Chances are you’ve caught wind of Dry January in recent years. But for those who haven’t, the idea is simple: start off the new year with an alcohol-free month.
Maybe you want to try and get a handle on your drinking, or maybe you simply want to better your health. Whatever the reason, foregoing alcohol for 31 days can be an eye-opening experience and can teach you quite a bit about the drinking culture.
If Dry January sounds like something you want to give a shot, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of everything you need to consider before getting started.
1. Consider the “why” behind your desire to take part.
Before January hits, it’s important to take some time to reflect on why you want to be alcohol-free. For some people, Dry January is a way of admitting that their drinking is a concern and it’s a resolution of sorts, to start the New Year on a different note. For others, it has more to do with health. Some people view it as a detox time in the aftermath of the holidays. Whatever your reason, take some time to consider what you hope to gain from Dry January and how you hope it may change your habits going forward.
2. Know that it requires commitment.
This may sound obvious, but if you’re a fairly regular drinking, it can be difficult to go 31 days without alcohol. For this reason, you really need to be committed to Dry January and realize that it means NO alcohol, not even a single beer or glass of wine.
3. Determine how it could impact your health.
While it may sound like a healthy decision to stop drinking as soon as January hits, it can actually be dangerous for heavy drinkers. If you feel you fall into this category, you may want to have a conversation with a medical professional about the best way to stop drinking. Simply going cold turkey can lead to withdrawal symptoms, some severe and even fatal at times. If you’re not a heavy drinker but still drink regularly, you’ll likely see some benefits to Dry January, such as feeling healthier overall and maybe even dropping some extra pounds. If it’s something you decide to stick with for even longer, you could see improved blood pressure and cholesterol.
4. Have a plan in place.
For some people, a beer or a glass of wine is simply part of a nightly routine, and this is what may cause them not to be successful with Dry January. Changing routine can be tough, especially when it’s not considered in advance. So if you’re set on letting go of alcohol for a month, consider some alternatives for your nightcap. Take the time to come up with some fun mocktails, so you still feel like you’re in your routine. You can even throw them in a fancy glass if you want. Being prepared sets you up for success.
5. Come up with some activities to fill potential free time.
For those who are used to spending time at bars and out with friends, it may be too tough to be around alcohol without taking part. Instead of tagging along and struggling to stay sober, come up with some alternative activities. Your friends will hopefully understand why you’re saying no, and support you in that decision. Try to replace that time with healthy activities, such as going to the gym or taking a walk.
6. Find a buddy.
It’s no secret that it’s easier to do tough things when you have someone by your side. Having a friend tackle Dry January with you gives you someone to talk to about the process and you can hold one another accountable. You can arrange daily, or even weekly check-ins and discuss any challenges or temptations you may be facing. This way you also have a person you can spend time with and know that alcohol won’t be around to tempt you.
7. Make a physical list of the reasons you want to participate in Dry January.
Put this list somewhere you can refer to easily and often. It’s helpful to have a visual reminder of why you chose to take a month off from alcohol and it can help reinforce those reasons on the tough days. You can hang the list on your mirror and review it each morning, keep it in your wallet for when you need a reminder, or simply write it on your phone and access it at any point.
8. Crunch some numbers.
If you need a little extra motivation, sit down and track all the money you spend on alcohol in a given month. Changes are it’s more than you think and it may surprise you. Consider taking that amount during January and putting it into savings or doing something nice for yourself.
9. Clue in the people in your life.
If you feel comfortable doing so, let the people in your life know that you’re planning on taking part in Dry January and that you may be turning down social invitations for that reason. You’ll likely find that most people understand and are supportive and even inspired by your choice to drop the alcohol. And if there are people who don’t support you, that relationship may be worth reevaluating. By letting the people in your life know about your choice, you’re allowing them not only to support you, but also to learn something from you.
Dry January isn’t necessarily easy for everyone. But by taking the time to really think through the month and the potential challenges, you are more likely to succeed and gain something from the process. In some cases, people even go on to stay sober after the month of January because they find they feel healthier overall, or because it really forced them to admit they had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Whatever the case, you’ll likely find some benefit in taking part.
Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292