This guest blog post was written by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Director George F. Koob, Ph.D., and can also be found on NIAAA’s Director’s Blog.
As the New Year rolls in, many people examine their lifestyle choices, including their relationship with alcohol. These observations often lead to New Year’s resolutions, such as participating in “Dry January.” Dry January is a health and wellness trend that emphasizes taking a break from alcohol for an entire month. This break gives you a chance to evaluate your relationship with alcohol and allows you to gain an understanding of what is motivating you to drink and how it is impacting your life. The insights gained while taking a break from alcohol can help guide better choices moving forward.
Depending on how much a person drinks, taking a break from alcohol for a month could lead to myriad positive changes. Some people might discover their alcohol use was irritating their stomach, disrupting their sleep, causing weight gain, contributing to conflicts, or that they relied more on alcohol for stress relief than they thought. Waking up without the fatigue, malaise and other common symptoms of hangovers could greatly improve one’s quality of life. In addition, potential improvements in health and wellbeing could have positive effects on relationships. And, for some people, the financial savings could be substantial. Research has also shown that taking a month-long break from alcohol can be good for the liver.
For a successful Dry January, as with dieting, having a plan in place when the allotted break time ends is important. Otherwise, it is easy to slip back into old habits. If you decide to return to drinking, stay within the U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 for alcohol consumption, i.e., adults of legal drinking age who choose to drink should drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more. Some people, however, should avoid alcohol completely. This includes individuals who take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications, have certain medical conditions, are underage, are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, are planning to drive or participate in other activities that require skill, coordination, or alertness, or are recovering from AUD or unable to control the amount of alcohol that they drink. People who have consumed alcohol heavily over time and want to reduce or stop drinking should seek medical help to monitor for and to prevent against potentially painful or even deadly withdrawal symptoms.
If you decide to take a break from alcohol during January or any time of the year the NIAAA website, Rethinking Drinking, has strategies that can help you stop drinking. These include tips for cutting down or quitting, reminder strategies to help you remember why and how you decided to it, and ways your family and friends can support you. All these strategies can help you stay motivated in your efforts to take a break from alcohol. Rethinking Drinking is also a tool for helping you examine your relationship with alcohol. If you determine you need help with a drinking problem, the NIAAA Treatment Navigator provides information about treatment options, including telehealth and online mutual support.
George F. Koob, Ph.D.