I Made It Through Dry January & Loved It — But I Wouldn't Do It Again
Feb 01, 2020
The "Dry January" bandwagon is hardly new. People hop aboard every year, eyes glittering with optimistic visions of a healthier, happier self after 31 booze-free days.
That being said, if Instagram is any indicator, there did seem to be a dramatic spike in participants this year. It felt like on New Year's Day, I saw way more posts than usual announcing an alcohol-free month ahead.
A little further digging confirmed that hunch to be true — in fact, a recent survey reported that 1 in 5 Americans had plans to complete a Dry January this year, and another 21% said they thought Dry January was a good idea, but they wouldn't be participating.
Why do people choose to take part in Dry January?
Any abstinence from alcohol, temporary or not, might once have been cause for stigmatized suspicion. If it were 2001 and you announced that you were taking a month off from drinking, you could expect whispers about your perceived "problem."
Thankfully, due in part to an influx of vocal sober influencers like Austin Cooper at Sober Evolution and Holly Whitaker at Hip Sobriety, people are starting to realize that you can opt not to drink even if you don't have a "drinking problem."
Maybe you want to give your body a few weeks to reset after an indulgent holiday season. Maybe you're hoping to see some physical benefits by cutting out booze. Maybe you just want to prove to yourself that you have the willpower not to indulge in alcohol for 30 days if you so choose.
Whatever your motivation may be, according to a 2018 research study led by Dr. Richard de Visser at the University of Sussex, out of a pool of 800 Dry January participants:
- 88% saved money over the course of the month
- 80% feel more in control of their drinking
- 76% learned more about when and why they drink
- 71% slept better
- 67% had more energy throughout the day
- 57% experienced increased focus / concentration
- 58% lost weight
- 54% saw improvements in their skin / complexion
Beyond that, when University of Sussex researchers checked back in with participants in August of the same year, they found that:
- The number of drinking days per individual per week decreased from an average of 4.3 days a week to 3.3 days a week
- The average frequency of getting drunk per month per individual dropped from 3.4 times a month to 2.1 times a month
And according to Dr. de Visser, these benefits weren't limited to people who made it to January 31 without a single drink.
"Interestingly, these changes in alcohol consumption have also been seen in the participants who didn’t manage to stay alcohol-free for the whole month, although they are a bit smaller," he wrote. "This shows that there are real benefits to just trying to complete Dry January."
That's a lot of potential benefits to hope for when considering embarking on a month of sobriety to kick off the New Year. But let's talk about the potential cons.
What are the potential downsides of participating in Dry January?
It's not like there are any health issues associated specifically with abstaining from alcohol — on the contrary, as the aforementioned Holly Whitaker put it, "If the effects of not drinking were available in a pill, it would be the best selling drug in history."
But if you're not a person who is considering cutting out alcohol altogether anytime soon, then it's questionable how much a Dry January will positively impact you in the long run.
As physician Dr. Christian Jessen put it, "Most people are giving up alcohol in January just so they can go back to boozing with a vengeance in February. In all likelihood, they’ll end up drinking more, not less — despite the month’s break."
Dr. Jessen explained that from a medical standpoint, it's actually better for your liver to have a consistent 2-3 days a week without alcohol year round, rather than a full month off of alcohol completely.
"The liver is fabulous at regenerating itself. It metabolises alcohol efficiently at a unit per hour. But to work properly it needs regular days off," he wrote. "If you can drink moderately only three or four days a week, you’ll be setting the foundations for a truly healthy [year]."
Not to mention, Dry January is basically sandwiched by two of the biggest drinking days of the year: New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday. So, if you're drinking copious amounts the day before and the day immediately following your challenge, you're basically negating all the hard work you just put yourself through... Don't you think?
On the left, Work For Your Beer co-founder Mel Fox enjoying a beer; on the right, co-founder Alicia Valenski trying to sneak a taste of it. (Photo: Lunahzon Photography)
My Dry January Experience: The Benefits of Not Drinking For A Month
As someone who owns a company called "Work For Your Beer" and spends the majority of her time at breweries, I was a little nervous heading into this Dry January challenge. But for me, it turned out to be fairly painless.
As soon as I made the decision to abstain from alcohol for the month, it was like a switch flipped in my brain, and I stopped thinking about booze and started thinking about other stuff.
It was surprisingly fun to focus on all of the things that I could consume rather than the things I couldn't. I concentrated finding fun mocktail recipes, going out and getting the materials for them, concocting them, tasting them, and rating them against one another. I researched alcohol-free packaged options like NA craft beer and booze-free cocktails and put them to the test. I spent more time in the kitchen cooking rather than in front of the TV drinking beer.
