• Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Dry January tips, health benefits and terms to know — whether you’re a gray-area drinker or just sober curious


Jan 1, 2024


The arrival of the new year means many people are gearing up for Dry January, the increasingly popular challenge of quitting alcohol for the month. 

As the sober curious movement gains traction, with more people reassessing their relationship to alcohol, experts say they expect to see even more participants this January. 

“This year, it’s actually becoming even more popular for people to engage in (Dry January) — people are thinking about taking a break from drinking either before or after the holidays,” says Dr. Aimee Chiligiris, a clinical psychologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “In the past, this might have caused anxiety, but it’s much more socially acceptable, and people are more aware of this movement, planning for it and discussing it in their social circles.”

Chiligiris says this is especially true among younger populations like Gen Z who have a better understanding of the negative health impacts of alcohol. 

A Gallup poll from earlier this year found 39% of Americans view moderate drinking as unhealthy, an 11-percentage-point increase since 2018. Surveys also indicate today’s teens and young adults are drinking less than in previous generations, which Chiligiris views as the result of an overall focus shift on health and well-being following the height of the COVID pandemic. 

“Young people started finding new ways to focus on physical and mental health… and this has included shifts in alcohol consumption,” she says. “Alcohol is seen as less of a necessity during social outings. There’s less social expectations to drink in social settings.”

But no matter your age, abstaining from alcohol or having a reset from drinking can be beneficial. 

“Any commitment to bettering yourself and focusing on your well being is a really notable one and should be celebrated,” Chiligiris adds.

To help you better prepare for a drink-free January, here is a look at what to expect and some helpful terms to know:

Benefits of not drinking alcohol

Experts say you can expect multiple positive effects when you stop drinking, across both physical and mental health. 

“We can absolutely see benefits from shifting our relationship with alcohol or not using alcohol for a month,” Chiligiris says.

One one of the biggest reported benefits, she says, is improved sleep: “The quality of sleep, feeling much more restored upon awakening, being able to go into a deeper sleep.” 

She notes that other beneficial effects, including lower cholesterol and reduced blood pressure, are also possible. 

“Certainly, a reduction of drinking, even if for a short period of time, can improve overall bodily function, especially in regards to liver function. Some people see positive positive effects in regards to weight loss,” she adds.

Cutting out binge drinking can reduce the risk of both short- and long-term health problems. “These problems include hangovers, injuries, overdoses, alcohol use disorder, heart and liver disease and cancer,” the CDC’s website states. “Almost 40% of all deaths related to alcohol use are due to binge drinking.”

In terms of mental health benefits, Chiligiris says, steering away from alcohol can “positively impact mood.”

There are also secondary benefits, like finding creative ways to practice self-care and engage with others.

“Taking a break from alcohol or substances in general and really resetting to focus on yourself can give you a blank slate of, ‘What am I going to do to be social? To take care of my body today?’ It can really give yourself the space to think about different coping skills and also to get to get to know yourself in your emotions,” she says.

“Mocktails” and other alcohol-free options

Alcohol-free cocktails, or “mocktails,” are increasingly popular on drink menus across the country. There are even completely booze-free bars and pop-ups offering a nightlife experience without the risk of hangovers.

A new trend is brewing: Nonalcoholic beers & mocktails


When looking to order a drink during Dry January (or any time of year), you can also ask for alcohol-free beers, wines and other spirits. There is a growing market of artisanal makers as well as big brands like Budweiser and Heineken selling nonalcoholic options. 

Sober curious, gray-area drinkers and more terms to know

If you’re stepping into Dry January for the first time, there are some terms relating to alcohol use that may be helpful to know:

Sober curious: While “sober” is used for people who completely abstain from substances, being “sober curious” means someone is exploring or interested in exploring life without their influence.

“(The) sober curious movement (has) become more common in culture amongst Gen Zers and young adults and even some millennials, where people are more curious about what it’s like to not have alcohol or other substances in their life,” Chiligiris says.

Gray-area drinkers: Gray-area drinkers fall into a category of alcohol use where they’re “drinking more than they’d probably like, but not so much that it’s causing external consequences yet,” Dr. Aakash Shah, chief of Jersey Shore University Medical Center’s Addiction Medical Center, previously told CBS News.

“I think the term falls into this gray area because it doesn’t yet meet the medical definitions of alcoholism. But I think that risk is there,” Shah said.

As people try out a challenge like Dry January, they may discover they have a more problematic relationships with alcohol than they realized, which can make language to describe where they might fall helpful.

Alcohol use disorder: Abbreviated as AUD, alcohol use disorder is characterized by an “impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

AUD falls on a spectrum of mild, moderate or severe, and encompasses conditions often referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence or alcoholism. It can involve a range of symptoms, including drinking more than you intended to; spending a lot of time drinking or being sick from drinking; finding that drinking is interfering with your work or family life; or physical withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wear off. 

Dry January alcohol withdrawal

If you’re someone who has a problematic relationship with alcohol, Dry January might prove challenging and may be best done with professional support.

“If it’s hard to reduce or it’s hard to stop altogether, that might be a really good sign that it would be helpful to seek out help from a licensed mental health person that specializes in the area of substance use,” Chiligiris says, adding there are risks to keep in mind, such as alcohol withdrawal. 

“There are risks associated with stopping drinking, specifically if you have engaged in drinking on a daily basis or you regularly engage in binge episodes of drinking,” Chiligiris warns. “So if you’re in that higher-risk drinking or there’s daily drinking… I would certainly recommend consulting with a licensed medical professional medical doctor, just to make sure you’re doing it in a safe way.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with alcohol, help is available via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.  NIAAA also has resources online to help you find treatment options.


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