Should you do ‘Dry January?’ We asked a doctor

Is it worth it? Well, that depends on your personal circumstances

Have you ever considered Dry January? (Photo by Thirdman from Pexels)

Are you trying Dry January, the annual initiative to stop drinking for the first month of the new year?

The term "Dry January" was registered as a trademark by the charity Alcohol Concern in mid-2014, according to published reports. The first-ever Dry January campaign by Alcohol Concern took place in January 2013.

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So, are you doing it? Or perhaps you’re considering giving up alcohol for a month sometime in the future, even if it’s not in January.

You might be asking yourself, “Does it make any difference in the long run?”

It’s a valid question.

We asked Dr. Frank McGeorge, a health reporter and an emergency room doctor, for some answers.

Dry January seems positive, right?

Sure. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Think of it like this, McGeorge said: A time to recalibrate.

It’s like you’re taking inventory on your body.

Cutting alcohol for a month will help you understand what your life is like with and without it. If you find that after, or even during, an experiment such as Dry January, that you have tremors, your mood is poor and you’re snippier and more unhappy without alcohol, then perhaps you really do have a drinking problem.

Maybe the alcohol was moderating your behavior.

Longer term, if you stayed away from drinking, you might return to a more “normal” version of yourself. Because those symptoms we just mentioned sound like evidence of withdrawal, McGeorge said.

There’s also evidence suggesting that people who did Dry January reduced their alcohol consumption overall, after cutting it for a month.

It seems that they reset and realized what their most appropriate level of consumption really was.

Perhaps a month off can really recalibrate everything in your mind and body.

Drinking, by the way, is known to disrupt your sleep cycles, and can affect your ability to get a good REM sleep. So maybe you’ll get a better night’s sleep with alcohol completely out of your system.

Just remember, alcohol isn’t all bad, McGeorge said. Don’t turn this into an all-or-nothing-type mentality.

“It’s fair to say that drinking alcohol for your health is not a good recommendation,” McGeorge said. “I would not, as a physician, say, ‘You should start drinking a glass a day.’ It’s not a logical choice, because I can’t weigh individual risk factors enough to know what’s beneficial for certain.”

But that’s what a lot of this comes down to: Individual risk factors.

If you drink responsibly and you have a positive experience -- for example, maybe there are certain social interactions in which a glass of wine helps you relax -- there’s no harm in continuing to do so, McGeorge said.

It’s true that some studies and schools of thought do contradict one another when it comes to drinking, but when we’re talking about alcohol, it’s a little different than talking about smoking, the doctor pointed out.

“There’s no evidence that smoking is good for you -- zero,” McGeorge said. “Alcohol is not in the same vein. There’s a mixed risk benefit with alcohol. You just have to understand what your risk and your benefit is, and moderate your consumption accordingly. It’s not all good or all bad, it’s something in between, depending on what your personal risk, behavioral patterns and factors are.

“... Alcohol has made its way into society where an occasional drink in light to moderate use is more likely safe than harmful. To avoid alcohol because you have some fear of it or because you’re concerned it’s unhealthy -- that’s probably not accurate.”

“All or nothing” in the case of drinking really shouldn’t be your mindset, unless of course, you’re an alcoholic, in which case, you really should be at “nothing.”

You don’t want to risk your sobriety and relapse, McGeorge said.

“But cutting out alcohol ‘just because’ is probably not necessary for the average person,” McGeorge said.

And a few final notes ...

Keep in mind, some alcoholic drinks do pack lots of calories, so factor that in too, if you’re watching your intake or trying to be healthy -- which many people tend to do when it comes to New Year’s resolutions.

And if you crave alcohol, that’s probably unhealthy too, McGeorge said.

If you’re ever at a point where you can’t function unless you’re intoxicated, that’s clearly unhealthy.

And if your drinking causes a situation in which you’re behaving inappropriately or it’s harming your personal or work life, that’s considered a disorder, the doctor said.

So, where does this leave us?

If you’re curious or you want some more insight into your body and your health, sure, try Dry January. Maybe you’ll be exactly the same. Maybe you’ll realize you were buying two bottles a week, which might be a bit much, McGeorge said.

But we’ll add our interpretation to McGeorge’s insight, as well: Don’t feel like you HAVE to do Dry January.

And hey, if you’re not concerned about your drinking, that’s probably a good sign.

Would you attempt an experiment like this one? Let us know in the comments.

[This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.]