Whether you have been planning a Dry January or are just coming to the idea that a month without booze might be a good idea, the notion of giving up alcohol for New Year’s is catching on around the globe. Dry January was started in 2013 in the UK with 4,000 participants, and now more than 4 million people are participating in the pledge.
Compared to the alternative, Dry January is definitely a healthier choice, according to the CDC and a study in The Lancet, which found that alcohol, despite the purported benefits of red wine, has “no health benefits” in itself, and in fact, can increase your risk of cancer, liver disease, death, and anxiety. Alcohol is the seventh leading cause of death in adults the world over.
Is Alcohol Bad for You?
Drinking acts against all your best health efforts: It slows the immune system, robs your bones of calcium, and leads to weight gain (a recent study shows the drunk munchies are real as your mind on alcohol tricks your body into thinking it’s in starvation mode). Imbibing also puts you in other danger of accidents (since even after one drink your judgment is impaired), so going dry is a good idea no matter how much the world events may make you want to reach for the vino or vodka.
How to Go Sober for a Month
As we all make our New Year’s resolutions of every variety, and even if yours did not include going dry this month, you can start now. Taking a complete “detox” from drinking right now, for a week, two weeks, or a month or longer, will benefit your health at every level, according to doctors and addiction experts (alcohol abuse or over-imbibing is defined as drinking more than five drinks in a single day in the past 30 days).
Here are seven tips to help you crush Dry January, and go alcohol-free now, or get back on the wagon if you toppled off. (No judging here…)
1. Make a Plan
You may have planned to abstain from the booze for a whole month, but it is not always easy to stick to it. Build a plan with a list of goals –– it may be helpful to write it down somewhere as a visual reminder of your intentions. Don’t take the big leap right away, start by setting small milestones that are realistic for you.
You’re also more likely to follow smaller goals in the early stages of this resolution, according to recent research. So whether you reduce the number of drinks per week or slowly refrain from purchasing your favorite booze, try doing it in small increments to change your relationship with alcohol.
2. Develop Coping Mechanisms
Many use alcohol to cope with their stress or cultivate feelings of calmness. However, drinking only leads to positive feelings and relaxation in the short term, not the long term, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Therefore, it’s best to address the underlying issue of stress and find healthy ways to cope instead of coping with alcohol, recommends Dr. Joseph DeSanto, MD, an addiction specialist for BioCorRx.
“Meditation is a readily available and potent technique, to begin with, he says. Meditation is a part of mindfulness activities, which have been proven to ease anxiety and stress, according to research. Finding a coping mechanism like deep breathing or journaling will help you manage your stress better for both long-term and short-term well-being.
3. Avoid Triggers
For a lot of people, there are probably some environments that they associate with alcohol. It could be pregaming with drinks at a sports event or a weekly happy hour with friends. Whatever the case may be, it’s best to understand these triggering environments and how you can avoid them, says Dr. Stacy Cohen, MD, a double board-certified general and addiction psychiatrist who practices at The Moment in Los Angeles, California.
“You’re best off avoiding people, places, and things that can remind you of drinking. If you’re struggling with going booze-free for the month, perhaps have your loved ones put away the alcohol ahead of time and try not to drink around you. You can also participate in an event with someone else who agrees not to drink so you don’t feel alone,” she says.
4. Focus on Physical Activity
It’s almost the New Year, but you’re probably continuing the same routine as the year before. Shake up things a bit to move around and add more things you love to do, such as a salsa class or an outdoor sport. Joelene Knight, CADC-CAS, Board Member at Awakening Recovery and Executive Director/Co-Founder at Grace Recovery says.
“One of the best ways to fight boredom and continue to abstain from alcohol during Dry January is definitely getting physical activity as it gives your body the chance to release endorphins or “feel-good” chemicals. You can take a walk, hike, walk on a treadmill, or do an online yoga video.”
Whether you hit the gym or walk along the shores of a beach, these active changes will help you curb that urge to pour a glass of liquor and leave you feeling great.
5. Build a Support System
According to a survey conducted in 2019, one in five Americans annually participates in Dry January. Understand that you’re not alone –– there’s probably a community of friends, family members, and colleagues that are giving up alcohol this month too. It may be helpful to make your Dry January goals public so you can cultivate a network of people close to you to hold yourself accountable and on track.
There are also a lot of resources and support groups online as well, says Dr. DeSanto. “Self-help groups, while not for everyone, can help you find a safe environment to communicate with other individuals who have changed their relationship with alcohol. Finding your tribe of supportive people will help you feel less alone,” he says.
6. Find Drink Alternatives
If you find yourself usually drinking often (this means going over the limits of up to 2 drinks a day for men and up 1 drink a day for women per CDC guidelines), it’s probably time to find a replacement drink. Water is usually the best option as it keeps you well hydrated, crucial for many bodily functions.
However, if it’s hard to give up the fresh taste of your favorite drink right away, an alternative option like an alcoholic-free drink may be your best bet, says Dr. Cohen. There are so many brands out there that have mocktails so you can enjoy the fresh citrus taste of a Moscow mule or sweet champagne without the booze. Some of our favorite non-alcoholic products include Rock Grace Crystal Elixir, Gruvi’s Bubbly Rosé, Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider, and Heineken’s 0.0.
Read More: The Best Non-Alcoholic Drinks
7. Seek Professional Help
Starting the new year booze-free is amazing, but what happens after that? For a lot of people, Dry January is the time when they realize they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. In that case, it may be time to seek support from a professional to transform your alcohol habits for the better.
If you’re unsure of where to start, speak to your local healthcare provider about the treatment options available. They will be able to assess your situation and guide you to the right resources for recovery. Remember, it’s never too late to start.
If you feel like you need immediate assistance with your substance use or mental health issues –– in the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
For more expert advice, visit The Beet’s Health & Nutrition articles.