Dry January: Should I Keep it Going?
This annual tradition of abstaining from alcohol to start the year began in Britain and has become a global trend.
Whether you have maintained “dry” or “damp” January, there are health benefits to curbing your alcohol intake for a longer period of time.
How Dry January helps you
Though it’s only a month, there may be benefits to cutting out alcohol, such as a reduction in liver inflammation. It can also lead to other obvious short-term benefits, as well, like no hangovers, overall better decision-making, and improvements in sleep, says Michelle Pearlman, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the University of Miami Health System.
“If you’re just having an occasional drink, the drink itself might not necessarily be the problem,” she says. “But often, drinking alcohol is associated with unhealthy eating habits. It’s all the behaviors in combination that are often associated with alcohol consumption that can lead to greater health concerns.”
Should you be drier for longer?
While Dry January can be a good start, most health experts agree that the benefits won’t last if you immediately pick up where you left off starting February 1st. This is particularly true if you celebrate the end of Dry January by going on a bender.
“I think it’s similar to every other trendy fad diet. Anyone can follow a restrictive diet plan for a month, but often, with too much restriction, people experience deprivation, and this can often lead to binging or ‘falling off the wagon,’” says Dr. Pearlman. “In some cases, setting realistic expectations and goals for yourself and allowing yourself your favorite cocktail on a Friday night may be better than banning it completely for a 30-day span.”
There are documented health benefits to only drinking in moderation, which is defined as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. Research studies associated limiting excessive alcohol intake with a reduction in stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
However, even moderate drinking has risks, such as slightly increased odds of developing certain cancers, as well as the dangers involved with drinking and driving. If drinking reaches excessive levels, it could lead to even greater cancer risk, liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, pancreatitis, and more. It can also result in poor judgment and a higher probability of injuries and death.
The bottom line is this: If you want to improve your health long-term, make a commitment to either limit your alcohol intake year-round or commit to being alcohol-free for a more extended period of time. These are better approaches to improve your overall health and reduce the dangers related to heavy drinking.
Making the right choice for you
Limiting or cutting out drinking altogether is ultimately a personal decision. But, if you are concerned about your alcohol consumption and think you may need to make a change, there are steps you can take.
“Realizing that alcoholism is a disease and that you might need help is the first step,” Dr. Pearlman says.
If you’re having trouble curbing alcohol on your own, turn to friends, family, support groups, or a therapist.
“It’s important to surround yourself with a positive environment if you want to cut it out completely. Being around people who you want to emulate can make it a much easier and smoother process.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.