The New Year brings many promises — a chance to start fresh, to leave old habits behind, and to reinvent ourselves in ways big and small. Some of us may set lofty goals, only to abandon them a few weeks in. It’s a common occurrence, but frustrating nonetheless.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely interested in achieving a big goal yourself, one related to your alcohol consumption. Dry January has gained tremendous traction in the past decade, and for good reason. This challenge comes with many mental and physical health benefits. It also comes with support and camaraderie, as millions of people from all corners of the world collectively commit to quitting alcohol for 31 days.
But like any New Year’s goal, Dry January comes with its own potential for setbacks and lack of motivation. However, with the right preparation, we can combat these issues and ensure our success. Let’s delve into the major benefits of the Dry January challenge, which can serve as our motivation in tough times. We’ll also share useful tips to complete Dry January with confidence!
What Is Dry January?
“Dry January” seems to be a buzzword come wintertime, but what does it really mean? And when did it get started?
The origins of this alcohol-free month can be traced back to 2013, when the British non-profit Alcohol Change UK introduced the concept of it. The organization’s goal was to kickstart the year by encouraging people to reflect on their drinking habits and reset after holiday indulgences.
Though there were some setbacks in the beginning, Dry January eventually rose in popularity. Especially given the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram, the general public soon became aware of this global movement to rethink drinking habits.
What began as a British-centric movement resonated with people in all corners of the world. By 2023, millions of people worldwide took part in Dry January, whether as first-timers or seasoned participants. This challenge’s overwhelming success has led to similar initiatives throughout the year, the most popular being "Sober October."
Does Dry January Really Work?
It sounds nice in theory, but an entire month without alcohol?! Does it really work? It does, in fact, and statistics support this. In 2018, Alcohol Change UK conducted a survey among people who’d completed the Dry January challenge. The results found that a staggering 88% of participants saved money, 71% had better sleep, and 58% lost weight. Moreover, 80% felt more in control of their drinking habits and 70% reported improved overall health. Long story short: Dry January works!
How To Do a Dry January Challenge
So, how can we get started? What are the rules of Dry January? Well, the good news is that there are no hard-and-fast guidelines for participating, aside from remaining alcohol-free for 31 days. Whether this is done more casually in a group of friends, or with the support of apps like Reframe, is entirely up to the participant. Here are a couple of options on how to take part in Dry January.
- Solo. The first option is to take part in Dry January on your own. While this seems straightforward enough, it may actually be the most difficult, as it lacks the structure and accountability that many need to succeed. If you feel comfortable and confident in being able to complete the challenge on your own, definitely go for it. However, don’t discount the importance of community and structured guidance.
- In a group. There’s also the option to participate with a group of friends, acquaintances, or colleagues. You might consider starting a group message for everyone to check in and cheer each other on. This method comes with accountability, as you’ll be less tempted to drink when there are others to report back to.
- With the support of an app like Reframe. We blend together the solo and group options — so you can complete the challenge on your own, or in a virtual team of other Reframers. It’s up to you! This approach comes with a higher level of accountability, engagement (we offer daily activities such as articles about alcohol’s effects, journal prompts for reflection, and inspirational quotes). You’ll also have access to the Reframe forum to connect with others when you need a boost of motivation.
What Are the Benefits of Dry January?
An alcohol-free month isn’t just about abstaining from our usual nightcap or post-work beer. By the end of the 31 days, we’ll likely experience several physical and mental health benefits. In fact, a 2015 report from the Royal Free Hospital in London found that Dry January participants experienced significant reductions in liver fat, weight, cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels.
Furthermore, according to statistics of Dry January 2023 from the Reframe app, 74.02% of participants stayed dry. And 75.9% of Damp January participants (which we’ll mention further below) considered their challenge successful. “Success,” in this context, meant improvements in sleep, mental clarity, blood pressure, and various aspects of well-being.
