Dry January 2022: Positive & Healthy Approach? Or Waste of Time?

Written by Gerard Bullen

Editor: Editorial Team

Medically Reviewer: Editorial Team

Last updated: March 12, 2022

What is “Dry January” & Why Is It So Popular?

“Dry January” is a month of self-enforced complete abstinence from drinking any alcohol whatsoever.

The idea was launched a decade ago by the British charity Alcohol Change UK. As part of a public health campaign at the time, they recommended that people:

“Ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline, and save some serious money by giving up alcohol for 31 days.”

Back in 2013, the very first Dry January had 4,000 registered participants. Last year, in 2021, over 130,000 signed up to take part on the Alcohol Change UK’s official website page.

Obviously, many hundreds of thousands more, even millions, in many countries across the world’s continents, also embark on their own “unofficial” Dry January.

Check out the Alcohol Change UK website today, and you’ll see that their Dry January page now proudly proclaims:

Dry January is the UK’s one-month alcohol-free challenge.

It isn’t about giving anything up. It’s about getting something back.

Get your fun back. Get your energy back. Get your calm back.

Get your YOU back.

Dry January New Years Resolution

Every year, people all over the world – across mainland Europe, in the United Kingdom, down in Australia and New Zealand, in Canada, and right here in the United States embark on a personal venture which closely resembles a New Year’s resolution – Dry January.”

It’s called Dry January because it’s a commitment to be 100% dry – as in, strictly no alcohol.

Additionally, it’s not quite a full resolution because, as the name implies, it only lasts a single, solitary month – the 31 days of January, and no more.

Come February 1st, 2002, the participants of this year’s Dry January are then free to lever off their beer bottle tops and uncork their wine.

So, is participating in Dry January a positive and healthy thing to do, and a great way to start the New Year?

Or, on the other hand, is it just a complete waste of time – for all the good it may do you?

Read on… you’ll be surprised.

The Easier New Year’s “Resolution”

Motivating complete strangers online to do something they may not particularly want to give up – one of their perceived pleasures in life – gets a lot more traction in our digital world if: 

  • They know it’s only temporary, and
  • There’s a level of social “kudos” to the idea, i.e. more “Likes” on social media among their peers.
  • Dry January presented people with an actually achievable alternative to the typical New Year’s resolution; however, this time it was something that they wouldn’t need to do constantly, let alone forever – like resolutions such as losing weight, giving up smoking, or exercise more regularly.

    The vast majority of people are not addicted to alcohol, even though many may drink more than the recommended limits, and finishing Dry January successfully was definitely possible.

    The icing on the cake came February 1st., they could even celebrate with exactly the same thing they had denied themselves for the previous 31 days – an ice-cold beer, a glass of red wine, or a shot of liquor.

    And then they could have another – with absolutely no sense of feeling guilty.

    Once the concept of Dry January had successfully crossed the Atlantic, thousands in the U.S. jumped on the bandwagon, and now millions take part every year. 

    If you check your Instagram, you’ll even see that Dry January’s message has now become “#soberissexy.”

    Alcohol UK’s New Campaign: Sober Spring

    Following on from the clear success of Dry January, and begun in 2019, Alcohol UK has now launched “Sober Spring” – described as “a three-month alcohol-sabbatical, running from 20 March to 20 June.”

    During the 3 months, those who sign up receive weekly motivational emails with inspiration and advice from a range of sober influencers and experts. Its success, however, does seem somewhat limited to the data available.

    Dry January 2022

    Alcohol UK’s Try Dry App

    Additionally, the charitable organization has also launched its “Try Dry” mobile app. The app allows users to:

    • Track your units, calories, and money saved when you cut down or cut out alcohol
    • Understand your drinking pattern and track your progress by using the ‘My charts’ feature to see how much money you spend, units you drink, and calories you consume over a time period
    • Use the health quiz to check up on your drinking
    • Keep track of your current and best ever dry streaks
    • The app can be used for Dry January, Sober Spring, or for any other period of time

    You can download the Try Dry app for Android here

    or 

    You can download the Try Dry app for Apple here

    Dry January & Alcohol Use Disorder

    They are those, of course, who would never even bother to attempt not drinking for one day, let alone a whole month. These are the people who regularly abuse alcohol, and are close to being full-blown alcoholics – sadly, some already are.

    Professional alcohol addiction treatment would be far more beneficial to these people than trying to control their drinking on their own.

    In fact, if their excessive alcohol consumption has been a long-term issue, simply stopping their alcohol use without medical supervision could even prove fatal, as severe symptoms such as delirium tremens can result in seizures and coma.

     

    “First, you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, famous U.S. author

     

    Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic on American shores, nearly 2 years ago now, its far-reaching and wide-ranging effects continue to impact the lives of us all in some way. The Pandemic-Driven Increase in Alcohol Consumption

    Many scientific research analysts who are currently sifting through millions of pieces of pandemic-related data – on our nation’s health, on the economy, on our communities, on the medical nature of “Long Covid” and so on, and so on – probably have enough work in their in-tray to last a lifetime.

