What is Dry January – And Are There Any Risks?

graphich with wording "Dry January No Alcohol"

We need to get one thing out of the way immediately, in a manner that’s not customary for articles on our blog.

We need to start this piece out by defining what Dry January is not.

Dry January is not an independent, at-home detox program or method for heavy, chronic drinkers, people who know they drink excessively and already experience significant health problems from excess drinking, or people who meet the clinical criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5 (DSM-5).

That answers the question in the title of this article: yes, there are risks to going dry on your own. If you’re in any of those categories, we strongly encourage you to talk to a qualified physician before you stop drinking. They can inform you of the potential dangers of alcohol withdrawal and connect you to the resources appropriate for you, your personal history, and your immediate medical needs.

You can also learn about AUD and how it’s diagnosed by visiting our page on treatment for AUD:

Alcohol Use Disorders

With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about Dry January.

How Dry January Started

Dry January began in 2013 in the United Kingdom. It was the brainchild of a group called Alcohol Change UK as a way to encourage people to adopt a new point of view on alcohol and alcohol consumption in their daily lives.

Here’s how the people who started the movement describe Dry January:

“The aim of our campaign is to start a new conversation about alcohol, to encourage people to consider and discuss their alcohol consumption and ultimately, to inspire behavior change following a positive and fun-filled month of sobriety.”

It’s a common-sense, logical approach to rethinking alcohol use. Dry January is not just for people in the U.K. It’s for anyone, anywhere, who’s interested in reevaluating their alcohol use.

Because let’s be honest: alcohol is everywhere in our culture. We may not realize it unless we take a moment to think about it, but it’s true. From family gatherings on holidays – Winter Holidays, 4th of July, you name it – to sporting events, work socials, and everything in between, organizers of these events often place alcohol front and center. And people who attend these events understand that consuming alcohol is the norm.

Not necessarily getting drunk, but having a little more than usual is – again, let’s be honest – virtually encouraged in these social contexts.

We’re here to offer a counterproposal.

How about questioning those expectations?

How about not making alcohol the center of social functions or family gatherings?

And how about giving it a shot for 31 days in the month of January?

[With that big bold disclaimer at the top of this article front of mind, of course.]

Let’s take a look at the benefits of trying out Dry January in 2023.

The Benefits of Not Drinking Alcohol for a Month

No hangovers!

Seriously, though.

We’ll start with the well-known benefits of ceasing or cutting back alcohol consumption, move to benefits many people may not immediately think of, then finish with data from a study on Dry January conducted and published in 2014 by the University of Sussex in the U.K.

Here are several of the basic benefits of cutting back or stopping alcohol consumption for a month:

  • Improved sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Weight loss
  • Financial savings
  • Improved look of hair
  • Improved look of skin

Now for the benefits that may not be obvious. These are related to the time of year – winter – Dry January happens:

  • It’s cold and flu season, and alcohol does not help recovery from those ailments: it disturbs sleep, reduces immune function, and delays recovery.
  • Alcohol may interact negatively with both prescription and over-the-counter cold or flu medication
  • Alcohol consumption in men is associated with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems
  • Consuming alcohol is associated with anxiety and low mood/depressive mood

Finally, let’s look at the evidence – and some statistics – that confirm many of the points about cutting back or stopping alcohol consumption we mention above.

Research on Dry January

In 2018, a study conducted at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, followed 800 participants in Dry January. We’ll lead with an interesting outcome: people who cut back in January were still drinking less in August.

That’s a great result, because Dry January really isn’t just about January. It’s about rethinking drinking altogether.

Here’s more data from the study, specifically on rates of consumption:

  • Average days drinking decreased from 4.3 days per week to 3.3 days per week
  • Average units of alcohol per drinking day decreased from 8.6 to 7.1
    • There’s one unit of alcohol in one 25ml shot of liquor, or just under one fluid ounce of liquor
    • A pint of typical strength beer – around 16 fluid ounces – contains about 2 units of alcohol
    • A typical 175ml glass of wine – about 6 fluid ounces – contains just over 2 units of alcohol
  • Frequency of drinking until drunk decreased from 3.4 times per month to 2.1 times per month

Keep in mind that this study gathered data from 800 participants in August of 2018, eight months after participating in Dry January. In addition, not all participants stayed completely sober during that January, but they did cut back considerably.

Here’s the rest of the data, some of which puts figures to the benefits we mentioned above.

Benefits of a Dry January, In Numbers

  • 93% reported a sense of achievement
  • 88% said they saved money
  • 82% said they seriously thought about their drinking habits
  • 80% reported an increased sense of control over their drinking
  • 76% discovered important facts about when and why they drink
  • 71% said they finally realized they don’t need to drink to enjoy themselves in social situations
  • 70% reported better overall health
  • 71% said their sleep improves
  • 67% reported increased energy levels
  • 58% said they lost weight
  • 57% reported improvement in concentration
  • 54% said their skin quality improved

Those are all excellent reasons to give Dry January a try. One thing about Dry January we like, as opposed to a New Year’s Resolution, for instance, is the relatively short duration. Committing to something for a full year can be intimidating and scare people off.

One month?

Not so scary.

To Try Going Dry or Not in January 2023

First of all, please take the huge, bold disclaimer at the beginning of this article seriously. If you’re a long-time, heavy, daily drinker, going totally dry on your own can lead to serious health complications, up to and including death. If you don’t believe us, check with your doctor, or read this article published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA):

Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal

We’re not exaggerating the dangers: please check our work to learn firsthand what we mean.

We’ll end this article on a more positive note, with the words of Dr. Richard Piper, the 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. Dry January helps millions to experience those benefits and to make a longer-lasting change.”

Getting Help

If you or someone you love drinks excessively and you’re concerned, please contact us today. We know how to support you with the safe, evidence-based methods to reduce or completely stop drinking alcohol.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.