Let’s take a look at these and explore what a Dry January challenge can do for your body.
Dry January Physical Health Improvements
Here are several possible physical health improvements we’ll encounter at the end of the Dry January challenge:
- A healthier liver. Drinking too much, especially over time, is linked to fatty liver disease, a condition in which excess fat builds up within the liver. Fatty liver disease is often precursor to more severe liver conditions, including cirrhosis and liver failure. Going alcohol-free for a month gives the liver a break, leading to a decrease in liver fat, rejuvenated liver cells, and more efficient functioning.
- A stronger heart. High alcohol consumption may also elevate cholesterol levels, particularly the harmful LDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. By eliminating alcohol for a month, we can often observe a noticeable decrease in cholesterol levels. When sustained over time, this promotes better cardiovascular health, reducing our risk of stroke and heart attacks. Additionally, alcohol is known to elevate blood pressure, so quitting drinking for a month allows it to stabilize, thus also promoting heart health.
- Stabler blood sugar. Alcohol impairs our body's blood sugar regulation. When we drink alcohol, our blood sugar is prone to more dramatic spikes and drops, which is particularly concerning for those living with diabetes. Abstaining for a month improves insulin function and fosters stable blood sugar levels. When healthy drinking habits are sustained, we reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes and its associated complications.
- Improved hydration and kidney function. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes us pee more. Unfortunately, this increased urine output can result in dehydration. Over time, this places a heavier burden on our kidneys, which work hard to filter our bodily fluids and maintain balance. Additionally, hydration plays a key role in other areas of well-being, from skin health to the functioning of vital organs. Quitting alcohol for a month allows our bodies to maintain better hydration levels, supporting kidney function and overall health.
- A robust immune system. Regular alcohol consumption hinders our immune system's responsiveness, making our body more infection-prone. This not only means more frequent colds, but can even result in respiratory infections, UTIs, and worsened symptoms for those with autoimmune diseases. Quitting alcohol for a month strengthens our body's innate defense mechanisms, ensuring we’re in a better state to fight illnesses.
- Weight loss. Alcoholic beverages can be incredibly calorie-laden, with certain cocktails exceeding 200 calories. Furthermore, alcohol also interferes with metabolism, by impairing fat processing in the liver, leading to the common “beer belly” or “wine belly.” And finally, alcohol lowers inhibitions, prompting us to reach for greasy or fatty foods to satisfy late-night “drunchies.” For these reasons, many people experience noticeable changes to their weight once they quit alcohol, even if it’s just for the month.
- Enhanced sleep quality. Alcohol is known to disrupt the sleep cycle, particularly the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, which is crucial for cognitive functions and metabolism. Poor sleep increases our levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with weight gain, especially around the midsection. Abstaining from alcohol — even for a month — can improve sleep quality, leading to more focused and energized days.
Dry January Mental Health Benefits
While alcohol is commonly portrayed in the media as a way to “relax and unwind,” it actually worsens our mental health in the long run. This may trigger, or exacerbate, conditions such as anxiety and depression. By ditching the booze for even a month, we’ll likely experience many positive changes in our mental well-being.
Here’s a quick look at the science behind this improvement.
- Neurotransmitter balance. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are our brain’s chemical messengers. They play a key role in mental well-being, and having levels that are too high or too low can manifest as issues with emotion regulation and moodiness. Alcohol disrupts neurotransmitter balance, which can lead to sadness, hopelessness, or anxiety. Abstaining allows our brain to recalibrate and restore these chemicals to their natural levels, paving the way for mood improvements.
- Stronger stress response. Regular alcohol consumption elevates the body's stress response, increasing the production of cortisol (known as the "stress hormone”). Elevated cortisol levels are connected to mood disturbances and feelings of tension. A 31-day break from alcohol can normalize this response, fostering a more balanced emotional state.
