Healthy Body

Doing Dry January? Here Are 11 Things You Should Know Before Starting

Erin Bunch

Photo: Getty Images

The concept of Dry January (aka, abstaining from alcohol for the month) seems almost quaint right now—we’ve been deprived of so much for so many months, why would we need to force deprivation of anything further, especially if it’s “helping” us cope? But there are compelling reasons for maintaining (or joining) the tradition, even at the peak of a pandemic. “When giving up alcohol, even just for one month, people tend to experience a variety of benefits including clearer skin, better sleep, improved digestion, and financial savings,” says Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month.

Few people have maintained the same rate of drinking they were at prior to the pandemic, and Dry January provides an opportunity to level-set as we enter a new (and hopefully better) year, says Sheinbaum. Besides, alcohol isn’t actually doing you any favors in terms of curing your anxiety, depression, stress or boredom (more on that below), and a booze fast can help you identify healthier coping mechanisms to lean on throughout the rest of the pandemic and beyond. So if you’re planning to embark on a dry month, here are 11 things to know before you get started.

11 Dry January tips you should know before banning booze this month

1. Your overall health will actually improve significantly

While optimal health is always desirable, one could certainly argue that it’s more important now than ever; if you do get sick, you want to give your body the best chance it can get at fighting back, and Dry January can help you to do just that. Even a month-long alcohol fast has been shown to improve sleep, reduce cholesterol, lower glucose levels and blood pressure, facilitate weight loss, and reduce liver fat by an astounding 40 percent—and that’s in moderate drinkers, too. Dry January has also been associated with positive behavioral changes around drinking (aka, drinking less), and has not been shown to result in “rebound drinking,” or drinking more in February to compensate for January’s sobriety.

2. Your mood will improve, too

Alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re looking to improve your mood, drinking is not going to do it, says Sheinbaum. And given that the pandemic has created or exacerbated mental health issues for many, now is a very good time to take a break from the bottle—even when it feels counterintuitive to do so, since some people utilize alcohol as a coping mechanism. “Passing on alcohol for a month has a profound effect on your overall wellbeing,” says holistic nutritionist Kristin Dahl, founder of Dahl House Nutrition. “Your moods stabilize, you have more energy, and your mindset is more optimistic. This can offer more clarity and motivation to work on your longer-term life goals.”

3. You’ll get more accomplished

And speaking of those longer-term life goals, Sheinbaum notes that giving up booze can help you to be more productive, too. “There was a UK survey done a couple of years ago that uncovered that the average adult spends two years of their life hungover,” she says. “That’s two years of time you could be spending doing whatever it is that makes you happy and fills you with joy. When you cut out alcohol, you’re automatically freeing up those days, nights, and mornings when you’re not productive because you’re nursing a hangover.”

4. Enlisting a sober buddy will help keep you motivated

To improve your chances of staying the sober course, Sheinbaum recommends enlisting someone close to you to take on the Dry January challenge, too. “By doing so, not only will you have somebody you can plan activities with that don’t involve alcohol, but you can also rely on each other if you need to vent, and celebrate each other’s wins,” she says. And if you really want to dial up the incentives, she suggests throwing a wager into the mix. “I actually made a Dry January bet with a friend [one year] and it kept us both motivated,” she says. 

5. Eliminating temptation within your home is mission critical

If you have alcohol in the house, you’re more likely to “fail” at Dry January than you are if you actually have to go out and procure it, says Sheinbaum—especially since you’re likely spending more time at home now than you might have been in years prior. “Every time you pass your bar cart or open your refrigerator and there are cans of beer or bottles of wine, it’s an automatic reminder and a temptation,” she says. To remedy this, she suggests either hiding your booze in a spot that’s out of your daily sightline, letting a friend babysit it for the month or, if money is no object and/or you think you might want to continue sobriety beyond January, disposing of it altogether. 

