How Dry January, A Month Without Drinking, Affects Your Body
Dry January has been happening for over a week now. ICYMI, it's the month-long break from alcohol that millions of people take. While some people do it because they think they drink too much, others do it as a New Year's Resolution in an effort to get healthier. As you can imagine, there are many ways Dry January, aka no alcohol for a month, affects your body. "Having a Dry January can be great," Dr. Jennifer Caudle, Family Physician and Associate Professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Bustle. "For some, it can be a good opportunity to take a step back and regroup from the hectic holiday season, and for others it might be a good opportunity to reevaluate drinking habits altogether. Regardless of the reason, abstaining from alcohol in January (or other times of the year) can be very beneficial."
If you're wondering how much alcohol is too much, that's a great question. Moderate drinking for women is defined as up to one drink a day, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, and they consider high-risk drinking for women to be four or more drinks per day or eight or more drinks per week. As you can imagine, there are many health benefits to not drinking at all, and here are ways Dry January will affect your body.
1. You'll Have Better Cognitive Function
According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, over time, excessive drinking can impair your short- and long-term cognitive function. You may know people who have blacked out from drinking too much alcohol, or perhaps it's happened to you. Or maybe you've forgotten parts of the evening from a drinking-centric night, or parts of many evenings.
"Choosing to reduce one's alcohol intake can be a great way to evaluate habits and lifestyle behaviors," Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, CLC of Maya Feller Nutrition, tells Bustle. "There is a J-shaped curve when we think about alcohol consumption, meaning light to moderate drinking in a non-binge situation: Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, it may be protective and have some health benefits. However, when consumed on a consistent basis in excess (heavy drinking), it can be downright harmful. [One of the issues it can cause is] impaired cognition, which leads to poor and risky decision-making."
2. You'll Sleep Better & Have More Energy
According to Positive Health Wellness, sleep improves by 10 percent by not drinking alcohol for a month. In addition, they say that your wakefulness the next morning improves by 9.5 percent, which is another bonus. "Alcohol is notorious for disrupting sleep," Dr. Caudle says. "A big benefit [of Dry January] is the possibility of improved sleep. Even though alcohol may make us feel sleepy and ready to 'hit the sack,' sleep is often interrupted and of poor quality when alcohol has been involved. So an immediate benefit of not drinking might be feeling more rested and getting better sleep at night." As someone who suffers from insomnia, which may have been more predominant on nights I drank (I didn't keep track), I think better sleep is a great perk of doing Dry January.
3. You May Reduce Your Anxiety
Dry January will not just affect your body, but your mind, too. Another benefit to doing Dry January is to decrease your anxiety. Alcohol can make your anxiety worse, according to Healthline, since it changes your serotonin levels and affects other neurotransmitters in your brain. On top of which, you may often hear that alcohol is a depressant, even if it appears to make you happier in the moment.
4. You'll Have Better Skin
Omitting alcohol may help your skin, especially if you suffer from acne or rosacea, the latter being the condition where your face constantly looks sunburned. Jill S. Waibel, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Miami, told Women's Health about the correlation between drinking alcohol and the health of your skin. "The consumption of alcohol is one of the most common triggers for rosacea flare-ups, causing skin to be inflamed, red, and sensitive," Dr. Waibel told Women's Health. She added that sugary drinks are even worse, since consuming more sugar can age your skin faster.
As someone with rosacea who's been doing Dry January, I can attest to the fact that my face is a lot less red right now, and I've had zero rosacea flare-ups since Dry January began. I guess I'll see how the rest of the month goes and if there's something to this no alcohol = better skin theory.
5. You May Decrease Your Risk Of Many Chronic Diseases
As you can imagine, alcohol use has more drawbacks than benefits. "Alcohol is at the top of the list of what should be removed, or at the very least reduced, in our diets," Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women's health expert and author of she-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health, tells Bustle. "Also, it should be removed for probably more than one month since it increases the risks of many chronic diseases. For instance, alcohol has a direct correlation to cancer. The more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk of certain cancers: Cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon-rectum, liver, pancreas, and female breast are all associated with alcohol consumption. We also know drinking alcohol increases your risk of heart disease, liver disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and colorectal cancer."
Dr. Ross also points out that the number one cause of death in women is heart disease. "It affects 1 in 4 women," she says, "and a recent study showed that 70 to 80 percent of all chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease, is caused by lifestyle. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, and we know women who drink moderate amounts of alcohol — or two or more drinks a day — increase their chance of developing breast cancer as much as 41 percent."
6. You May Reduce Depression
According to WebMD, there is a strong link between drinking alcohol and depression. They state that almost one-third of people with major depression also have a problem with alcohol, and depression often comes before the drinking. Not-so-fun-fact: Women have a higher tendency to start drinking — they're more than twice as likely to — if they have a history of depression, WebMD states. However, you may also feel depressed after drinking, once the alcohol wears off. Point being, if you don't drink anymore, or this month, you may feel happier.
"Taking time off from drinking can give you the opportunity to examine how much you are actually drinking on a regular basis," Feller says. "It also allows you time to reflect on real ways to modify your alcohol-related behaviors and how they fit into your life as a whole. Having a dry month won't reverse all of the negative health implications associated with chronic drinking, but it will give you the head space to examine how to make sustainable changes, as well as to evaluate if you need to get added support. Ideally, the consumption of alcohol does not happen in a dependent manner; rather, in a way that does not increase harm to your health."
In any case, there are many benefits to having a Dry January if you decide you want to try out a month (or more) without drinking — not only for your body, but for your mind, too, and what is one without the other?