Enter Dry January, a month when millions of people (many of them women!) in the U.S. – and more around the world – abstain from alcohol to feel better physically and mentally – and to prove to themselves they can live productive, clear-headed and fulfilling lives without it.
Is Dry January for you, perhaps? Many doctors, psychologists, spiritual leaders, recovering alcoholics and ordinary people who’ve done it before would argue it is, especially if you’re a woman – but let’s get into all the reasons why cutting out booze for 30 days might just be great for you first – and then you decide.
Who is Dry January for?
First thing’s first: Dry January is not necessarily recommended for alcoholics or super heavy drinkers because of the abrupt ‘cold turkey’ nature of it, especially if you’re coming off a heavy night of drinking from New Year’s Eve. Dangerous withdrawal symptoms could accompany sudden sobriety for this group of people, so talking to your doctor – or quitting under the supervision of a rehabilitation clinic professional – is recommended.
That said, Dry January is for anyone who is sober curious, and that encompasses a large swath of people, and women in particular – from twentysomethings who want to cut down on their drinking, to new moms who’d like to wake up without a wine hangover, to older women who’d like to trade in their Long Island Iced Tea for a bit of chamomile in steaming water instead. Simply put, Dry January is both for those who don’t think they have a drinking problem but just want to try something new, to those who think they may have a drinking problem and don’t want to rely on alcohol to feel good about themselves and their lives. In other words, chances are it’s for you.
‘Quit Like a Woman’
Taking a long break from alcohol was definitely right for mother, supermodel and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen, who decided to give sobriety another go in December 2020 after a lifelong reliance on drinking that led to day drinking, problems sleeping and embarrassing episodes in public. She partly credited her decision to stop drinking to the book ‘Quit Like a Woman,’ by Holly Whitaker, which urged women to quit drinking a dangerous substance condoned by a patriarchal industry hungry to make a profit off their consumption. And so, Teigen quit like a woman (she has since re-attempted sobriety).
And Teigen is not the only woman who’s been questioning her relationship with alcohol lately.
Although Dry January began in 2012 as an initiative by a British charity, and is now practiced by millions of people annually, it’s looked at especially closely by women who are starting to listen to that little voice in the back of their heads whispering, “maybe you should cut back.”
For some women, that whisper is more of a scream – after all, women’s drinking has reached problematic levels.
The Rise of Female Drinking
If you look up ‘Dry January’ online, you’ll likely come across a fantastic TODAY.com article about the rise in problematic drinking habits for women and the benefits of abstaining from alcohol.
Even if you’re off the wagon, the article is a sobering wake-up call packed with alarming information about women and alcohol. First, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use is increasing among women in the U.S. at a time when it is actually decreasing among men. Second, women are binge-drinking a whole lot more, and alcohol-related visits to emergency rooms have also seen a rise, as have female deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, two conditions associated with alcohol.
Whether this uptick in drinking is the result of women delaying family-building, attempting to achieve full gender equality with men, responding to an explosion of alcohol-based marketing and sales activity aimed at them, or just trying to escape the stress that comes with attempting to meet society’s impossible standards for them, women are drinking in staggering amounts.
How Much is Too Much?
While the science on the safe level of alcohol consumption is always changing, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that men should have no more than two drinks a day and women should have no more than one drink a day. If you think about going out on the weekend, that means a maximum of three drinks on two days of the weekend – and nothing on the weekdays.
And while you may think that’s quite limiting, many studies maintain there is simply no safe amount of alcohol for either sex – period. Even proponents of red wine – with its antioxidant resveratrol – have been challenged by those who say resveratrol is found in plenty of other food and drink, in even higher quantities, without the harmful effects of alcohol.
So What’s So Bad About Alcohol, Anyway?
After decades of study, there is really no debate about the serious dangers of excessive alcohol use – and the benefits of even a small reduction in consumption, or going completely sober. Although it may be obvious that the more alcohol you consume, the worse off you are, the truth is that any amount of alcohol is doing your body harm – after all, all alcohol is toxic to the human body, which goes into overdrive to counteract the effects of the substance.
