The last few months of every year are a seemingly endless parade of gluttony, from binging on Halloween candy to sampling a dozen forms of carbs on Thanksgiving and again at Christmas (or Hanukkah). And then there’s the debauchery of Dec. 31. Alcohol, of course, is always present, whether it’s to pair with the delicious turkey you labored over or to deal with your family’s neuroses.
If this sounds like you, you might want to consider doing Dry January. While you can take a break from alcohol at any time, there tends to be a spike in sober-curiosity after the holidays.
Related Reading: 7 Tips for How to Stop Drinking for Dry January
“People are looking at cleaning up their diet and drinking habits after the holiday season,” says Jessica Cording, a Registered Dietitian and health coach.
With her patients, she likes to start by asking them why they want to stop drinking. “It gives a lot of clues as to which behaviors they want to change or which thing they are struggling with,” she says.
Ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it to lose weight? Is it to sleep better? Do you generally just want to detox and be healthier? Are you dealing with bigger-picture stressors? Being honest with yourself and pinpointing your motivations will help you keep to the challenge and get the results you want out of it.
The Health Benefits of Being Sober
The list of health benefits to abstaining from alcohol is longer than Adam Driver’s arm. Cording says most (but not all) people typically will lose weight when they’re not drinking, as they’re not taking in those extra calories. In the same vein, you might experience better digestion, and it can also impact your food choices.
“It’s not uncommon that unhealthy foods go hand-in-hand with alcohol, because it lowers inhibition,” she says. Simply put, you might be less likely to chow down a whole bag of Flamin’ Hot Nacho Cheese Doritos if you’re sober. (Listen, we said less likely, it’s still not impossible.)
Related Reading: How to Build a Non-Alcoholic or Low Alcoholic Bar Cart
Alcohol is widely considered to affect the quality of your sleep. While you may think drinking alcohol, like a nice glass of red wine, helps you fall asleep, it interrupts sleep cycles, reducing the amount of good sleep you get and making you feel less rested the next day. Without alcohol messing with your Zs, you’ll have more energy throughout the day. Also, no hangovers? Yes please.
Not drinking is also great for the brain. It can help you think more clearly and improve your memory. “Sometimes alcohol can impact our brain chemistry,” says Cording, who adds that being sober can help with mood stabilization.
Alcohol generally dehydrates and intensifies inflammation. If you go a few weeks or longer without it, you will likely see a noticeable difference in the quality of your skin. You’ll be less likely to break out and your skin may look clearer and healthier overall.
Uncovering Deeper Issues
Abstaining from alcohol, temporarily or permanently, can uncover bigger and broader issues in your life. Sometimes, it’s not just about the alcohol. “It gives you an opportunity to really explore what role alcohol plays in your life and what your relationship is to it,” says Cording.
Dry January can make you pick up new healthy habits along the way, or make you evaluate how to proceed after the challenge is over. “Some people enjoy how they feel without alcohol, so when they reintroduce it, they might do so more mindfully,” says Cording.
It might also highlight potential dependencies. Cording says that if you suspect your relationship with alcohol is not healthy, or if you have a family history you’re concerned about, taking a break from drinking can help you reassess your habit. She also recommends seeking help from a mental health professional and establishing a support system through friends and family. “Especially if you’re uncovering something in your life that is difficult for you,” she says.
Set Yourself Up for Success (& Don’t Sabotage Yourself)
Whether you’re contemplating a more permanent sober lifestyle or just doing this for a month after the holiday excess, make sure you set yourself up for success from the get-go. Cording says the most important thing is to ask yourself what will be realistic for you. She’s observed people do challenges like Dry January and then binge once the month is over. If you think this might happen with you, she suggests allowing yourself one drink per week to “indulge mindfully.”
Another big pitfall is swapping the alcohol habit for another bad one. The most common culprit? Sugar. Cording cautions away from soda, which is full of sugar and will negate any potential benefits to being sober. Think club soda, seltzer or even kombucha, which has gut-friendly probiotics.
The good news is there are a lot more products available now for people who want to reduce their alcohol consumption, such as low-alcohol and zero-proof drinks. Cording says a good bartender or mixologist will be able to make a great non-alcoholic drink for you if you ask. Many serious bars have a dedicated mocktail program now. “Go for a lot of flavor,” she advises.
Related Reading: The Must-Have Mocktail Ingredients for Non-Alcoholic Cocktails
It’s also important to not care about what people think. You’re at brunch with friends and being teased for ordering a Virgin Bloody Mary? You do you. Any good friend should be able to support you in your journey.
Also, we asked, and there are no actual benefits to alcohol that you’re missing by not drinking it. Sorry!
Header image courtesy of Getty Images / Georges Gobet