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.
Nielsen research shows that the top two reasons for abstaining from alcohol are health and weight loss. In a January 2019 survey, one-fifth of Americans said they participated in Dry January and 83% of those individuals plan to participate again in 2020.
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 Luke Raymond, LCPC, 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, Luke 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?” Luke 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, Luke 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?” he 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, Luke 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
Luke 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,” he 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.