6. Mocktails might help to quench your thirst

If you really love the taste of wine, beer, or a craft cocktail, it can be easy to fall prey to cravings; however, Sheinbaum points out that these days, there are many nonalcoholic options that can satisfy your thirst for a specific type of boozy beverage. “I think dry January is like the perfect time to explore [nonalcoholic beverages],” she says. “If you’re doing a happy hour with friends and everybody else is still having alcohol, you can enjoy the same taste without a buzz and without the hangover the next day.” Not familiar with the mocktail market? Check out brands like Seedlip, Kin Euphorics, Curious Elixirs, Lyre’s, and more.

7. Replacing your version of happy hour with another mood-boosting activity can kill cravings, too

One of the best ways to rid yourself of an unhealthy habit is to replace it with a healthy one, which is exactly what Sheinbaum recommends that you do with your nightly drink(s). “For example, if you’re used to having a glass of wine every night at five o’clock, replace that with something you know is going to boost your mood—perhaps it’s a workout or meditation or a new project or learning how to cook or knit, etc,” she says. After all, some of us do have more time on our hands than we did before, she notes, and drinking is not necessarily the best use of it. “All of these hours add up,” she says. “You can be pursuing things that really inspire you.”

8. Journaling through January might be motivational

It can also be helpful, says Sheinbaum, to track your progress over the course of the month. “Keep a journal [to record] things as simple as how you’re feeling, how much sleep you’re getting, what your skin looks like, how much money you’ve saved,” she says. “It can be really motivating to see that progress as the month goes on, and when you compare February 1 to December 31, I think you’ll see a stark difference in at least one category.”

9. You don’t have to commit to being a shut-in

In a year when we’ve sacrificed so much socializing, it’s difficult to imagine nixing what little mingling we’re still able to do—a backyard, or a socially-distanced happy hour, for example—for any reason, but Sheinbaum says that some people find it difficult to socialize without the booze. If you’re among them, her advice is not to isolate, but rather to try and maintain the same social calendar you had prior to Dry January. One way to set yourself up for success in this booze-free socializing is to be the one making the plans for your pod (if you have one). “Take the reins,” she says. “For example, if you are typically invited to meet for cocktails with your next door neighbor every day at 5 p.m., instead suggest going for a hike or watching a movie.” This approach has the added bonus of ensuring you’re only participating in activities that bring you joy, she adds.

And if you’re dating, especially in the pandemic, it can feel like alcohol is nonnegotiable; after all, in some parts of the U.S., there aren’t all that many sober activities available right now. Still, Sheinbaum says she’s found that non-drinking dates tend to end up being more creative and memorable. Plus, they offer an opportunity to form a more meaningful connection early on.

10. You shouldn’t give up if you slip up

Even if you’ve accomplished Dry January before, you may find this year to be particularly difficult, and if you fall off the wagon at some point, Sheinbaum says not to despair. “You can certainly just start over the next day and continue along your path,” she says. “I wouldn’t let one drink deter you.”

Besides, she says, there may be things to toast to in January—an engagement, a marriage, a promotion, etc. “If you want to celebrate with one night of drinking, that’s fine,” she says. “The goal is always to complete the month one hundred percent sober, but if it’s not happening, don’t beat yourself up over it.”

With that said, if you’re feeling like you *just need one drink* because you’re stressed or down, she recommends trying other activities instead. “Maybe it’s going for a run to release endorphins, or talking to a friend to vent about a hard day—whatever is going to work for you,” says Sheinbaum.

You also don’t have to commit to the entire month, if that feels daunting. “You’ve got to do what’s going to motivate you and get you to the finish line successfully,” Sheinbaum says. “If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of 31 days without alcohol, start small by doing just a weekend or a week or two weeks—have a deadline in mind and go from there.” She adds that some people prefer trying Dry February instead of Dry January, simply because the month is slightly shorter.

11. Dry January is not for those looking to recover from addiction

If you think you have a drinking problem or addiction, Sheinbaum emphasizes that Dry January is not the solution for you. “I would not recommend Dry January as a method of recovery,” she says. “If you’re a heavy drinker, I would urge you to seek professional help.”

Short of that caveat, however, just about anybody can benefit from trying a sober month, explains Sheinbaum—even those who only drink once or so a week. “It’s for any and everyone who is looking to take on a 30-day challenge or resolution to reset and start their year on the right foot,” she says.


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