    However, one thing that quickly became apparent in the early months of this “new normal” was the coronavirus’s clearly negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing.

    The Household Pulse Survey, carried out regularly by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), provides a snapshot of the changes in mental health across the nation and has been in use since the pandemic began.

    The data is collected by a 20-minute online survey, part of an initiative by the federal government to respond rapidly, and provide relevant information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.

    One part of the survey is focused on issues such as anxiety and depression.

    During the first year of the pandemic (and seen to a lesser extent as the pandemic has gone on), mental health in the U.S. decreased significantly.

    One KFF report – “The Implications of COVID-19 on Mental Health & Substance Use” – found that:

    • 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely consistent, up from 1 in 10 adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019
    • A KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 also found that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as:
      • Difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%)
      • Increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and 
      • Worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus

    Mental Health Worsening

    Worsening Mental Health & Rising Alcohol Sales

    With all the social and economic knock-on effects of the pandemic, higher rates of 

    anxiety, stress, and even depression – as seen from the Household Pulse Survey data – have definitely contributed to record alcohol sales in the U.S. during this time.

    In fact, in some U.S. states, reports of an 800%-plus increase in online alcohol sales were certainly not uncommon.

    As Dr. James C. Garbutt, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, recently stated, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in “stress for nearly everyone, and many folks have increased their alcohol consumption. Trying a period of sobriety such as Dry January can be very positive.”

    The Dangers of “Self-Medicating” Mental Health Disorders with Alcohol

    In the last year or so, everybody who drinks alcohol regularly will probably have been drinking more than they usually do. Many people do this to “self-medicate” their anxiety, stress, depression, and other mental health symptoms.

    However, as alcohol is actually a depressant, this type of increased alcohol consumption will always do more harm than good for personal mental wellbeing in the long term.

    increased drinking

    Increased Alcohol Consumption = Increased Liver-Related Deaths

    The clear consequences of this huge increase in alcohol consumption, particularly for women, are highly alarming, given the national scale of this increase.

    According to the CDC, alcohol increases the risk of various cancers: cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast cancer among women.

    Additionally, women who consume more alcohol are also more vulnerable to brain and heart damage, and their risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher, too.

    In new research published in the “Hepatology” journal, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators found that excessive drinking, such as binge drinking, increased nationally by around 21% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The hospital investigators then simulated the drinking trajectories and liver disease trends in all U.S. adults. They estimated:

    • COVID-19-related increases in alcohol consumption are expected to cause around 100 additional deaths and 2,800 additional cases of liver failure by 2023
    • A one-year increase in alcohol consumption will result in:
      • 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease
      • 18,700 cases of liver failure, and
      • 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040

    Lastly, increased alcohol consumption for more than one year could result in 19-35% additional mortality.

    Living Sober for One Month: Does It Do Any Good?

    So, the question remaining is this: What are the real health benefits of Dry January, a month of strictly “No Drinking Alcohol”?

    Firstly, however, what does the science say…?

    Does Dry January Work

    Does Dry January Work? The Science Says “Yes”

    One British Medical Journal study, entitled “Short-term Abstinence from Alcohol […],” found that those people who drink alcohol regularly and who abstained from alcohol for 1 month were found to have a “rapid decrease” in certain chemical messengers in the blood that are associated with the progression of cancer. 

    Additionally, those who took part saw tangible improvements in their insulin resistance, their weight, and blood pressure.

    Another study, carried out by the University of Sussex and led by psychologist Dr. Richard de Visser, analyzed data from over 800 people who took part in Dry January in 2018. The study found that: 

    • Around three-quarters of people (71%, to be precise) reported that they slept better
    • 67% of participants had more energy
    • 58% actually lost weight, and
    • 54% reported better skin, with a healthier complexion

    Dr de Visser stated, “The simple act of taking a month off alcohol helps people drink less in the long term: by August, people are reporting one extra dry day per week. There are also considerable immediate benefits: nine in ten people save money, seven in ten sleep better and three in five lose weight.”

    Furthermore, he said, “Interestingly, these changes in alcohol consumption have also been seen in the participants who didn’t manage to stay alcohol-free for the whole month – although they are a bit smaller. This shows that there are real benefits to just trying to complete Dry January.”

    Further findings from the study found:

    • 93% of participants had a sense of achievement
    • 88% saved money
    • 82% think more deeply about their relationship with drink
    • 80% feel more in control of their drinking
    • 76% learned more about when and why they drink
    • 71% realized they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves

    So according to the medical scientists, researchers, and analysts who have studied the available data from Dry January, being completely 100% sober for 31 days can literally do wonders for your personal wellbeing.

