so on. One common resolution is to reduce the amount of alcohol one consumes, specifically during “Dry January”.
Dry January is a social phenomenon that has gained popularity in recent years. Started by Alcohol Change UK in 2013, the challenge asks participants to stop drinking alcohol for the entire month of January. It began with a small campaign of 4,000 people and has since grown to over 100,000 participants. I had first heard of Dry January from a podcast in early 2021, and, being a neuroscience researcher who studies alcohol use, I am interested in learning how this challenge has changed participants’ alcohol drinking habits.
Now that we know what Dry January is, let’s go over the potential benefits of the challenge. It probably seems obvious to say that cutting back on drinking is beneficial for your overall health and wellbeing. But let’s discuss the magnitude of these benefits–you may be surprised by some of them. Dr. Gautam Mehta from the University College London Institute for Liver and Digestive Health found positive effects from a month-long abstinence period. Both moderate and heavy drinkers who abstained from alcohol saw improvements in their weight, blood pressure levels, and insulin resistance capabilities. These findings are quite enlightening and provide some insight into a healthy practice.
A different study conducted by Dr. Richard de Visser of the University of Sussex evaluated the effects of Dry January. He and his colleagues found that one month after completing the challenge, participants reported a higher likelihood of refusing alcohol in different scenarios, such as social outings with friends or instances of stress relief. They also found that six months after the challenge, participants reported a significant decrease in the number of drinks they consumed per week, as well as a lower frequency of intoxication.
Now that we’ve seen the research, we should hear from people who have tackled Dry January themselves:
“I feel happier, healthier, and fitter than I have felt in years.” - Theresa, ten months into her sobriety. Like many people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she had increased the amount of alcohol she was consuming, and it had reached an unhealthy extreme. She decided to commit to Dry January and continued abstaining from alcohol afterward.
“My sleeping improved… After Dry January, I have a different perspective on how much alcohol I was consuming and how much money I was spending.” - James
“[I]t’s been very tough at times, but the benefits have changed my life.” - Stacey, who shared how the challenge remediated their struggle with anxiety and high blood sugar.
So is there any significance to the challenge being in January? Personally, I believe it coincides with New Year’s resolutions, hence the reason it takes place during the first month. However, similar challenges exist, such as Dry July and Ocsober (pronounced “awk-soh-ber”). Both Dry July and Ocsober focus on giving up alcohol and raising money for charity during the months of July and October, respectively.
Here are my final thoughts regarding the challenge. As someone who frequently drank alcohol during college and now only drinks once or twice a month, I am a big supporter of cutting back on alcohol consumption. As the research shows, there are many benefits to participating in challenges such as Dry January. If you’re interested in trying it yourself, some helpful tips to keep in mind include: substituting your drinks for non-alcoholic options, creating a support group for accountability, and using an app (like Try Dry) to guide you through the process. The challenge may not be easy, but it’s worth trying. And to that, I say, “Cheers!”