Dry January 2023 – Your Complete Guide To Making It Work
Are you considering Dry January this year? You’re in good company.
In 2022, 1 in 5 adults participated in Dry January, a figure that was up from 13% in 2021. If current trends hold, even more participants will be taking the plunge this year.
Whether you’re doing it for health reasons or a personal challenge, are sober curious, or want to change your relationship with alcohol, there are so many benefits in store for you.
All you have to do is make it thirty-one days without drinking. (Gulp.)
If that’s intimidating, don’t worry.
There was a time I couldn’t imagine going one weekend without drinking, let alone an entire month. (I’ll be six years sober in December 2022.)
You can do this.
It’s normal to approach Dry January with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.
My goal is to motivate and support you by sharing some important Dry January benefits as well as tips and resources to get you through the full thirty-one days.
Are you ready to do this? Let’s go!
What is Dry January?
Dry January is a public initiative that encourages people to give up drinking alcohol for 31 days. An organization called Alcohol Change UK is credited with starting the movement in 2013.
Although similar initiatives have taken place throughout history.
The Finnish government launched a campaign called “Sober January” in 1942 as part of the war effort. Since that time, different people have publicly participated in similar experiments.
But in 2014, Alcohol Change UK made it official by trademarking the term “Dry January” and thus a movement was born.
Let’s talk about why people do it and what to expect.
Dry January Benefits
If you’re deciding whether to participate in Dry January this year, a good place to start is by examining all the benefits of taking an extended break from drinking. Some of the biggest benefits of completing Dry January include:
- Improved digestion
- Better quality sleep
- Weight loss
- Saving money
- Improved focus and mental clarity
- Healthier, glowing skin
- Stronger immune system
There are more benefits, of course, but these are some of the most commonly reported. Let’s dive into a few of these in more detail.
1. You’ll repair your leaky gut.
Alcohol is highly inflammatory and damages the intestinal lining, which leads to increased permeability known as “leaky gut”.
A 2021 study examined the effects of alcohol on the liver and other organs of the body. The results showed that after 3-weeks of abstinence from drinking, subjects saw a complete recovery of gut barrier function.
The intestinal lining isn’t the only part of your digestive system negatively impacted.
Alcohol also does damage to your gut, including disrupting the gut microbiota. After one month, you won’t likely see a full reversal of gut dysbiosis, but it’s long enough to significantly increase the number of healthy bacteria in the gut.
This will improve your physical health, immune system, and mood.
2. You might lose weight.
Alcohol can lead to weight gain for a number of reasons. That’s because alcohol:
- Has a lot of empty calories
- Disrupts your metabolism
- Makes you hungry for high-calorie food
- Spikes your cortisol levels
- Makes you sedentary
- Increases your risk of depression and anxiety
Depending on your consumption habits and drink of choice (I’m looking at you cider and beer), you’ll likely be dropping thousands of empty, liquid calories from your diet which your waistline will surely thank you for.
Aside from the calories gained from the alcohol itself, we are also eliminating whatever fried, greasy foods you like to scarf down after a night of binge drinking.
Will a month of sobriety lead to weight loss?
As long as you don’t replace alcohol with sugary drinks and snacks for 31 days, it’s possible! About 58% of past Dry January participants report losing weight.
3. You’ll sleep better.
Who doesn’t want better sleep? Ever notice how you always feel tired when you wake up the day after drinking? Even if you’ve been asleep for eight or more hours?
It’s because alcohol disrupts the most restorative phase of sleep. Even though alcohol acts as a depressant, causing us to “pass out,” we’re not getting high-quality sleep.
That’s because in the second half of the night, as alcohol leaves our system, our bodies experience rebound arousal, which makes for more fitful sleep and frequent waking up.
In a 2018 University of Sussex study of the effects of participating in Dry January, a whopping 71% of participants reported improved sleep.
4. You’ll save money.
Drinking is expensive. Depending on where you live, you could be paying upwards of $12 or $15 for one cocktail.
Those add up.
