The holiday season is a time of year when many people find themselves overindulging. They eat too much food, spend too much money, buy too many gifts, stay up too late, and drink too much alcohol. In response to this, a trend called “Dry January” has emerged to encourage people to get sober for the first month of the year and thus start the year on a more positive, healthy note. For some people, this challenge goes hand in hand with making New Year’s resolutions.

What is Good About Dry January?

For some people, the Dry January trend could be very helpful:

  • Moderate and social drinkers can use this opportunity to reflect on their alcohol consumption and how it impacts their lives. They could choose to stop drinking before they become dependent on alcohol or suffer serious health issues from it.
  • Studies have found that people who drink less also tend to make other healthy decisions, like spending more time with family, exercising more, and eating better.
  • People who abstain from alcohol tend to sleep better and have improved energy levels, greater focus, lower blood pressure, lower weight, and stronger immune systems, among other health benefits. 
  • When more people decline alcohol, it makes it easier for people in recovery to turn away drinks without facing stigma for their condition. 
  • It is easier for most people to agree to get sober for a month than for a whole year or the rest of their lives. Even so, a month of sobriety might still lead to long-term changes.
  • Refraining from drinking can save people considerable money as their budget recovers from the holidays.

What is Potentially Problematic About Dry January?

On the other hand, some people have raised concerns about this month-long sobriety challenge:

  • For people who engage in problem drinking, being able to quit for a month might give them a false sense of control over their alcohol misuse, reinforcing the often-repeated cliché that they can quit any time they want. 
  • Because a lot of the people engaging in Dry January are not addicted to alcohol, their ability to quit drinking for a month could reinforce the harmful and false narrative that getting sober is not difficult and is just a matter of making good choices, using will power, having good morals, etc. For people with substance use disorder, their addiction is a disease that they cannot easily shake off, even if they want to.
  • People who suffer from alcohol use disorder could end up in the hospital or dead if they suddenly stop drinking without proper support and supervision to detox safely. Around 800 people per year die as a result of abruptly quitting alcohol without medical support. They may feel pressured to quit suddenly, despite the risks, if everyone around them is doing it and making it look easy. Anyone who is drinking multiple drinks every day should consult a doctor before they stop drinking cold turkey. Anyone who experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking could potentially benefit from supervised detox. Withdrawal symptoms include:
    • Tremors
    • Irritability or agitation
    • Anxiety
    • Hallucinations
    • Seizures

How to Successfully Participate in Dry January

If you decide you would like to take the Dry January challenge, there are steps you can take to increase your likelihood of staying sober for the entire month and possibly longer:

  • Think about what you hope to achieve by participating and focus on how alcohol avoidance is improving that aspect of your life.
  • Write down the changes you are seeing as a result of your choice not to drink. This will make it easier to stick to your plan when you are feeling tempted to indulge.
  • Have alternative beverages and activities ready to replace alcohol. It is easier to stick to your plan if you don’t feel like you are missing out on something.
  • Find a friend who is participating, and support each other.
  • Interrupt your routine. If you have a habit of going home and pouring yourself a drink or meeting friends at the bar after work, do something else instead.
  • Focus on building your coping skills. If you normally drink after a difficult day at work, following a difficult family interaction, or when you feel depressed, now is a good time to explore other ways to manage those situations.

At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we specialize in treating people who struggle with addiction. If you are concerned that you or someone you love might be struggling to control their substance use, we are here to help.