7 Ways to Prepare For An Alcohol Free January

By Neville Elder 12/02/15

After the party season and booze-fueled family gatherings, it’s easy to let drinking become a pattern. A ‘dry January' can break that routine. 

How to do a 'Dry January'

Every year, Andrew—a 46 year old photographer who lives in London—spends the month of January teetotal. “I love the whole Christmas Hooray! Drinking!” said Andrew. “But by New Year’s Day, you’re sick of the stuff.”

Andrew was never a problem drinker, but he needed a break. “I didn’t know if I could do it,” he said, “but I like doing things out of the ordinary. I put it out there that I was having a ‘dry January.’ And now everyone knows that I do it; I do it to the point that some friends won’t go out with me – they say, 'I’ll meet you on February 2nd!'”

After the party season and booze-fueled family gatherings, it’s easy to let drinking become a pattern. A "dry January" can break that routine. Two recent studies by the Royal Free Hospital in London, revealed that just a month off the booze can begin to reverse the effects of liver damage, decrease the chances of heart disease and cancer and alleviate the risk of type 2 diabetes.

In the study, 102 relatively healthy forty-something men and women, abstained from alcohol for 31 days in January. In completed questionnaires about their drinking habits, it was revealed that women were drinking double the UK government’s recommended guidelines of 29 units of alcohol a week and the men were drinking approximately 10 units over the top of the same recommendations.

The participants were given liver scans and blood tests at the beginning and end of the four-week period and—as reported in the Daily Mail—Professor Kevin Moore, the study's author, said that at the end of four weeks: “There was a 40% reduction in liver fat, they (the participants) lost about three kilograms (about six and a half pounds), and their cholesterol levels improved.”

Alcohol Concern, a charity that raises awareness of alcohol abuse in the UK, runs an annual campaign called “Dry January.” Not only can you feel good about yourself and reap benefits to your health by abstaining for a month, you can donate the money you saved by not drinking to the charity. Tom Smith from Alcohol Concern told The Fix:

“If this were a pill,” said Tom of the Dry January campaign, “it would be worth millions. Not many campaigns work, you can raise awareness, but you can’t change behaviors.”

But the Dry January campaign seems to be an exception. Making a public statement of signing up with thousands of other people means you’re putting it out there, so you’ll have a reason not to jump off the wagon. Fifty thousand people took part in the UK in 2015. And it’s not just about the health benefits and a little extra money at the end of the month. “Relationships get better,” said Tom, “I’ve read several posts on our Facebook page that say Dry January saved people’s marriages.” It’s so effective, 8% of participants carry on not drinking after January and two-thirds of people who take part say they are drinking less, six months later.

So what does a month without booze look like? “The first couple of days are the worst,” said Andrew, “because you’ve got a hangover from New Year’s Eve and need the hair of the dog, but once you’re up and running you’re fine.”

Forgoing a drink at the end of the day is difficult when you’re back at work in a gloomy January. And those patterns are hard to break, even for a short time. And not drinking wine at dinner can be tough, too. Booze can be a real time-killer and Andrew says boredom is a problem. So, like many people facing the daunting prospect of a whole month without a drink, Andrew turns his annual dry January into four weeks of rehabilitation and fitness. Running, cycling and a New Year’s gym membership can go hand-in-hand with abstinence. At the end of the month, Andrew says, “I sleep better, but not as much. Yes, there’s a still a slight boredom factor, but I feel mentally clearer and happier. Hangovers are depressing!”

Here’s some tips to help you through a dry January but remember, once the toxins have been removed and you’ve broken those holiday drinking behaviors, life should get back to normal. If you find you are still unable to drink moderately or if you believe you have a drinking problem you should talk to a doctor about getting some help.

1. Eat fresh

Avoid junk food and sugary snacks. These will help lift you from the doldrums and replace the sugar in booze, but you’ll crash hard and fast. Naturally occurring sugar in fresh fruit will give you less of a spike. And fresh vegetables will provide essential nutrients you may have been skipping during the holiday season.

2. Drink water

In the first few days stick to water to flush the toxins out of your body and rehydrate yourself. After that, moderate water consumption should become routine.

3. Vitamin supplements

Daily drinking over a long period causes a deficiency of vitamin B, vitamin C and magnesium. Supplements can restore the smooth running of the body.

4. Cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper reduces cravings and increases your appetite. Adding pepper to food can ease withdrawal symptoms like nausea and decreased appetite.

5. Drink non-caffeinated tea.

When you give up alcohol you may not sleep as heavily. Some people suffer from insomnia. Try passionflower tea, and chamomile tea.

6. Fresh basil and garlic

Basil and garlic are powerful antioxidants. Some people swear by basil twigs in water as a "cure." Making a fresh pesto sauce from scratch with olive oil and pepper will do just as good a job.

7. Other activities

Exercise kills boredom and releases endorphins and burns calories, of course, but warm baths and early nights will get you on the road to normalcy, too.

Andrew says the main benefits for him were weight loss and better focus. He found he slept better and awoke refreshed. And after all, he says, it’s only for a month. “Sometimes I think I’ll do it for longer, but at about three weeks I’m like uh-uh,” he says, “Although I did once give up coffee for Lent. It was awful. Headaches, insomnia, all kinds of stuff. Never doing that again. Coffee works!” 

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British born Neville Elder is a writer,photographer and filmmaker. He's been sober since 2006, lived in New York since 2001 and is in no hurry to move back to a Brexited Britain. He writes the odd murder ballad with his band Thee Shambels and teaches photography at the New York Institute of photography. Find him on Linkedin and Twitter.