What Is Dry January And What Are Its Health Benefits?

January is often considered a time for New Year’s resolutions and asking tough questions about your intention for the year ahead. And for more and more people, the first month of the year is also an opportunity to take a break from alcohol consumption. Dry January challenges participants to abstain from alcohol on all 31 days of January.

The challenge started in 2013 as a public health campaign organized by the British non-profit organization Alcohol for Change. Since that first iteration with 4,000 participants, Dry January has become part of the cultural lexicon. Nearly 10 years later, the month-long alcohol detox is practically a move, with nearly 20 percent of adults in the U.S. saying they plan to participate in 2022, per year Morning consultation poll.

After what is a period of holiday indulgence for many, Dry January can act as a reset button. According to a study 2019 from the University of Sussex, other reasons participants take up the challenge are usually to improve their health, prove they can do it, lose weight and spend less money.

Studies show that reducing alcohol consumption has proven health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, improved sleep and a reduced risk of liver disease. As for the efficacy of Dry January? Well, nutritionist Keri Gans, MS RDN CDN, explains that noticeable benefits vary by participant — and have to do with how much you drank before January. According to the CDC, one drink a day is considered moderate drinking for women and two a day for men. “People are more likely to see changes if they drank more than that amount,” Gans says.

In that sense, Dry January is an effective way to gauge the role alcohol plays in your life, which can lead to lasting behavioral change. The 2019 study from the University of Sussex found that 81 percent of Dry January participants surveyed felt more “control” of their drinking after the challenge.

While the challenge is designed to be complete abstinence from alcohol, you can adapt it to your lifestyle and needs. “No size fits all,” Gans says. For context, half of the participants surveyed by Morning Consult plan to abstain completely from alcohol, while the other half plan to reduce their use. If you are considering taking up the challenge in each form, read on to see the benefits of Dry January – and maybe be convinced why it might be right for you.

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What Are the Health Benefits of Dry January?

You may lose a few pounds.

Depending on a person’s specific drinking habits and initial weight, taking a month-long break from alcohol may cause you to lose weight or feel less bloated in general. Alcohol has liquid calories, which do not contain the same nutrients as those in food. “If people don’t replace the weekly calories consumed by alcohol with other drinks or foods, it will automatically create a deficit that will result in weight loss,” Gans says.

You can eat more mindfully.

Research shows that alcohol affects our food choices. A study of the American Journal of Health Studies shows that food cravings are “more intense” and “more frequent” when alcohol is consumed, and that people are more likely to reach for signature unhealthy foods to satisfy those cravings. Essentially, Gans says, drinking can influence people to be “less controlled” in their eating. Having alcohol out of your system for an extended period of time can lead to you making more conscious food choices and developing healthier eating habits.

You sleep better.

As you may already know, alcohol often has a calming effect. “It can help someone fall asleep faster,” says Gans. But the quality of that sleep, says Gans, is not optimal. Gans explains that the sedative effects of alcohol can diminish and even lead to a more restless night. In addition, Gans asks us to think about the effects of: not staying up for “one more beer”. Less alcohol consumption can simply mean going home earlier and getting more sleep.

You save money.

In addition to health benefits, Dry January often has a tax advantage. Maybe you spend less on the weekly groceries. Or maybe you’ll skip those $15 cocktails. Anyway, that money is right. Your wallet will thank you.

You will drink more water.

In addition to rethinking one dietary habit, Dry January offers a great opportunity to: to build another: drink more water. If you’re someone who usually drinks a glass of wine or beer with dinner, Gans recommends replacing that drink with a cool glass of H20. Water has numerous documented benefits, from reducing bloating to smoother skin. “Every cell in our body needs water to perform at its best,” Gans says.

Your skin will look positively radiant.

Dry January may just be the secret ingredient missing from your skincare closet. Alcohol can have an effect on your overall appearance, especially your skin. The biggest problem? Being a diuretic, or a substance that rids your body of water, alcohol can lead to dehydration and in turn lead to a loss of skin elasticity and enlarged pores. Alcohol can also lead to skin inflammation, causing a red and swollen complexion. In essence, you might look more foolish by the end of the month.

You may feel motivated to take on new challenges.

During Dry January, you may be replacing alcohol with energy—a huge amount. The University of Sussex measured that 67 percent of Dry January participants had more energy than before. This can manifest in physical activity: Gans says you may have the resources to exercise in the morning or evening. Alcohol can cause drowsiness, so cutting back can lead to morning alertness. You won’t drink that much during Dry January, but imagine what else you can do.

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