- Boosted cognitive function and mental clarity. Alcohol impairs cognitive functions, clouding judgment and reducing our brain's processing capabilities. Drinking can also impact our memory and concentration. A month-long hiatus from alcohol may significantly enhance mental clarity, making daily tasks easier (whether at work or at home) and improving overall cognitive efficiency.
Alternatives for Dry January
So, what if you’re not quite ready to go fully dry — but you’d still like to participate? Well, this is exactly why we at Reframe have modified the Dry January to account for people who are looking to cut back on alcohol. Consider it a Dry(ish) January, if you will.
What is Dry(ish) January? In 2023, we launched our first-ever Damp January, which saw 118,486 sign-ups. Alongside our Dry January challenge, which saw 20,982 sign-ups in 2023, the Damp January challenge is an excellent way to kickstart the year with healthy drinking habits. It doesn’t entail complete abstinence, but instead allows each person to set a reasonable limit for themselves.
For example, if you normally drink every night, you might consider going alcohol-free for three or four days of the week. You may also lower your overall intake by setting daily limits, which you can track and adjust through the app. Reframe is one of the most widely-trusted apps that helps for Dry January challenge success, so consider our program if you’re ready to get started.
Tips To Complete Dry January
Ready to give the Dry January challenge a go? Here are seven ways to ensure your success.
- Discover alcohol-free alternatives. Explore the (tasty!) world of non-alcoholic beverages. From non-alcoholic beers to alcohol-free gins and sophisticated mocktails, there's plenty to sample. You can even check out this guide to 10 DIY mocktail recipes, or explore various alcohol-free beverages that are available at most bars.
- Document your journey. Start a journal or a blog (or a vlog!). Note down physical and emotional changes, and any challenges faced. Over time, you’ll pick up on patterns, allowing you to identify areas for further improvement. (Or celebrate wins — big or small!) Sharing your experiences can provide insights and motivation for others who are also participating in Dry January. You may even encourage people to try the challenge for themselves!
- Team up. Rally friends or family to join the challenge. Together, you can exchange ideas, share experiences, and motivate each other when the going gets tough. You’ll even find like-minded people when you join Reframe! Our global community is available through the in-app Forum and daily community meetings. There’s plenty of support waiting for you!
- Educate yourself. Delve into books or documentaries on the impact of alcohol on the body and society. A deeper understanding can fortify your commitment, especially when cravings or peer pressure come up. You can even read about others’ sober stories through books, which will remind you that you’re not alone in the journey. (A search on “quit lit” will turn up many titles; some of them are sure to resonate!)
- Find healthy distractions. Take up a new hobby or revisit an old one. No matter what it is — painting, reading, puzzling, hiking, or cooking — immersing yourself in an activity can diminish alcohol cravings. You can even challenge yourself to learn something new, like a language, a sport, or a professional skill.
- Practice mindfulness. Consider trying meditation or guided mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing or yoga nidra. These activities have been proven to combat stress and build awareness around triggers and cravings. If you don’t know where to start, we have dozens of mindfulness exercises on the Reframe app.
- Seek support. We acknowledge that the Dry January challenge can be … well, challenging. We’re likely to experience frustrations, emotional difficulties, and moments that test us. Reach out to loved ones or join online communities dedicated to Dry January (like the Reframe Forum!). Sharing experiences and seeking advice can be invaluable.
Dry January: Let’s Make the Most of It!
Dry January can be a transformative experience. While the month might present its set of challenges, the rewards — better health, a clear mind, and a sense of accomplishment — are well worth the effort. And the best part? We can sustain these improvements well beyond January, especially with support from structured programs like the one on the Reframe app. There’s so much to gain by ditching alcohol for 31 days (and possibly even longer!). And the changes we experience can be life-changing, letting us be better parents, partners, friends, and professionals. So why let this opportunity pass us by?
The Dry January challenge is not just about removing alcohol — it’s about enriching your life with new experiences, insights, and habits. Sign on for a brighter, healthier year ahead — and beyond!