    And, if you’re wondering what the real difference just one single, solitary month could make in terms of physical and mental health benefits and improvements, you need to continue reading…

    Dry January Benefits

    The Real (& Realistic) Benefits of Participating in Dry January

     


    Health Benefit


    Explanation


    1. Improvement in General Health


    Excessive alcohol consumption, like binge drinking, for example, has a number of significant and negative health effects, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, impaired sleep, and an increase in risk for breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and liver problems.

    Dry January improves all of these current levels and risks – to varying degrees.


    2. Experience Being 100% Sober (Again)


    For many people, Dry January is a chance to remember what a life without alcohol was like, as it gives them the opportunity to be 100% sober for an extended period.

    Dr, James Garbut further stated it’s a way for people to “sample sobriety” once again – without being completely and utterly overwhelmed by the idea of never drinking again:

    Sometimes, within four weeks people will say, I’m sleeping better, and I feel less irritable and less anxious. I like this; maybe I’ll just keep this going for a while longer.”


    3. Better Sleep,

    More Energy


    Now that you’re not staying out late, missing sleep, and waking up with the occasional hangover from hell, your sleep patterns become more optimized.

    Better sleep means you’re better rested, and better-rested means you’ll have noticeably more energy.

    Regardless, your diet will undoubtedly improve, and with better sleep, that means you’ll be more motivated, more focused, and more productive for everyday life – including work and getting regular exercise.


    4. Improvement in Immune System


    Drinking too much alcohol will weaken your immune system, and therefore, your body’s ability to fight off infection – not exactly advisable during a viral pandemic. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA), just one night of binge drinking, for example, can even impede your ability to fight off infections for up to 24 hours later.

    However, the positive effects of being abstinent from alcohol we mentioned earlier – eating healthily, enjoying better sleep, and getting regular exercise – are habits that will definitely improve the health of your immune system.


    5. Healthy Weight 

    Loss


    Cutting alcohol out of your calorie intake can certainly help you to lose weight if that’s what you are looking to do


    6. Unbiased Self-Evaluation


    Once Dry January is over (and you have completed your 31 days without cheating), do a self-check-in and see what the noticeable differences are:

    Do you feel better? Healthier? Happier? Feel less stressed? And have you slept well and exercised, too?

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    SpringBoard Recovery’s Alcohol Rehab

    If your alcohol use is negatively affecting your family, your work, your finances, and/or your relationships, you’re probably already dependent on alcohol and need help getting sober.

    Getting and staying sober is very challenging, but with the right support network and tools, it’s completely attainable.

    Contact SpringBoard Recovery today to learn about our acclaimed intensive outpatient alcohol treatment program.

    External Sources:

  • Alcohol Change UK. Dry January. 2022. Available at AlcoholChange.org.uk.
  • Alcohol Change UK. Homepage. 2022. Available at AlcoholChange.org.uk.
  • Instagram. #soberissexy. 2022. Available at Instagram.com.
  • Alcohol Change UK. Sober Spring. 2022. Available at AlcoholChange.org.uk.
  • Alcohol Change UK. Try Dry – the Dry January app. 2022. Available at AlcoholChange.org.uk.
  • Google Play Store. Try Dry app. 2022. Available at Play.Google.com.
  • Apple Store. Try Dry app. 2022. Available at Apps.Apple.com.
  • National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Household Pulse Survey. 2022. Available at CDC.gov.
  • Kaiser Family Foundation. The Implications of COVID-19 on Mental Health & Substance Use. December 2021. Available at KFF.org.
  • Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF Health Tracking Poll. December 2021. Available at KFF.org.
  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Excessive Alcohol Use is a Risk to Women’s Health. October 2020. Available at CDC.gov.
  • American Association of the Study of Liver Diseases. Effect of Increased Alcohol Consumption during COVID-19 Pandemic on Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease. December 2021. Available at AASLDPubs.OnlineLibrary.Wiley.com.
  • British Medical Journal. Short-term Abstinence from Alcohol. May 2018. Available at BMJ.com.
  • University of Sussex. How ‘Dry January’ is the Secret to Better Sleep, Saving Money, and Losing Weight. January 2019. Available at Sussex.AC.uk.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. 2022. Available at NIAAA:NIH.gov.

  • Author: Gerard Bullen
    January 3, 2022

    Gerard has been writing exclusively for the U.S. substance addiction treatment industry for many years, providing a range of medically-reviewed work, including white papers, long-form, and short-form content articles, and blog posts for accredited addiction treatment centers. A member of the American Medical Writers Association, Gerard’s specific focus is substance addiction (an area that has impacted Gerard’s personal life in several ways), and he is particularly drawn to the topics of professional, evidence-based treatment, new and alternative therapies, and enabling readers to find their own sustainable, long-term recovery. Gerard lives and works in Maryland, U.S., he’s happily married, and a proud father. His interests include hiking with the family, reading fiction (from the classics to virtually all of the current NYT bestseller list), American and British film classics, and his beloved dogs, Toby and Coco, both rescued from the local pound.

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