Here’s a short laundry list of the negative effects of alcohol: it disrupts sleep, leads to memory loss, causes fatigue, acne and irritability, leads to weight gain, disrupts blood sugar and hormone function (hello, fertility), impedes liver function, harms the microbiome and immune system in the gut, fuels anxiety and depression, compromises brain function and is linked to breast cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, mouth and throat cancer, esophageal cancer and cancer of the voice box. In other words, alcohol kills. According to the CDC, is it a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., with excessive alcohol use killing more 95,000 people each year, or 261 people every day.
So Cutting Down is Good, Right?
When you consider the list above, the benefits of permanently cutting down, going sober for good or quitting drinking for Dry January (or any other time of year, for that matter) are obvious: better, more restorative sleep, improved immune functioning, improved memory, brain function and decision making, a decrease in anxiety and depression, better moods, better skin, weight loss, lower blood pressure, improved insulin resistance, less inflammation, a lower risk of cancer, a longer lifespan, and, best of all, a completely new perspective on your relationship with alcohol, yourself and your life.
Many people find that going sober for just a few weeks gives them unparalleled insights into everything around them, and gives them a type of mental and psychological clarity that’s impossible to access otherwise – not to mention a brand new feeling in their bodies. From making small changes like exercising and reading more, or picking up a new hobby, to big changes like ditching toxic friendships, relationships or habits, giving up alcohol for even a short time can have a major impact.
OK, So How Can I Succeed at Dry January?
The first thing you need to know to do Dry January right is there are no rules – even if you don’t quit drinking for the entire month, but drastically cut down, that’s still a big success, because you’re still going ‘dry’ for a period of time. Second, don’t think you’ve missed out on the opportunity to do Dry January if you’re starting a week or two into the month – do the challenge for as long as you can, whether that’s two weeks, 30 days, or longer – let your body and mind be the guides.
Once you’ve committed to try sobriety for a little while, your chances of success increase exponentially if you decide to really stick with it. This might sound obvious, but it’s only once you’ve set the intention to go dry – as in, you’ve prepared for temptations and curveballs and really resolved to follow through with it, perhaps even written down a pledge to keep on keepin’ on – that you can keep going once the going gets tough.
And it may very well get tough. Alcohol is everywhere, consumed by many people, and drank on nearly all occasions – moments of grief, celebration, boredom, and every event in between. So the first thing you should do is make a 30-day plan – what will your days look like? What sober activities will you occupy yourself with when you’re not sleeping or working? Who will you spend your time with? While it may not seem necessary, almost every sober (temporarily or not) person will tell you that you don’t want to be socializing at drinking holes or with people who may drink in front of you – it’s like going into an ice cream store when you’re trying not to eat ice cream – why tempt yourself?
If you can’t think of something to do in your free time, maybe it’s time to start a new hobby or pursue an old-forgotten passion. Many people find value in meditation, yoga, exercise, reading and catching up with old friends over the phone or online. Outdoor walks with friends are also encouraged, especially since they are pandemic-friendly!
Other things to consider: many people use alcohol to relieve stress, give them energy to socialize, or that ‘calm down feeling necessary for sleep. Look into the crystal ball and ask yourself what you can use as a substitute during your Dry January. For sleep, you might want to exercise every day to tire yourself out, and add a cup or two of chamomile tea to you bedtime routine, as well as leave your cell phone out of the bedroom so you can have a deeper sleep. For stress relief, exercise and nature are often good antidotes – the next time you get in a tiff with a partner or open a stressful work email, try going for a walk to let off steam instead of perusing the happy hour menu at your favorite bar. And finally, for good news, find another way to celebrate and socialize – maybe cook your favorite meal, make your favorite mocktail or dance silly to your favorite song with a close, sober friend – and enjoy it!
What Have I Got to Lose?
A couple inches off your waist, maybe some bags under your eyes, and perhaps some health issues down the line. But what have you got to gain? Health, vitality, will power, confidence. And above all, a brand new set of eyes with which to see the world.
So, ahem, cheers to Dry January!