Reap the rewards of doing dry January

Reap the rewards of doing dry January

3 Jan 2023
Stefano Mirabello Medical Reviewer
Pharmacist / B.Pharm

It’s been a difficult couple of years with the pandemic and lockdowns. Along with facing new challenges, like working from home or not being able to see loved ones, you may also be feeling bored, lonely or anxious. If your alcohol consumption has increased to help you cope with some of those feelings, you’re not alone.

While there’s nothing wrong with having the occasional glass of wine, regularly drinking more than the recommended guidelines (one drink a day for women, two a day for men) can take a toll on your mental and physical health.

If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, joining the Dry January challenge might be the perfect motivator. Alcohol Change UK started the movement known as Dry January in 2013. Four thousand people took part in the first year. Four million people took part in 2020.

Dry January encourages people to go booze-free and to stop drinking in January in the New Year. Not drinking alcohol for a month or even a few weeks offers all sorts of health benefits.

We advise heavy drinkers or people dependent on alcohol to speak with their GP before signing up to Dry January.

Why is drinking alcohol often bad?

Drinking to excess and binge drinking puts stress on your internal organs, affects your quality of sleep, your skin and energy levels, and can often cause anxiety.

  • Alcohol is high in calories and sugar. If you drink every day for a month, the impact on your waistline will be visible. Excess weight gain can lead to diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Drinking long-term can increase the risk of cancer of the liver, mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus, colon and rectum. Even a few drinks a week is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women
  • The absorption of vitamin B12 from food can be affected by alcohol. Signs of a deficiency include feeling tired, and breathless, headaches, pale skin and heart palpitations. A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to a build-up of a compound called homocysteine, which in the long term could lead to heart attack and stroke
  • Heavy drinking can cause high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat and in very severe cases, sudden death from heart failure
  • Alcohol is a diuretic, which causes the kidneys to produce more urine. This alone or with vomiting can lead to dehydration and dangerously low levels of sodium, potassium and other minerals and salts
  • Just one single session of heavy alcohol use can lead to dangerously low blood sugar, so more than that can put huge pressure on the pancreas
  • Being intoxicated increases the chance of having unsafe sex, which can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unplanned pregnancy
  • Alcohol can disrupt your sleep pattern, meaning you spend less time in more restful deep sleep. We need sleep for our mental health as well as our physical health. A lack of sleep affects our workday and personal relationships

What should I be drinking?

It’s recommended to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. This should be spread across 3 days or more. There is no completely safe level of drinking, but staying within these guidelines lowers your risk of damaging your health.

As a guide:

  • Single small shot of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%) – 1 unit
  • Alcopop (275ml, ABV 5.5%) – 1.5 units
  • Small glass of red/white/rosé wine (125ml, ABV 12%) – 1.5 units
  • Bottle of lager/beer/cider (330ml, ABV 5%) – 1.7 units
  • Can of lager/beer/cider (440ml, ABV 5.5%) – 2 units
  • Pint of lower-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%) – 2 units
  • Standard glass of red/white/rosé wine (175ml, ABV 12%) – 2.1 units
  • Pint of higher-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 5.2%) – 3 units
  • Large glass of red/white/rosé wine (250ml, ABV 12%) – 3 units

How can I cut out alcohol?

The Dry January alcohol-free month is a challenge for some people, especially if it’s your first time attempting it. Alcohol withdrawal includes both physical and psychological symptoms, especially if you drink a lot and often. These cravings can include hand tremors, sweating, anxiety and insomnia. It can be difficult to break our drinking habits, so here are some top tips to get you through the entire month:

  • Exercise – it is easier to lose extra pounds if you give up the booze
  • Plan some fun activities other than “Happy hour”
  • Eat well
  • Get better sleep
  • Don’t drink too much caffeine
  • Alcohol-free alternatives – mineral water, mocktails, alcohol-free beer or alcohol-free spirits
  • Remember why you’re having a dry mouth

The first 4/5 days are the worst, but after seven days, symptoms should subside.

Do I have a drinking problem?

You may have a drinking problem if:

  • You are drinking daily
  • You think about drinking more often
  • Your drinking is causing issues such as anger, aggression or violent outbursts
  • It is affecting your moods, work or relationships
  • You are drinking more often
  • Your drinking is causing health issues

What are the benefits of Dry January?

  • Your immune system will become stronger
  • Better sleep, which will help improve your mental and physical health
  • Weight loss – alcoholic drinks are high in calories, regularly adding extra calories to your recommended daily intake can make it challenging to maintain or lose weight. Not drinking for 31 days lowers blood pressure and levels of blood glucose, blood cholesterol, triglycerides, liver fats and uric acid
  • Save money – Giving up drinking at social events can also save you money. You may spend less when cutting back on alcohol intake
  • With a clearer head, clearer skin and free from hangovers, you’re wellness will improve dramatically

Dry January is a great way to start the New Year and a great way to get yourself ready for the rest of the year. We recommend you use it as a place to start and not as a short-term fix for poor drinking habits. If you make those lifestyle changes now, you’ll reap the benefits all year long.

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