Dry January: Is Giving Up Alcohol for a Month Worth It?

January 2, 2018
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After a month of holiday parties and a New Year’s Eve that may have been celebrated with a few too many glasses of champagne, many people are looking for a refresh right about now. In fact, Dry January—giving up alcohol for the entire month—may be sounding pretty good. But is it worth it to stop drinking for just a month?

“January is a natural time for people start thinking about changes they want to make,” says Ben Atkinson, M.S., R.D., manager of nutrition, informatics and wellness at Harborview Medical Center. “There are a bunch of different changes that I think alcohol can affect.”

From your wallet to your waistline, going sans sip for a month can create a ripple effect of positive results, he says. Here’s how your body and life may benefit if you stop drinking, plus what to consider when it comes to liver health.

High roller: Stop drinking and save money

One of the sneakiest ways that alcohol can affect your life is by draining your budget, says Atkinson. The average millennial spent $461 on alcohol in 2016, while Gen Xers spent $552, according to a consumer survey. The amount you could save in a month will obviously depend on a lot of factors, like how often you drink, where you imbibe and the type of booze you prefer. 

Cutting back could help you learn to be more cautious with your alcohol purchases the rest of the year, says Atkinson. And with the money you save you could potentially pay to learn a new hobby or take a trip, he says. A month of sacrificing drinks for a ticket to somewhere sunny? We’ll take it.

Shaken, not stirred: The health benefits of giving up alcohol for a month

Then there’s the impact drinking can have on your health goals. If you’re trying to lose weight or just generally improve your health in 2018, ditching alcohol could help you see results right away, says Atkinson. Just take the calories, for starters. Depending on its alcohol content, one IPA could have close to 200 calories. Throw back a few a week and it really adds up.

“That’s a significant amount of calories to cut out of your diet,” says Atkinson. “You would definitely see some improvements in your weight, blood sugar, any of those things, just by cutting out a couple of drinks in a week, no doubt.”

Alcohol can also impact your sleep in a negative way. If you participate in Dry January you’ll likely sleep more soundly, which can help you reach other personal goals, says Atkinson. Morning workouts, for example, are a lot easier to wake up for if you’ve gotten good quality sleep.

Your liver may thank you, too. Regular drinking can cause fat to deposit in the liver, trigger inflammation and scarring, and ultimately lead to liver disease, says Anne Larson, M.D., chief of liver care and hepatology at Northwest Hospital & Medical Center. It’s hard to predict who will get liver injury from drinking, but there seems to be a genetic predisposition, she says.

“If people already have an ongoing liver injury from alcohol and they stop drinking, it can definitely allow the liver some recovery,” says Larson.

But the biggest potential benefit she sees is the opportunity to assess your drinking habits. If you stop drinking and it’s really, really hard for you, that’s a sign that you may have an alcohol addiction or dependency and should seek help, she says.

Dark ‘n’ stormy: Why the perks may not last

While a month can be a good refresh period for your body that can help you kick start other New Year’s goals, any benefits to the liver aren’t long-lasting, says Larson. Any damage will just come back if you return to your usual happy hour habits in February, she says.

Plus, if you reward yourself for a successful month on the wagon with a few extra drinks, you could undo the healing even faster. Fat can be measured in the liver right away after a heavy binge, says Larson.

“I don’t think not drinking one month a year is really going to make a lot of difference for your liver if you just go back and have 11 more months of causing injury,” she says. “In general, alcohol is a toxin and you have to be careful with it.”

(Just a reminder: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as four or more drinks in a two-hour period for women, and five or more for men. But, it notes that most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent.)

The last word

Going without booze for a month can help you kick start other goals you may have around the New Year. But when it comes to liver health, any perks will be short-lived if you go back to old habits after the month.

The takeaway? Dry January may not be a golden ticket to better health, but it definitely can’t hurt.