Is Dry January effective?

Health & Wellness

Even though January is over, it’s a good time to look back and talk about whether the concept of Dry January is actually effective.

TL;DR: Dry January can be effective to reset your relationship with alcohol. However, heavier drinkers may need more time to heal.

That depends on your goals and relationship with alcohol. Dry January can be a great reset for social and moderate drinkers. It gives your body a break and allows you to start the year progressing on other goals that alcohol can impact, such as working out or sleeping consistently, and can even be a way to test out whether or not cutting alcohol out of your life is right for you. But before we answer that question, let’s better understand how alcohol affects us.

When you drink a glass of wine or beer, it heads straight to your bloodstream, hitting every part of your body, including your brain, kidneys, lungs, liver, and stomach. You get drunk when you consume more alcohol than your liver can process (~1 ounce of liquor an hour). This causes immediate effects such as slurred words/vision, loss of coordination, and, depending on your mood, increased happiness, less inhibition, low mood, or aggression. Long term, alcohol is a risk factor for liver disease (our liver breaks down alcohol), certain cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and brain damage, to name a few.

Generally, stopping drinking can help reduce your risk of the side effects. Some of the key benefits that can occur are repairing liver damage, reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer, helping with weight loss, and improving brain functioning and sleep. If you are concerned about your liver and drink the recommended limit (2 drinks or less a day for men or 1 drink or less a day for women), a month may be enough for a reset. However, if you regularly drink above the recommended limit, a month may not be enough time to repair liver damage, so you may want to consider a longer timeframe.

One disclaimer to consider: for those with potential substance use disorder, Dry January may not be as straightforward. Withdrawal symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, tremors, insomnia, and, in some more severe cases, seizures can occur. Consulting a professional for assistance may be required.

Notes and disclaimers aside, if your goal is to give your body a break and to reset your relationship with alcohol, dry January can be effective. If you are a heavier drinker and are looking to drink less, dry January could be a helpful step. But, if you return to drinking excessively after one month off, another approach to consider is reducing your alcohol intake instead. And remember, it doesn’t have to be January to try it out.

Additional resources:

NIH Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

CDC Alcohol Use and Your Health