By: Julie Hens
Not scientifically reviewed by Dr. Eeks
For most, embarking on dry January is not just about giving yourself a break from alcohol, but to kickstart some healthier habits in general. Improving our health is typically at the forefront of our minds as we head into a new year, and dry January can be a great accompaniment to any other new health goals.
That said, it can be a challenge to change long-held habits, and the best way to tackle it is to consider what else you can do to maximize your chances of success.
Here are some top tips to help keep you on track to improving your health during dry January and beyond.
Discover healthy drink alternatives
If you drink alcohol regularly – perhaps even daily – then it’s important to consciously find alternative beverage options that are healthier for you and that you will enjoy.
Water is, of course, the primary go-to drink for optimal health, as staying hydrated while ingesting zero calories is ideal for most health goals. That said, it isn’t always the most exciting option, especially if you’re used to consuming lots of tasty drinks throughout the day.
That said, there’s water (i.e., from the tap), and then there’s clean, crisp, mountain spring water with naturally occurring minerals in a range of options, such as infused spring water. Coconut mint bubbles, cherry-infused, and more – there is a range of waters to make hydrating much more enjoyable than plain water alone.
Aside from that, take a moment to consider what other drinks you might enjoy when relaxing or socializing – perhaps fruit juices, ginger beer, or alcohol-free wines or spirits – whatever works to keep you booze-free and on track for improved health.
Create a realistic plan to stick to
If you just ramble into dry January expecting to wing it, you may be setting yourself up for failure and increased stress. Going alcohol-free for a month is not always easy to stick to, especially if you drink regularly and/or are big on socializing with people who do drink, so make a plan.
It might be helpful to write down your goals and intentions, and place them somewhere you can see them often, such as the bathroom mirror or on your phone’s lock screen.
You’re more likely to make changes successfully if you set small goals to follow, especially initially. You’re only going to succeed at improving your health during dry January if you stay on track and if that means making it dry-ish January, then so be it – much better to cut down than to completely abstain for a week than give up and spend the rest of the month drinking as much as you would otherwise have done. For many, the most important healthy change to make as a result of dry January is to change their relationship with alcohol, so make a plan that sets you up for success.
One of the best ways to combat boredom and abstain from unhealthy habits such as drinking is to get active. This not only means exercising more, but getting out and about and trying new activities. This could be dancing, golfing, hiking, singing, yoga – the options are endless. Not only does physical activity increase the amount of endorphins (happy chemicals) that our body releases, but so too does immersing yourself in enjoyable activities. What hobbies have you always been interested in trying? Now might be the time to get out of your comfort zone and find something new to love doing.
Don’t go it alone
Dry January is a phenomenon that vast numbers of people participate in around the world – according to a 2019 survey, one in every five Americans participates in it annually. This means that there are probably people you know, be it friends, family members or colleagues, that are giving it a go too, so it makes sense to seek them out and help each other. Tackling difficult goals can be much easier when the experience is shared, and you can help to keep each other accountable.
Stay away from unhealthy triggers
Abstaining from alcohol can be difficult if you frequent environments in which others are drinking. If you know you may struggle to resist temptations, it might be worth incorporating the avoidance of certain trigger situations into your plan. Avoid going to bars, clubs, or other social events that might make it too hard for you to stay on track. If you were fasting, you wouldn’t head to a buffet to hang out, so avoid alcohol-rich environments while abstinence is a struggle.
Additionally, recognize that it is common for one bad habit to be replaced by another. If you truly want to improve your health during dry January and beyond, be careful not to take up an alternative bad habit (such as smoking, for example) to replace drinking alcohol. Spend your time in healthy environments that promote good habits.
Get help if you need it
For many people, dry January is an opportunity to boost their health, cleanse their systems and kick start some better habits in general. For some, however, it can bring about the realization that they have an unhealthy reliance on alcohol. You needn’t display full-blown alcoholic tendencies to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. If this is the case, consider seeking some professional support to help transform your habits around alcohol use, and what difficulties may be hiding beneath them that you could address to improve your overall health and well-being.