It also helped that while I "took away" the habit of drinking booze for the month, I added in a daily yoga practice. So instead of wasting time thinking about the one activity I couldn't do, I focused on having a healthy and fun activity I did need to do as part of my 30-day yoga challenge.
As previous studies led me to expect, I did lose weight — although of course, that could be partially thanks to the yoga challenge I just mentioned. Either way, I lost 8 pounds from January 1 to February 1.
I also got better sleep. Not only could I fall asleep more easily, but I stayed asleep throughout the night rather than my typical tossing and turning, and I actually woke up feeling refreshed rather than groggy and miserable (a big accomplishment for me, as a grumpy non-morning person).
While I typically don't have issues with focus or concentration, I do usually struggle with anxiety, especially the day after drinking — and during my Dry January, I found my anxiety levels to be much lower than usual, and I didn't have a single panic attack the entire month. Doesn't sound like a big deal to most people, but for me, that was big.
And yes (sorry, Mom!) I had better sex. I'm not going to get into details here but just from a purely scientific perspective, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and it dehydrates the body, both of which are factors that can inhibit arousal and orgasms. Science. We're talking about science. I'm not being weird. You're being weird. Stop being weird.
My Dry January Experience: The Not-So-Great Parts of Not Drinking For A Month
Overall, I'd say my Dry January experience was pretty positive, but there were two components that sort of sucked.
Some bartenders seemed annoyed when I asked for an NA option. In fairness, I'm lucky enough that a friend of mine made me a guide to the best booze-free options in Richmond, so for the most part I could just plan to go to the places that offered mocktails and avoid any issue. But there were a few times that I showed up at bars and asked the bartender for something non-alcoholic and they acted like I was a nuisance before giving me a cranberry juice or a club soda.
FOMO became a struggle when I had to pass on booze-based activities. Again, I'm lucky that this didn't apply to the vast majority of my friends — most of them seemed to enjoy coming up with AF activities to do together, like pottery classes and coffee dates. But I missed out on a wine tasting night with a sommelier at my co-working space, tropical cocktails while at a tiki bar with my imbibing friends on a girl's weekend in DC, a beer share among my friend group, etc. Not the end of the world, but just felt kind of sad to be excluded from events I'd usually enjoy in moderation.
I Made It Through Dry January & Loved It — But I Wouldn't Do It Again
For me, since beer is my job, having a drink or two each day (even over a business lunch or during a meeting with a client) is relatively normal. And as an anxious person with OCD tendencies, it's been easy for me to slip into a black hole of intrusive thoughts like, "What if I never drank again? Would I still be able to do my job? Would I still have friends? Or do I have to drink forever? What if I have a drinking problem and I don't even know it? What if I think I can stop but I actually can't?" (My brain sounds fun to live inside, right?)
But like I said, as soon as I made an active decision to do a Dry January, it was easy. I didn't struggle with the desire to drink — even when I was home alone, and it would have been easy to sneak a sip without anyone ever knowing, I just didn't have the urge to indulge. There were so many other options, it was just never an issue.
Were there times I wanted a drink? Sure, but more out of habit than anything. A glass of wine with dinner, or grabbing a beer with a potential client — those are parts of my normal routine. My reflex was to crack open a beer to enjoy during game night, but it wasn't hard not to do that. Overriding those habits wasn't difficult at all.
One of the best parts of completing this challenge was confirming that I can trust myself to follow through on a commitment like this. And knowing that I have the willpower and restraint to cut alcohol out of my life if I ever want to do so feels good, too.
I think that a Dry January is something everyone should try once, just to know that they can do it. But for me, I don't ever plan to do one again.
That's the whole Work For Your Beer mentality with everything else, so I'm not surprised that I don't feel any differently about alcohol consumption: it's all about finding balance. And not the balance that someone else tells you is right or cool. The balance that works for YOU. Your body, your needs, your lifestyle.
Maybe that's a sober curious lifestyle. Maybe it's total sobriety. Maybe you drink casually.
For me personally, I'd rather drink in moderation, sticking to at least 2-3 dry nights per week all year long to protect my liver and keep my relationship with alcohol on the healthier side. But it's nice to know that I tried the alternative method and made it through, and that if I ever wanted to cut out drinking entirely, I could make it work without too much of a struggle personally or professionally.
Tell Us About Your Dry January Experience!
Have you tried a Dry January? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Tell us in the comments, or tag us at @workforyourbeer to share your story!
Looking for non-alcoholic drink options and fun sober acitivites to enjoy during your Dry January? Click here!