I don’t know about you, but in my heaviest drinking days, it was nothing to spend up to 20% of my income just on drinks and cigarettes. Add that to whatever terrible food you’re having delivered at 11 pm and you’ve got a recipe for, “Where the hell did all my money go?”
In that same 2018 study from the University of Sussex, 88% of Dry January participants reported saving money.
5. Your skin might improve.
Alcohol is a diuretic and very inflammatory – two things that are terrible for your skin. Not only does alcohol give your skin a dry, red, puffy appearance but it also speeds up the aging process.
As a result, drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol regularly (the equivalent of one drink per day) can lead to:
- Dilated vessels
- Dull, lackluster complexion
- Loose skin
- Fine lines and wrinkles
In the aforementioned University of Sussex study, 54% of Dry January participants reported better-looking skin.
By taking a month off from drinking, you’ll give your skin a much-needed chance to recuperate. Use this time to get high-quality sleep, stay hydrated, and repair your gut health (which also impacts your skin’s appearance).
6. You’ll beat those colds faster.
A healthy immune system is a terrible thing to waste, which is essentially what we do every time we grab drinks with our friends. Alcohol does your immune system zero favors and since January is the height of cold and flu season in most places, your body will appreciate the boost.
A 2018 study examined the benefits of Dry January, and 65% of participants reported improvement in overall health. Beyond immune system benefits, taking a month-long break from drinking can lead to healthy changes in the gut, liver, and cardiovascular system.
Want to learn more about how alcohol harms your immune system? Check out this video:
7. You’ll feel better.
Alcohol makes depression and anxiety worse. Taking a break can help you improve your mood and stress levels.
Did you know that drinking any amount of alcohol chronically (including one unit of alcohol per night or a few drinks every Friday) disrupts your Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA)?
This is the body system responsible for maintaining the physiological balance between what you do and don’t perceive as stressful. When you drink any amount of alcohol regularly, you increase the amount of cortisol that is released at baseline when you are not drinking.
Alcohol makes you more stressed. Which is ironic considering how many people drink alcohol to relax.
Taking a month-long break from alcohol can help you return your baseline stress levels to normal and become less emotionally reactive.
Plus, no more dealing with the dreaded hangxiety after a night of heavy drinking.
8. You’ll change your relationship with alcohol.
Even if you decide to resume drinking after completing Dry January, there’s a good chance you will drink less in the future.
A follow-up study to the University of Sussex research showed that six months after completing Dry January, participants drank alcohol on fewer days per week and consumed fewer units of alcohol when they did drink.
Additional Dry January Benefits
These are just a few benefits you might experience.
If you’re looking for additional motivation, visit “The Top Benefits of Quitting Alcohol (Even Temporarily)” for a more comprehensive breakdown of why ditching alcohol for a month or more is good for you.
Dry January Tips
Nothing worth doing comes easily. Such is the case with abstaining from alcohol for a month, especially if you’re a regular or semi-regular drinker.
Quitting alcohol for one month is not as simple as saying, “Well I just won’t drink.” There will be internal and external pressures on you to cave before the 31 days are over and you need a plan for managing them.
This is especially true for gray area drinkers and people who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
Because I want you to succeed and reach February 1st with an entire month of sobriety under your belt, I’m supplying you with a comprehensive list of Dry January tips to prepare for the weeks ahead.
But first, a word of caution:
If you abuse alcohol or think you might be an alcoholic, you should consult with a medical doctor before attempting Dry January (or quitting). I’ll include a quiz at the end of this article to help you determine if you’re at risk.
Quitting alcohol unsupervised can be medically dangerous for some people who suffer from alcohol use disorder. You can experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms like DTs and may require a medical detox.
This is not (and should not) deter you from getting sober and quitting alcohol. But it is to encourage you to take the risks very seriously and reach out to your doctor.
With that, on to our Dry January tips.
1. Know your “why” for completing Dry January.
You will come back to this repeatedly throughout the month. Why are you doing Dry January? Get as granular and specific as possible.
