person saying no to friend offering glass of whiskey

Put down that drink and give ‘Dry January’ a try

Taking a break from alcohol may be a New Year’s resolution some people plan to make.

After all, abstaining  from alcohol certainly has its health benefits and likely is why efforts like “Dry January”— starting the New Year with a month-long break from drinking alcohol – have become so popular.

According to the Nielsen Corporation, a global provider of market research and analysis into consumer behaviors, the “sober curious” movement, that includes efforts like Dry January and Sober October, got its start among millennials.

How it began

Dry January calendar

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Dry January was started in 2013 by the nonprofit charity, Alcohol Change U.K. It began to catch on in the U.S. a couple years ago.

The rules are pretty simple, you simply commit to parting ways with wine, beer and spirits for all 31 days of January. The logic behind the pledge is all about detoxing after holiday indulgences and making a resolution towards better health.

Benefits of Dry January

But does a short-term breakup with alcohol really have any measurable health benefits?

“It’s never a bad idea to cut down on alcohol,” said Jennifer Wenger, LCSW, Substance Use Services program manager of OSF Behavioral Health. “While Dry January may sound a bit gimmicky, if it propels people to evaluate their relationship with alcohol, then that’s a good thing.”

But before someone pledges to participate in Dry January, Jennifer said they should be mindful about the habit they are wanting to change.

“One of the first things to ask yourself is, ‘why?’ What is it about your current relationship with alcohol that would make you want to do this?” she said. “You need to take an honest assessment of how much you’re drinking now.”

Have a contingency plan

While it is beneficial for your health and well-being to take a break from alcohol, Jennifer warns about the need to have a contingency plan if a few days or a week into the month you fail to follow through.

“Are you setting yourself up to fail?” she said. “Or what would be worst – the following month. What’s February going to look like? Do you revert back to drinking, maybe even more?”

Finding alternatives to drinking alcohol

It’s important, Jennifer said, to find alternative things to do during the month to keep from going out for drinks or having a couple beers watching the game on TV.

Those things can be simple, like taking a brisk walk, building a snowman with your kids, taking up a new hobby or just spending quality time – an extra hour or so a day – with your spouse and kids. Here at OSF HealthCare, we came up with a list of 31 things you can do – one each day – instead of drinking.

When the month is over

Jennifer said after participating in Dry January for the first week or so, you may see you are sleeping better, have more energy and are even losing weight.

“At the end of the month, re-evaluate how abstaining from alcohol has impacted how you’re feeling – that may be motivation enough to continue on the path,” she said.

If you think, however, you have a problem, you should reach out to your primary care provider and they can get you connected to a behavioral health navigator at OSF HealthCare who can help you locate assistance in your area and see what your insurance covers.

Last Updated: December 8, 2021

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About Author: Lisa Coon

Lisa Coon is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where she has worked since August 2016.  A Peoria native, she is a graduate of Bradley University with a degree in journalism. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at several newspapers in Iowa and Illinois.

She lives in Groveland with her husband and son. In her free time she likes to cook, bake and read. She freely admits that reality TV is a weakness, and she lives by the quote, “The beach is good for the soul.”

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Categories: Mental Health