Dry January can unlock lasting health benefits

Dry January can unlock lasting health benefits

Wednesday, January 30, 2019
/ By:
Jennifer Easton

It’s no secret that each year, January ushers in a wave of motivated individuals who double down on developing positive habits. And in 2019, millions of people have unified behind one self-improvement strategy in particular: giving up alcohol for the entire month in pursuit of “Dry January.”

Strength in numbers

Maybe you’re among the 4 million people in the UK or one in five people in the U.S. who are currently participating. Pioneered by UK-based organization Alcohol Change, the 31-day break from booze has grown immensely popular since its official launch in 2014 - probably because a lot of people imbibe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the highest alcohol consumption levels are concentrated in the developed world, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere.

Couple that with the fact that the negative effects of drinking, especially in excess, are widely documented, providing plenty of motivation to cut back or abstain from alcohol all together. WHO states that over 200 health conditions are linked to harmful alcohol use, ranging from cancer to cardiovascular disease. A study in medical journal The Lancet found that in 2016, alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death for people ages 15 to 49 worldwide: pretty much the definition of sobering.

But it doesn’t take a global report on the state of alcohol to tell us what we already know: drinking doesn’t make us feel great. And Dry January may offer an opportunity to unlock a healthier version of ourselves almost immediately. Alcohol Change UK conducted a survey that revealed 71% of participants experienced better sleep; 67% had more energy and 58% lost weight. Sign me up!

Breaking the habit - and then some

I can personally vouch for the transformative power of Dry January. This is my second year embarking on the alcohol-free month, alongside my husband and many of my friends and family members (camaraderie certainly makes it easier, and more fun).

My saga was so positive in 2018 that I continued my streak well into February, eager to keep up the momentum I had developed over the last 31 days. I was grateful for the journey, its lessons and revelations, the early evenings and bright-eyed mornings that were part and parcel to my experience of removing alcohol from my weekend equation. Above all, I felt empowered: Dry January helped me internalize the deep connection between even light drinking and my overall health and well-being, and prepared me to make more conscious choices going forward.

It’s easy to go on auto-pilot in any number of areas of our existence - including how frequently we reach for a glass of pinot grigio with dinner, or equate social outings with cocktail consumption. But a dry month creates a space to question the “why?” behind those patterns. Which is valuable, because from happy hour to holiday gatherings, we are absolutely inundated with messages that prompt us to have a drink. Stepping back to reconsider our response to all of that stimuli and how it fits into our own individual and nuanced lives is a really good thing.

It’s also a very personal thing. Seeking joy and finding balance are two cornerstones of being human, and your Dry January experience may ultimately lead you to the conclusion that you’re quite happy with the current role alcohol plays in your life. The value of taking a month off lies in the opportunity to pause and evaluate.

Another important aspect to note about Dry January is that participating is a privilege. For the many people who are struggling with alcohol addiction, halting their consumption may not be an option. Dry January is a great time to take stock of how you can support anyone in your life who may be dealing with addiction. For strategies in advancing workplace support, the WELL Building Standard addresses substance abuse prevention in feature M14 in the Mind concept, Substance Use Education and Services, and addresses how employers can create more supportive workplace environments that help mitigate and address substance abuse.

Beyond January

For Dry January disciples, the best part about making it through the month without a drink? It’s likely that you’ll continue to reap the rewards of your hard work through the rest of the year. Research results from a University of Sussex study showed that 72% of Dry January participants maintained lower levels of harmful drinking six months down the line. So, one month’s effort could equate to making healthier choices on the long-term

Which aligns with what appears to be a major health and wellness moment and maybe even a societal shift, where more and more people are abstaining from alcohol, or proactively minimizing their use - well beyond the confines of Dry January. There’s almost a sense of rebellion associated with this growing movement - against the norms in certain areas of the world that are so deeply connected to drinking. This month, I noticed a plethora of bars and restaurants in my little corner of Philadelphia featuring non-alcoholic cocktails, a trend that’s been picking up for years in cities like London and New York. Exploratory sober gatherings like Club Soda NYC, a different model than addiction recovery groups, are springing up. Booze-free bars, alcohol-free “spirits” and bottled elixirs all provide an alternative to weekend drinks. These manifestations of “sober culture” are an indication that an increasing number of individuals are stepping out of the gray to clarify the role that alcohol plays in their life.

And looking back on another month without alcohol: I’m on board. Am I headed for the dry life? I’m not sure. For now, I’m thankful for this annual opportunity to reset and re-examine alongside a growing community, and I aim to remain thoughtful and intentional about any drinks I take in the future.

Cheers to that.

 

Jennifer Easton serves the Marketing team at the International WELL Building Institute, drawing upon 7+ years of experience as an end-to-end marketer for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its global green building standard, LEED. An energetic strategist and a dynamic storyteller, Jennifer has built her career in disruptive marketing for cutting-edge initiatives, rooted in her passion areas of sustainability and wellness.