You just packed away the lights, the decorations, and the wrapping paper — the holiday season has officially come to a close. As the calendar flipped to January, you may be dedicating some time to take a fresh look at your health, whether emotional, physical, or mental. One well-known New Year’s resolution/journey you may be interested in is Dry January, a month-long commitment to abstain from alcohol.

After a season of imbibing, Dry January may sound like a welcome respite. But how do you make it work for you? And what happens after January is over? We’re sharing four steps and a free guide to make your Dry January successful.

What are the benefits of Dry January? 

Taking on a Dry January can offer an all-around boost to your overall well-being. According to a 2018 British study on Dry January, the simple act of taking a month off alcohol helps people drink less in the long term. By August, Dry January participants reported an average of one extra dry day per week. There are also considerable immediate benefits: 9 out of 10 save money, 7 out of 10 sleep better, and 3 out of 5 lose weight.

Here is a list of known benefits of abstaining from alcohol: 

  • Improve sleep
  • Increase energy
  • Weight loss
  • Better mental clarity
  • Enhance mood
  • Healthier skin
  • Financial savings
  • Breaking habits
  • Resetting tolerance 
  • Decrease relationship strain

Beyond the immediate physical advantages of cutting alcohol, such as improved sleep and heightened energy levels, this month-long commitment can also produce considerable mental health benefits. This week-by-week Dry January Timeline will give you a sense of what changes you can expect in just one month.

It’s essential to note that the benefits of Dry January can vary from person to person, and the decision to participate should align with individual health goals and circumstances. Additionally, if you have alcohol dependence or related health concerns, you should consult with your healthcare professional before making significant changes to your alcohol consumption.

Now that you understand Dry January’s purpose and benefits, you might be thinking, “Where do I start?” Follow these four steps to help develop your plan for a successful alcohol-free month. 

Step 1: Why do you want to do Dry January? 

Start with your why. Your reasons for doing Dry January will serve as the anchor — helping you stay motivated on hard days and allowing you to celebrate your successes. Whether your decision to enter into Dry January is to improve physical, mental, or relational aspects of your life, it’s important to clearly list out reasons for your season of abstinence.

To help you think through your why, list your top three reasons and benefits to commit to Dry January. For example: 

Reason: I’ve noticed that I have consumed some level of alcohol almost daily over the past several weeks of the holiday season and know it’s impacted my body. I’ve been feeling tired and run down.  

Benefit: I will feel more energized to do things that I know are healthier, like exercise or finally finish that home project I’ve been delaying.

Step 2: Anticipate Dry January obstacles 

While there are numerous known benefits to abstaining from alcohol, many have difficulties with Dry January because they aren’t prepared for the barriers and triggers. Here are five common obstacles you may experience during Dry January:

  • Social pressure: Socializing often involves alcohol, and individuals may feel pressured to drink in social settings. Overcoming this pressure while maintaining social connections can be tough. 
  • Stress relief: Some individuals turn to alcohol as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or other emotions. Abstaining from alcohol may require you to seek out alternative coping mechanisms and strategies.
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms: Depending on your prior levels of alcohol consumption, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can range from mild to severe.
  • Lack of support: A support system is critical for any commitment or life change, even for only one month. If you’re without support from your friends, family, or peers, staying committed to Dry January can be challenging. 
  • Lack of Alternatives: If you’re used to social activities that center around alcoholic beverages, it can be difficult to seek out activities that provide the same level of social enjoyment.

Identifying potential obstacles that may hinder your success during Dry January is essential. Overcoming these obstacles requires careful planning, self-awareness, and a supportive environment. Strategies like setting realistic goals, communicating with friends and family, and trying out new activities that don’t involve alcohol can contribute to a more successful Dry January experience.

Now that you have identified the most significant barriers to your success, it’s time to make a plan.

Step 3: Make a plan for a successful Dry January 

After identifying your barriers and triggers, you may notice just how prevalent alcohol is in your life. Abstaining from alcohol may feel like a significant change — it’s normal to feel anxiety and even some self-doubt. Having a realistic plan for navigating your experience will help you to feel more in control and increase your likelihood of having a successful, alcohol-free month.

Here are four keys to an empowering Dry January:

  • Identify your supporters: Who will support your goals and help to keep you encouraged through the month? Supporters can be spouses, friends, neighbors, work colleagues, therapists, etc. 
  • Have a script to decline drinks: You can simply say, “No, thank you.” However, some people may be a little more inquisitive, especially if you’ve drunk socially with them. Keep it simple. “I am giving Dry January a try this year. I’m not drinking tonight.”
  • Develop an exit strategy: When the triggers are strong at parties and other events involving alcohol, it is essential to plan your exit strategy ahead of time. Involve a support person if needed. 
  • Identify replacement activities: Due to the often habitual nature of alcohol use, having a replacement behavior for typical drinking moments can get you through. Enjoying non-alcoholic drinking, taking a walk, or talking with your support person can all help in times when drinking was the filler behavior.

If you are experiencing some anxiety about staying sober for a whole month, it’s okay and very normal to feel that way. One way to decrease those anxious feelings is to take it a day at a time. It’s much less anxiety-provoking to say to yourself, “How am I going to stay sober today?” vs. “How am I going to stay sober for 31 days?” One way to help manage your journey is to document it. Journaling can be a powerful and effective tool for reflection and change.

Step 4: Keep track of your Dry January progress 

Journaling is an intentional process that can help you note observations and changes in and around yourself as you work toward your goals. Completing Dry January is an accomplishment, and it provides an opportunity to reflect on your relationship with alcohol and how the experience has affected you.

Check out this CC Dry January Progress Journal help walk you through your process.

Take 5–10 minutes each week to journal your experiences during the month so you can take full advantage of your accomplishments. 

When Dry January ends, you can review your journal entries and see your resilience and ability to make meaningful changes in your life. If you choose to reintroduce alcohol into your life, consider doing so gradually and mindfully. Pay attention to how different types of alcohol affect you and whether you can maintain a healthy balance.

Important note: 

If you found that Dry January brought up challenges or concerns about your relationship with alcohol, consider seeking support. You may want to connect to a professional such as a doctor, therapist, or addiction specialist.

Bonus: Should you do Dry January with your spouse? 

You and your partner may decide to do Dry January together. This can be a positive and healthy experience for your relationship. You and your partner may benefit from mutual support, healthy habits, financial savings, improved communication, less conflict, and more. 

However, it’s critical to acknowledge that while it is nice to participate together, Dry January is an individual decision and journey. Each partner may have different triggers, barriers, motivations, and desires to abstain from alcohol — this is okay! Your partner may not be interested in participating at all.

If your partner is not interested in participating in Dry January with you, it’s helpful to approach the situation with understanding and respect for each other’s choices. People have different reasons for their decisions regarding alcohol consumption, so make sure you communicate openly and find a balance that works for both of you.

What could you discover about yourself during Dry January?

Beyond being a popular health trend, Dry January is a powerful reminder of the significance of intentional living. It prompts us to pause, reflect, and make conscious decisions about our relationship with alcohol. This deliberate approach extends beyond the mere act of abstaining; it’s about reevaluating habits, gaining insights, and paving the way for positive changes that resonate beyond the month.

Whether you choose to continue abstaining from alcohol, moderate your consumption, or make other lifestyle changes, the key is to be intentional and mindful of your choices.

If you or your partner need additional support navigating the unique challenges of Dry January or have substance use concerns, our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started. 

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