I recommend writing this information down in a journal or making a list and placing it somewhere you can see, like your refrigerator or bathroom mirror.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
“I want to do Dry January to…”
- Feel healthier
- Save money
- Be more productive
- Focus on my mental health
- Focus on my physical health
- Change my relationship with alcohol
- Spend more quality time with my kids and family
Something motivated you to take on this challenge. What was it?
Another approach you can take is to imagine who you will be on February 1st after completing 31 days of sobriety.
Who do you want to be on the other side of this month? How is she or he different from the person reading this right now?
Write it all out and put it somewhere for safekeeping. You can even set little reminders in your phone to ping you throughout the month, to remind you why you’re doing this and motivate you to keep going.
2. Identify your triggers.
The next thing you’ll want to do is take time to identify and list all of your triggers. You will be surprised by how many you have.
There are obvious things like getting an invitation to happy hour or a party where there will be lots of drinking. It’s like getting invited to a bakery when you’re off bread.
But there are subtle triggers that can derail you just as easily.
How triggers work:
Alcohol hijacks the reward system in our brains. We drink, and it gives us an artificial dopamine boost, which our brains like (at least first). This is perceived as a reward. We are hardwired to repeat behaviors that give us rewards.
One of the ways our brain does this is by registering signals and cues in anticipation of those rewards. We walk into a room and smell food cooking, which activates a memory of a delicious meal, and now our mouths are watering, and we can’t think of anything else.
We’re now giddy with anticipation for the meal. We might even do a little happy dance as it’s brought to the table.
Alcohol works the same way. What are the sounds, smells, environments, and cues that trigger the anticipation of a drink in your life?
Sometimes these are happy or “positive” things like walking into your favorite bar or showing up to a party with friends. Other times, these are negative situations like having a fight with a partner or experiencing a stressful day at work.
In both cases, we feel a strong craving to drink alcohol.
There are quirky triggers, too. Let’s say you have a habit of drinking wine while you cook. The first time you go to cook a meal without a glass of wine will feel a little triggering. Your brain will say, “Wait a minute! This is not how we usually do this.”
Maybe you like to come home after work and sit down in your favorite chair and have a beer. The minute you get home and look at your chair, your brain is going to light up in anticipation of that beer.
This is when alcohol cravings come into play.
3. Make a plan for managing cravings.
Alcohol cravings are going to happen during Dry January.
But you can prepare for them! Once you know your triggers, you can make a plan for dealing with the inevitable craving that will threaten your ability to complete Dry January successfully.
Let’s go back to the “I drink wine when I cook” scenario. If you know you’re going to crave a glass of wine when you cook, there are a few things you can do ahead of time to ensure you don’t cave.
- Remove wine from your house.
- Have a replacement drink available.
- Try cooking something new, so your attention is more focused on the cooking and less on the absence of wine.
This is a good time to experiment with options. Some people find that pouring a non-alcoholic spritzer into a wine glass scratches the itch. Other people have the opposite experience and get triggered even further.
When it comes to anticipating your cravings, you need to experiment with ways to change the habit of drinking.
Figure out what works for you.
A quick explainer on habits:
Dry January is challenging because you’re attacking a behavior on two fronts.
There’s the habitual aspect of your drinking and the compulsion to drink that comes from how alcohol reshapes our brain circuitry and neurochemistry to want to drink more.
The good news is there are things you can proactively do to tackle the habitual side of drinking.
Anticipating your cravings and triggers and actively making a plan for dealing with them is your best defense against drinking.
4. Keep yourself busy.
One of the biggest saboteurs of sobriety is boredom.
If you do not actively plan to replace your drinking activities with something else, you’ll find yourself home on the couch, bored to tears, and ready to give up.
Guess what happens to people who find themselves in this emotional space?
There are many ways to have fun without alcohol, but if your social life is usually wrapped up in drinking, it can be hard to see them.
That’s why thinking about what you’ll do instead of drinking before starting Dry January is a great idea.
Some ideas include:
- Starting a new fitness class.
