By Lauren Smith
Updated: 09 March 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon
From the boozy office Christmas party to the New Year’s glass of champagne, many people overindulge in alcohol during the holidays. It isn’t uncommon to wake up with a pounding headache on January 1 and swear off all drinking, at least for a few days. But increasingly people are turning this hangover promise into a month of abstinence, one that can improve their health and reset their relationship with alcohol.
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What is Dry January?
Endorsed by public health authorities and promoted on social media, Dry January is now practiced by one in seven Americans. Many of them don’t have what they, or doctors, would describe as drinking problems, but still find a month away from alcohol beneficial. Ditching alcohol for just those 31 days can boost your mood, improve your sleep, help you shift a few pounds, save you money, and help you develop a social life and hobbies that don’t revolve around drinking.
You may even find you have little desire to return to drinking once February 1st rolls around. When you do pick up alcohol again, you might find you do so more mindfully and with greater moderation.
Abstaining from alcohol for an entire month can be tricky. It’s hard to break habits like that game-time beer or after-work glass of wine. Your January might also include birthday parties, weddings, and meals out—events where drinking isn’t just normalized, but expected. However, it is possible to get through the month, with a little planning, honesty, and self-reflection.
Tips for dry January
Here are some tips for removing alcohol from your life during January and still enjoying your social life.
1. Rid your home of alcohol
You might find it more difficult to avoid alcohol if the bottles are staring at you from the fridge or liquor cabinet. On January 1, remove all alcohol from your home, or at least your line of sight.
You don’t necessarily have to pour that Christmas gift whiskey or special occasion bottle of champagne down the drain. Ask a friend who isn’t participating in Dry January to take custody of your unused bottles until the month is over or at least relocate them to your basement fridge.
Related: Types of alcohol
2. Plan sober activities
If your weekends revolve around happy hours and boozy parties, you should find your sober replacement activities to take up your time and look forward to. Do your friends normally convene over cocktails? Suggest you go for a wintry hike or take a cooking class together instead. Find yourself drifting toward the bar with your colleagues after work? Enroll in an evening class and learn pottery, Spanish, knitting, or anything that piques your interest so you'll have a compelling reason to skip those tempting drinking scenarios.
3. Be public with your sobriety
You can’t avoid all situations where alcohol will be served and nor should you—just try telling your sister you can’t attend her wedding or your boss that you can’t make dinner with that big client. So you have to equip yourself to resist temptation. You can start by being public about your dry period.
Explain at the onset of the evening that you’re forgoing alcohol for the month so no one hands you a beer or expects you to split a bottle of wine. Dry January is popular enough now that most people will understand and some may even be participating themselves.
Related: Living with an alcoholic
4. Find a substitute beverage
You may find it easier to avoid temptation from alcohol if you’re sipping something else.
Do you use alcohol to unwind after work? Keep your fridge stocked with seltzer or kombucha instead or try an herbal tea. Feeling empty-handed at the bar with your friends? Order a soda or fruit juice. No one has to know if doesn’t have alcohol in it. Don’t feel ashamed about bringing your own supply of drinks to a party: you'll ensure you have a sober alternative.
You can also try some of the growing range of non-alcoholic beers, wines, and cocktails that have cropped up on bar menus and supermarket shelves in the last few years. That way you can get the taste of your favorite beverage, without the alcohol and many of the calories.
Related: Alcohol and health
5. Forgive yourself if you falter
Slipped up and had a couple of beers at a friend’s housewarming party? You don’t have to beat yourself up about it and you don’t have to abandon Dry January entirely. For some people, Dry January is less about remaining entirely sober than approaching alcohol differently.
Your slip-ups can also teach you more about your relationship with alcohol. What made it so difficult for you to refuse a drink in that situation? What techniques could you employ next time—from bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage to reminding yourself of your motivations—to help you avoid drinking?
6. Reward yourself for your success
Make it to February without having a drink? That's something to celebrate, and not necessarily with a bottle of wine. Consider spending some of the money you saved over the month on a reward for your achievement: maybe classes to hone your skills in that hobby you started during the month or a weekend away.
Related: Binge drinking