If you’re wondering about why anyone would want to do make January—the darkest, dreariest, coldest month of the year—even worse by cutting out alcohol, consider this: Taking just one month off may have lasting benefits that will keep you healthier (and happier) long-term.
Now if that statement has you sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming “lalalalala” as you sip your second glass of pinot by the fire, don’t fret: Sobriety doesn’t have to happen in January. (The idea for “dry January” started in the United Kingdom in 2012 by the nonprofit Alcohol Change U.K.) Taking any month off from drinking—or really any time at all—can have positive impacts for both your mental and physical health. (If you’re a chronic drinker, however, quitting for a short period of time on your own might be dangerous. Please seek professional help.)
Here are the ways that dry January—or sober October—might do a body good.
Overall Alcohol Reduction
A 2018 British study found that giving up booze for just one month actually helped 70% of the participants decrease their average days of drinking throughout the week—from 4.3 to 3.3—for months after dry January ended. People also binge drank less, too, with average rates falling from 3.4 times per month to 2.1. And when they did imbibe? Participants tended to drink on average one fewer drink per drinking session.
Why did one month make such an impact? Because many of the people interviewed for the study experienced so many benefits—better sleep, weight loss, better concentration, lower blood pressure, better skin, better overall health—that they decided to reduce their alcohol consumption overall.
“The simple act of taking a month off alcohol helps people drink less in the long term: by August people are reporting one extra dry day per week,” Richard de Visser, the University of Sussex psychologist who led the study, says in a press release. “There are also considerable immediate benefits: Nine in 10 people save money, seven in 10 sleep better, and three in five lose weight.”
Better Relationship With Alcohol
In that same 2018 study, 98% of participants ended dry January with a sense of accomplishment, 80% reported better control over their drinking, 76% learned when and why they drink, and 71% reported they realized they don’t need to drink to have fun.
Those are pretty staggering statistics that strongly suggest just one month may change the way we feel about alcohol in the longer term. According to Dr. Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change U.K., “Put simply, Dry January can change lives. We hear every day from people who took charge of their drinking using dry January, and who feel healthier and happier as a result. … Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, to socialize. That means that for the rest of the year we are better able to make decisions about our drinking, and to avoid slipping into drinking more than we really want to.”
It’s no secret that alcohol has been shown to increase cancer risk (it’s been classified as a class 1 carcinogen for decades, and is especially linked to cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast, and colorectum). In a recent study, participants who abstained for a month had a rapid decrease in the chemical messengers that are associated with cancer progression. Participants also experienced lower blood pressure, improved insulin resistance (which aids the liver), reduced liver inflammation, and weight loss.
While the study did not focus on whether or not these factors remained altered over time after participants started drinking again (and it’s safe to say they most likely did not), there may be lasting health effects gained from awareness. Psychologists have found that just being aware of how effective quitting drinking for a month is for overall health will likely impact the participants’ decision-making in the future.
Tips on How To Succeed
Giving up drinking for a month isn’t easy for many of us. Here are two tips to help you succeed.
- Replace alcohol with a healthy mocktail. If you’re taking the sober plunge this month, try a Miraflora Hemp Infusions Sparkling Beverage—with 35 mg of organic CBD plus vitamins and minerals, it may help take the edge off in a healthy way. (They’re nearly calorie-free and taste great, too.)
- Microdose mindfulness. In a 2017 study with 68 heavy drinkers, participants who received 11 minutes of mindfulness instruction daily for one week were able to reduce their alcohol consumption significantly the following week. Researchers believe that the “microdose of meditation” may have helped participants regulate their emotions, giving them a new tool—other than alcohol—to help them cope with stress.
- Do it with a friend. This will help keep you accountable and give you someone to socialize with who is also abstaining. There is strength in numbers—which is largely why those who participate together in dry January have a high rate of success.