- Learning a new skill (like taking a woodworking course).
- Booking tickets to a live show.
- Going to museums.
- Planning more daytime activities like going to the park or shopping with friends.
- Booking a spa day.
Put together a list of things to do that will remove you from temptation.
The first Saturday morning you wake up after successfully avoiding happy hour is the most magical “I can do anything” feeling. It is 100% worth it.
The more you reap the rewards of not drinking, the more motivation you’ll have to keep going.
5. Have a support system in place.
Dry January is really hard. Before you start, set up your sobriety support network.
It can be as simple as having a friend or family member you can reach out to in times of temptation for moral support.
Or you can join an online community, like our Soberish private Facebook group, to connect with people on a similar path as you.
Some people recognize ahead of time that their relationship with alcohol is complex, and they start counseling or decide to attend group sessions like AA or SMART Recovery. A lot of people do both.
Or you can do a more formalized program, like Annie Grace’s 100 Days of Lasting Change (affiliate link). If you’re unfamiliar with Annie Grace, she is the author of This Naked Mind, a book I highly recommend to anyone who wants to change their relationship with alcohol.
She is a brilliant mind in the sobriety space, and a trusted alternative to more traditional approaches to quitting alcohol.
During Dry January, you’ll want people to talk to who understand this experience. Take some time to join a few groups or sign up with a counselor now so you’re ready to go once January hits.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
6. Remember your “why” on difficult days.
Our Dry January tips come full circle with #6. On days you want to give up and drink, revisit your reasons for participating in Dry January.
What did you want to achieve? What motivates you to make this big change?
Spend time reconnecting with your reasons. This is especially important in the second half of the month when the initial excitement and novelty of Dry January wears off.
This happens to a lot of us, right?
We start a new year and set all these amazing goals, maybe pay for a new gym membership, excited for what’s to come. And then, boom! Reality sets in.
The new habit becomes hard, our motivation declines, and we drop our resolutions like so many good intentions before them.
Sometimes taking time to reconnect with that core motivation is enough to reignite that spark that made you want to start.
Additional Dry January Resources
I think education is one of the most important resources in sobriety, including temporary stints like Dry January.
Why not take this time to lean into understanding your relationship with alcohol?
If you want to learn more about the benefits of Dry January and tips and tools for completing the month successfully, this list of resources can help. Bookmark this page to refer back to throughout the month.
If you’re a reader, I have a list of books that helped jumpstart my own recovery, as well as a list of five recovery memoirs that helped me get through my first month of not drinking.
The recovery memoirs alone dramatically changed my perspective on drinking. Highly recommend.
Additionally, I think you’ll find a lot of benefits from these resources. I’ve grouped them according to topic.
Sobriety and Alcohol Addiction
- The Top 9 Ted Talks About Sobriety and Addiction
- Benefits of Quitting Alcohol (Even Temporarily)
- 11 Surprising Benefits of Sobriety That Will Transform Your Life
- Why Good Nutrition Matters In Sobriety
- How Exercise Can Help You Stay Sober
- 7 Alcohol Alternatives To Try During Dry January
- How To Stay Sober When Everyone Is Drinking
- Can You Quit Drinking If Your Spouse Won’t?
- How To Avoid Relapse Triggers in Early Sobriety
- Why You Don’t Have To Be An Alcoholic To Have A Drinking Problem
- The Problem With Mommy Drinking Culture
- Drowning in Alcohol Culture
- How to Manage Depression in Sobriety
- Why Giving Up Alcohol Makes Some People Feel Depressed
- Why Alcohol Makes Anxiety Symptoms Worse
Goals and Habits
- Why Some People Struggle To Achieve Their Goals
- How To Use Habit Stacking To Create Healthy Habits
- How to Replace Bad Habits With Healthy Ones
If you think you might have a drinking problem, you can also take the following Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT).
These questions are similar to what a medical professional would ask you; however, it is not a substitute for medical advice or an official diagnosis. Use this quiz as a tool to examine your drinking patterns.