Dry January Catching On As A New Year’s Resolution

By Bryan Le 01/02/18

Staying sober for the first month of the new year is a fun health challenge that can help reduce drinking months after New Year’s Eve.

Woman's hands holding a note with new year new me text
A new you, just for the new month.

Five years ago, Steve Byrne was challenged by a friend to give up drinking for the entirety of January. He accepted, canceled all plans to booze out and instead doubled his CrossFit efforts.

“I had more energy, and I was proud of myself that I was able to set this goal and achieve it,” said Byrne, a 49-year-old a certified public accountant, who claims that he lost five pounds in the process.

He has done Dry January every year since, even going as far as adding two weeks to the dry period every year. During this period, he works off all the excess drinking and eating from the holidays. 

“I know instinctively that I need to shut it down for a while and give my body a chance to have a little cleanse,” Byrne said.

Because of its limited time period, it may be an easier New Year’s resolution to follow through on, and one that has experts all over touting its benefits. The United Kingdom has even made Dry January into a public health campaign.

“It’s not necessarily for people who think they have a problem. I want people to think of it as a fun experiment, just to see how you feel after 30 days,” said Britta Starke, director of University of North Carolina’s Hospital Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program.

She claims that a month gives the brain enough time to “feel what’s it like without alcohol in your life,” which includes better mood, sleep and weight loss, according to some of her patients. Our brains have come to expect a bit of alcohol to help us relax or enjoy ourselves.

“You’ve set up a biochemical expectation that alcohol is going to be the only way you know to relax or go to sleep,” Starke explained. “This throws a monkey wrench into it.”

Dry January does take some preparation, according to Starke. Doing it with others and planning ahead helps—like knowing what kind of social events to avoid and finding activities to replace them. Initial cravings can be stemmed with cardiovascular exercise, which helps the brain get used to not having alcohol. And beware of a sudden sweet tooth that emerges: “That’s your brain craving glucose because you’re not giving it alcohol,” she said.

Heavy drinkers should be aware that sudden abstinence from alcohol can have negative effects. “If you stop completely, you can go into a coma, have a stroke or experience withdrawal symptoms,” said Dr. Ramon Bataller, associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center.

A British study of 1,500 Dry January participants found that these challenge-takers found they were drinking less even six months later.

“The month is just a test to show yourself you’re in control and can give it up, rather than a strategy to stop drinking forever,” said Bataller. “The ultimate goal is to have a healthy alcohol intake.”

In 2018, Byrne is set to stay dry until March. While such a period of time sounds daunting, he says once he gets started it becomes easier.

“It’s hard at first, but when I get into a streak, I think, ‘I could do another month,’” he says. “But then I remember, I like to drink.”

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter