Grab your kombucha or your favorite flavor of club soda. The experts are here to help you stay sober (and social) this Dry January.
Maybe you drank a lot of cranberry martinis after work, carrying a mug of mule like your Hydro Flask or drinking a spiky hot cocoa every time the temperature drops below freezing. Whatever your drink, it is very possible that the excessive indulgence of the holiday season will have the best of you.
If so, you are not alone. This sentiment sparked the popularity of Dry January, a 31-day alcohol-free health challenge. From improved sleep to better eating habits, most people will begin to see the health benefits of cutting back in just two weeks, says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and member of Shape’s advisory board.
Why You Should Consider Doing Dry January
Dry January isn’t just “redefining” your body and “detoxifying” all the drinks you’ve had since Thanksgiving – it’s exploring your relationship with alcohol without a long-term commitment.
“If a program like Dry January (or another alcohol-free challenge at any time of the year) attracts and engages people who are ‘sober curious’ or who fall in any part of the ‘gray drinking area’ spectrum before they hit the bottom. from the well – or just make the relationship with alcohol worse – so that’s great, “says Laura Ward, a certified trainer in addiction recovery and working life. (Drinking in the gray area refers to the space between rock bottom ends and drinking from time to time.)
“What many people don’t realize is that they don’t have to hit rock bottom before they start assessing their relationship with alcohol – they cut themselves or stop drinking completely,” she says. “Society has normalized alcohol, so this is an opportunity to see what it’s like to remove it.”
Even if you don’t think you drink too much, Dry January is an opportunity for those to absorb, to find out if a part of their relationship with alcohol is worth reexamining and changing.
“The great lesson is: You don’t have to have a problem with alcohol for it to be a problem in your life,” says Amanda Kuda, a holistic life coach trained to support gray area drinkers. “If you feel that alcohol is holding you back in any way, the January drought is a great first step towards further exploration.” Maybe the severe headaches you experience after a long night at the bar are hurting your job performance or your partner gets upset when it comes to being your DD – even those small drinking consequences are good enough reasons to try sobriety. (Note: If you feel or suspect that you have an alcohol-related disorder, Dry January may not be right for you. “Don’t use it as a way to avoid professional help,” says Kuda.)
Research has found that dry January can also lead to long-term changes in spending habits. January Dry Dry participants drank an average of one day less per week in August, and the frequency of drunkenness dropped 38% from an average of 3.4 days a month to 2.1 days a month, according to with a 2018 survey by the University of Sussex.
If you have decided to put a stopper to your drinking habits and take a closer look at the role of alcohol in your life, you must first prepare for a sober success. Here, Gans, Ward and Kuda share a step-by-step guide to crushing Dry January.
1. Create your toolbox for Dry January success.
Dry January is * so * personal that there is no rule book for it, but there are some tools that can be valuable to most people who start the challenge.
1. Remove all alcohol from your living space and workspace.
2. Find a responsible partner, such as a friend who is also accepting the challenge or even your followers on social networks.
3. Attach a calendar to your wall. Every day when you don’t drink, Kuda recommends checking a box or drawing a symbol and then writing positive behavior for that day, such as doing a hard workout or finishing a new book, for a visual representation of your success.
4. Take time for self-reflection. Take a journal and start assessing your current relationship with alcohol: When was the first time you heard about alcohol? When was the first time you drank? How does alcohol benefit you and how does it harm you? How did you get to this alcohol-free place in your life? When you’re craving a drink at any time during Dry January, look at the answers you have written and reflect on them, Ward says. This practice will help remind you why you were sober – and what you hope to achieve from it.
7. Plan your returns. Before you get to the clubs and ask the bartender for a glass of your best ginger ale, you need to create a road map to repeat when members of your social circle try to order a drink. Something as simple as “Hey, I’m not actually drinking right now – I’m doing Dry January – but thanks for the offer” will do the trick, says Kuda. Still, “some people are intimidated by their lack of participation in the beverage culture,” she adds. If you ask someone for support, and they keep pushing you to drink, interrupt the conversation and leave, she says.
6. Set some social boundaries by determining which activities and locations are conducive to the dry January season and which ones will test your ability to stay sober. “When you’re involved (like in a bar, club, etc.), you start to realize how much you have relied on alcohol as a social reserve,” says Kuda. “If you think you don’t have the willpower to do that, don’t go.”
2. Change the way you think about going sober.
Moving from a drunken to a sober social life also requires a change in your mindset. Instead of focusing on what you’re giving up on Dry January, which can make you feel private, think about what you’re getting out of the challenge, Ward says.
To change your thinking, start a journal. Create daily gratitude lists and write down feelings you had throughout the day and thoughts you can’t seem to get out of your head.
Most importantly, stay present: make the decision to stay sober every day. Instead of saying to himself, “It’s January 1st and I’ll be January 31st without a drink,” which may seem overwhelming, Ward recommends thinking, “Just for today I won’t drink.”
3. Spend time self-reflecting.
To find out the underlying reason for your drinking – even if you do so in moderation – you need to move away from the social scene and be introspective: What were you using alcohol for in your life? Was it to support you? Morph your personality? Avoid uncomfortable thoughts, feelings or simply boredom? With these instructions, you will begin to understand how alcohol may be hindering your personal development, says Kuda. You can find alternatives to alcohol and create solutions to your problems, as well as get the bottle.
4. Go out with a game plan.
As you participate in Dry January, preparation for socialization is essential. Always bring money with you – when you go out to dinner with friends and the server carries a check, you can only pay for your share (not everyone else’s beers). To maximize the amount of high cognition time you will have with drinkers, Kuda suggests arriving early and leaving early. When people start getting disorganized, taking photos or moving from the restaurant to the bar next door, take this as your suggestion to hit the road.
Use these intoxicated events as an opportunity to think about the people you surround yourself with and the events you attend. “Is it just everyone approaching to drink, or is there value in this scenario? Is there anything valuable in these friendships or is it just alcohol and nothing more?” Says Ward. Watching your social life closely can help you reconsider your priorities and promote personal development.
5. Find new ways to stay social (but keep your old activities, if you can).
Yes, you can still maintain your normal social activities without drinking this dry January. Order a Virgin Bloody Mary while you’re out for Sunday brunch, sip a craft mocktail or a soft beer while listening to live music. If those drinks are totally unavailable, grab a simple seltzer or lemon or lime soda – it looks like a vodka or gin and tonic soda, so it is less awkward when you’re around drinkers, Gans says.
If the bars are a trigger for you, snuggling on the couch with a Netflix rom-com isn’t the only way to spend your evenings. Use your sober experience as a chance to get out of your eating, drinking and sleeping routine. “Instead of going to a happy hour on Thursday night, go to a yoga class,” says Gans. Go back to your childhood with a game of bowling or take away all your anger at throwing an ax, race in the park or cycle through all the ice cream parlors in the neighborhood.
6. When you’re tempted to drink, have an exit strategy.
When you’re surrounded by friends tossing beers in a tailgate or shooting at a karaoke bar, you may be drawn to join. Instead of grabbing a drink and giving up “when things get tough, press pause,” says Ward. “What you do in a break is up to you: maybe you can call a friend or your mother, move around, have a drink of water, or meditate or read. If you stop long enough to change what you are doing , by the end of the break, the desire will have passed. “
When you are out of the picture, ask yourself why it was so unbearable to be in that environment without drinking, says Kuda. If alcohol is noticeably absent from what you are trying to sober up, decide whether it is acting as “an exclamation mark on something exciting that has happened or a numbing mechanism,” Ward says. There are many other ways to celebrate or get away, so find a non-alcoholic alternative that works for you.
7. Don’t let a slip-up ruin your Dry January.
Even if you give away the all-night vodka soda, accept the choice you made at that time and continue with your dry January challenge.
“You are trying to reconstitute a decade or so of the social brand that you need this thing in your life,” says Kuda. “It’s a chemical response – you have a craving for alcohol – so start over if you have a flaw. Don’t throw it all to hell. Go back to your plan and continue.” As Gans says, “success feeds success,” so while it may be unbearably difficult to turn down a margarita earlier this month, it will only be easier.
8. When Dry January is officially over, keep going.
After 31 days of life without drink, your first instinct may be to serve a celebratory glass of wine, but Kuda recommends postponing a glass for now. “I firmly believe that 30 days is not enough to reset your system or help your relationship with alcohol or detoxify your body,” says Kuda. “This is a pattern that has probably been reinforced for a decade or so and you can’t undo all this social conditioning in 30 days.”
If your dry January really was good, try adding another 30 or 60 days to the challenge and see where it takes you. But if you’re kicking and screaming during the month, “take a closer look at your relationship with alcohol and go a little deeper – it may be a sign that this is a very damaging relationship,” Ward says.
If you decide you have a harmful relationship with alcohol after Dry January and want to stop drinking, rehab and 12-step programs are not your only options, Ward says. You can steal pieces of programs like This Naked Mind, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Women for Sobriety, One Year No Beer and customize your own recovery, meet therapists and coaches or join SHE RECOVERS, which has retreats, programs on group and coaches around the world who conduct monthly sharing circles in person.