The Benefits of Dry January Last Longer Than a Month, Study Finds

man refuses or rejects to drink alcohol at the pub
Study Shows Lasting Dry January Benefitscagkansayin - Getty Images
  • One new study found that the health benefits of Dry January last beyond the month.

  • Researchers found that participants maintained “significant reduction in alcohol consumption” six to eight months after the completion of the study, which led to extending health benefits.

  • Experts weigh in on the findings.

Every January, people seek a fresh start with a variety of different New Year’s resolutions. Those who struggle with how to set goals and achieve them may do well with a short-term lifestyle change of sorts. Enter: Dry January, a challenge to abstain from drinking alcohol for the entire month of January, was started by a British organization called Alcohol Change UK. Now, a new study is showing just how far and long the benefits of Dry January reach.

Participating in Dry January, or abstaining from alcohol for a whole month, can have far-reaching health benefits, according to a study published in BMJ Open.

The study sought to examine the immediate and long-term health effects of participants after Dry January. The study consisted of a group of 94 participants abstaining from alcohol and a control group of 47 participants with similar baseline alcohol consumption.

The long-term effects of alcohol are serious and include things like liver disease, certain cancers, heart disease, dementia, digestive problems, and a weakened immune system, per Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet and podcast host of The Keri Report. So it’s not surprising that researchers found significant health improvements in the group who abstained from alcohol for one month, specifically: improved insulin resistance, decreased weight, decreased blood pressure, and a decrease in cancer-related growth factors.

And, the positive effects of abstaining from alcohol don’t stop there. While results may vary, “Some individuals report a better night’s sleep, more energy in the morning (possibly leading to exercise), being more productive, making better/healthier food decisions, and a better overall mood,” Gans explains. “Some people also report weight loss.”

Aside from the immediate physical health improvements, the study found that those in the abstinence group experienced longer-lasting benefits—even after the completion of the study. Researchers followed up with the group six to eight months later and found that the individuals maintained a “significant reduction in alcohol consumption,” and saw improved scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) moving from “hazardous” to “low risk.”

“These findings are really promising,” notes Sari Chait Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Newton, MA. “While it is unlikely that a month of alcohol abstinence can fully resolve problematic drinking behavior for most people, these findings do suggest the potential for significant behavior change leading to improved health.” Chait explains that alcohol consumption is influenced by a number of psychological, physiological, and behavioral variables, making resolving issues related to alcohol difficult. However, since Dry January involves a short-term goal, participants may be more successful.

“Research has consistently shown that setting smaller, shorter-term goals leads to higher rates of success than setting long-term goals,” Chait explains. “Psychologically, it feels much more achievable to say you will abstain from alcohol for 30 days than to commit to giving it up completely. When something does not feel achievable, people are less likely to even attempt to meet the goal.” Additionally, Chait notes that Dry January is often seen as something “socially acceptable,” leading to a sense of community and support—making abstaining from alcohol a bit easier for some.

Tips for completing Dry January

Simply knowing that behavior like drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is unhealthy is often not enough to lead to change, Chait explains. If you are looking to participate in Dry January, try staying mindful throughout the month to help you stay on track with your goals.

Chait recommends taking note of the positive changes you’ll notice in yourself during the challenge. Some of these might include improved sleep, more motivation to exercise, clearer skin, less anxiety, improved gastrointestinal symptoms, etc. “Taking note of these kinds of improvements regularly throughout the month may help increase motivation to maintain healthy levels of alcohol consumption past January,” Chait explains.

Additionally, if you’re struggling with choosing something to sip on during social settings, Gans suggests trying tasty non-alcoholic beers and creative mocktails. “I would, however, suggest limiting those with lots of added sugar, especially if watching calories,” Gans continues. “To keep it simple, you could simply pour a glass of sparkling water or seltzer and flavor with fresh fruit, such as citrus or berries, herbs, such as ginger, basil or mint.”

The bottom line

Dry January can be a helpful way to make positive health changes related to alcohol use, but it is not appropriate for those who are struggling with alcohol addiction, Chait warns. There are lots of ways to tell if you have an alcohol problem, but if someone feels they are unable to abstain from alcohol use for the entire month or tries and does not fully succeed, professional treatment may be necessary, according to Chait.

“If someone has been engaging in problematic drinking behavior, they may have withdrawal symptoms which can be dangerous and should be monitored professionally,” Chait explains. “Similarly, if someone is finding it hard to stop drinking because they find it helps them cope with negative emotions or they are struggling to manage their social life without alcohol, a therapist can help them.” Inpatient and outpatient treatment options are available to those who are struggling.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free 24/7 hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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