Though it may seem like an arbitrary date to some, January is the season in our American culture for fresh starts and new resolutions. It’s the time of year that people try to leave behind bad habits and place a renewed focus on their wellbeing. This often leads people to take on challenges like “Dry January”, a resolution to stay sober from alcohol for an entire month.
The intent behind the Dry January challenge is noble. Even so, for some people, it can end up being more dangerous than maintaining a drinking habit.
What is Dry January doing to your body, and is it safe for you to attempt? We’ll go over the risks, benefits, and a healthier solution below.
Dry January Benefits
There’s no denying that cutting alcohol out of your diet has positive health benefits. Just ask Emily Robinson, the woman behind the campaign’s origin.
Back in 2011, Robinson gave up alcohol for a month while training for a February marathon. Her health improved, her training was easier, and hosts of people started asking her what it was like to go sober for 31 days. The challenge snowballed until 2013 when Alcohol Change UK launched the first official Dry January campaign.
While it started with only 4,000 people, 2020 saw over 100,000 official participants and many more who didn’t sign up on their website. It’s no surprise that so many people jumped on the temporary sobriety bandwagon. When done safely, the benefits of Dry January can include:
- Increased energy
- Better sleep
- Weight loss
- Improved mood
- Clearer skin
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Lower risk of diabetes
- Lower levels of blood proteins related to cancer
- Easier time avoiding alcohol in the future
The benefits go beyond your body, too. At a time when many of us are struggling financially, cutting out booze can save you a significant amount of money. It can also help you mend relationships that might have been damaged by your drinking.
With all of the benefits, why would anyone not want to join the challenge? Let’s take a closer look at what else can happen when you give up alcohol.
The Risks of Dry January
According to a 2018 SAMHSA study, 67.1 million Americans met the criteria for binge drinking, and 16.6 million met the heavy drinking criteria. That means that one in eight alcohol users are heavy drinkers and almost half of all alcohol users engage in binge drinking.
If you fall into either of these categories or have an average of 4-5 drinks per day, sudden sobriety could be a risky decision to make. Here are five of the biggest Dry January cons to be aware of.
- Your Social Life Could Take a Hit: If you’re used to drinking in social settings, re-learning how to spend time with your friends without alcohol makes it hard to stay motivated
- The Benefits Are Temporary: The hard-earned health improvements of abstinence will disappear if you resume your old drinking habits in February
- Enabling Denial: Successfully avoiding alcohol for a month could make you believe you don’t have a problem with drinking, even if an alcohol use disorder exists
- Starting an Abstinence-Binge Cycle: Going sober cold-turkey makes many people more likely to binge once January ends, starting a vicious abstinence-binge cycle over the long term
- Dry January Withdrawal Symptoms: If you have an average of 4-5 drinks each day, you might experience dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens
Alcohol withdrawal can make you seriously ill and in some cases can even be fatal. Long-term alcohol use physically changes your brain’s chemistry, making it dependent on the substance to function. Quitting drinking cold-turkey overstimulates the brain and can lead to life-threatening symptoms, including:
- Drastic shifts in breathing, blood pressure, circulation, and temperature
This is why it’s so important to have an honest conversation with your doctor before starting Dry January or any other sobriety challenge. They can help you evaluate whether it’s safe to quit on your own or whether it would be best to join a rehab and recovery program instead. They might also advise you to decrease your alcohol intake over time instead of all at once.
What Happens at the End of the Month?
When the end of Dry January appears, what will you do? Will you keep up your newly-formed habits, start being more conscious and moderate your intake, or slip back into your old ways overnight?
If your intent in starting this challenge was to make long-term changes, don’t try to do it alone. As we discussed earlier, it can be medically dangerous. Even if you make it through without serious withdrawal symptoms, though, you’re still more likely to succeed with the support of an accredited addiction recovery center like Healthy Life Recovery.
The licensed therapists and medical professionals at Healthy Life Recovery will design a personalized plan for your sobriety. They’ll use the pillars of exercise, nutrition, community, and education to help you make it through withdrawal and develop positive coping strategies. They can even help you find a sober living house to aid in your commitment.
Staying Sober Past Day 31
If you’re a mild social drinker giving up alcohol to focus on your health, the Dry January Challenge is a great way to kickstart your momentum. If you struggle with moderate to severe alcohol abuse or addiction, though, cutting out alcohol suddenly is a recipe for withdrawal and disaster.
Instead of trying to take on this challenge by yourself, it’s time to get involved in a recovery program that will take you well past January 31st. Healthy Life Recovery in San Diego can help you through the withdrawal phase and teach you the four pillars to everlasting sobriety. If you’re ready to make a change, reach out to us today and one of our representatives will be happy to get you started on the next steps.