If you're one of the many Americans who's pledged to abstain from alcohol for the month of January, you're doing your health a favor. But the commitment to a "dry January" can be difficult to maintain as the days roll by – and your social calendar begins filling up.
Experts say it's worth the effort. And abstaining from alcohol for one month at a time can be a more feasible goal than going cold turkey forever.
"Taking a break from alcohol, even for just a short period of time, has several health benefits, not to mention it can save some money," Debbie Petitpain, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told CBS News.
Dry January health benefits
For starters, when it comes to your health, a dry January can help improve your sleep.
"Even though alcohol makes you sleepy, it is actually disrupts your circadian rhythm, preventing the body from going into REM sleep, which is when the brain restores itself and makes memories," Petitpain said.
If losing weight was one of your New Year's resolutions, staying away from alcohol can also help there.
"One drink has 100-150 calories before you even add the mixer so abstinence can save you calories which can help with weight loss," Petitpain said.
Drinking alcohol also affects your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and other viruses like the flu. Abstaining can help you fight off germs more effectively.
Finally, since alcohol a diuretic and can lead to dehydration, this drying effect can enhance fine lines and wrinkles. Cutting it out may lead to improved skin in a typically dry winter month that can already take a toll on your complexion.
And of course, over the long run, a drinking habit can have much more serious health consequences, increasing the risk of liver disease, heart disease, stroke and several types of cancer.
Dry January tips to help you succeed
So you know a dry January is good for you, but how do you make sure you stick to your commitment? Like any goal, seeing it through can take some planning.
Follow these expert tips to help make your dry January a success.
- Know why you're doing it. "Define your 'why.' Your 'why' is your purpose, your cause, your belief," Petitpain said. This could be to improve your health or to help you cut back on alcohol in the longer term. Whatever your "why," Petitpain recommends thinking of it as a personal mission statement for the month and to refer to it often.
- Tell people. This will not only hold you accountable but will keep friends from absentmindedly handing you a beer when you come over. "It also frames the effort in a positive instead of shameful way," Petitpain said.
- Have a countdown going. But not the kind that you may think. Keep track of how many days you've gone without drinking, not how many days are left until the end of the month. Acknowledge and celebrate your daily successes.
- Don't go it alone. If you're going to a party or a social event where there will be alcohol, invite a friend who is willing to abstain with you so you can hold each other accountable. It's also helpful to tell your friends as soon as you arrive about your commitment, to help minimize social pressure.
- Get creative with your soft drinks. Just because you're not drinking alcohol, it doesn't mean you're relegated to just plain water. "Bring the ingredients for a fun mocktail [to a party]. Your imagination is your only limit here," Petitpain said. "You may even be surprised how many other people want to have what you're having, so bring enough to share." [Recipes from Chowhound: 10 Zero-Proof Cocktails for Dry January]
- Don't feel like you have to explain yourself. "Drinking has become so commonplace, it's easy to feel like you have to defend your choice not to, but there's no need," Petitpain said. "Saying 'I'm not drinking tonight' is enough." If you really feel like you have to say something more, she suggests telling friends you have an early engagement in the morning or that you are a designated driver.