Gone are the days when New Year’s resolutions revolved around hitting the gym more often or eating less ice cream. Now, participating in Dry January—not drinking alcohol for the entire month of January—is a popular challenge to try at the start of a new year that can come with numerous physical and mental health benefits . In fact, studies backup the widespread personal anecdotes with proof that avoiding alcohol consumption (such as a month of sobriety in Dry January or Sober October) can help you sleep better, save money, rethink your relationship to alcohol, increase energy, and more feel-good perks.
Whether you’re sober-curious, aiming to drink less, or simply want to experience the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol, Dry January means making a lot of changes, and making those changes the right way can help set you up for success. Here are the top tips, tricks and bits of advice from sobriety experts on how to do Dry January right and make it easier on yourself.
Identify your motivator for doing Dry January.
Before diving headfirst into Dry January, it’s important to understand your reason(s) for wanting to participate. Recovery specialist Elisa Hallerman , PhD, founder of Los Angeles–based Recovery Management Agency, recommends exploring your motivation for cutting back. “Be willing to engage your curiosity about the ‘why,’ instead of stopping at the fact that it’s a common New Year’s resolution, or that you’ve had friends posting about Dry January on Instagram,” she says. Having a good grasp on what’s driving your decision to give it a go, Hallerman explains, can help you not only stick to your goals, but personalize them to your needs.
Make a list of activities that involve drinking.
If your favorite hobbies typically involve or promote drinking—like happy hour with friends, dancing at the club, or day drinking at the beach—they may prove to be too difficult to maintain alongside a sobriety challenge. So it’s important to find alternatives for them to help you stay focused. “If drinking is a big part of your daily or weekly routine, and you want to abstain, you have to do things differently,” Molly Desch , certified sober life coach, says simply. “The first step I have all of my clients do when they first start working with me is come up with a list of 30 interests, hobbies, and activities that are personal to them. Right away, they have a list of alternatives to drinking.”
Commit to your decision with tangible actions.
As with any other life decision or big habit shift, big or small, it’s important to not only take the time to think your choice through, but to commit to the path you choose - including going sober for a full month of Dry January (or beyond). “You can't flounder or be wishy-washy here,” Desch says. “Write your commitment down, post to social media that you’re participating in Dry January, tell your family, friends, and co-workers, or download the Try Dry app . Making a conscientious commitment and letting those around you know of your intention solidifies in your mind that this is, indeed, something you’re going to do.”
Clear out the booze.
It’ll be much, much harder to commit to a dry month if your fridge has a leftover six-pack of hard seltzers and your wine rack is stacked with bottles of your favorite merlot. “Before the abstinence period begins, get the alcohol out of your home,” says Zach Ludwig, vice president of clinical services and accreditation at Bradford Health Services , which treats addiction. “Easy access to alcohol is what moves a craving or thought into [action].” On the heels of the holiday season of giving, give away your remaining alcohol to friends who will appreciate it, or ask them if they’ll hold onto it for the month (as long as they’re not doing Dry January, too, of course).
Track your feelings, progress, and setbacks.
Mindful drinking is a powerful exercise, and it simply involves observing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—non-judgmentally—surrounding drinking. One great way to flex that mindfulness muscle is to write things down. Anytime you feel the need or desire to consume alcohol during your Dry January stretch, Hallerman recommends using a diary or digital notes app to express, process, and understand all your feelings in those moments. “Keep track of what you’re feeling when the urge to have a drink comes up,” she says. “For example, maybe you’re bored, or you’re trying to push away an uncomfortable emotion. Or maybe you’re happy and want to have fun, and drinking is the way you’ve traditionally cut loose.” Instead of acting on the urge, stay with the feeling that comes up for a few minutes, she continues. “Often, identifying what’s happening in your inner world is the first step to understanding yourself, exercising compassionate self-control, and steering your ship in the direction of greater health and happiness.”
Prep answers for any awkward questions.
When alcohol is the norm in your inner bubble, you might get some pushback, or, at the very least, uncomfortable questions. “Be prepared to answer the question, ‘Why aren’t you drinking?’” Hallerman says. “It’s your choice as to how you’ll respond. You’re not obligated to share more than you feel comfortable with. Remember, there’s a huge difference between privacy and secrecy. Feel free to be honest about your reasons without going into detail or inviting a conversation you don’t want to have.” A simple, breezy answer: “I wanted a challenge, and I just wanted to see if I could do it!”
Eat lots of protein.
Yep, eating more protein may help curb cravings for alcohol, says doctor of clinical nutrition Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS , who specializes in alcohol reduction and cessation and runs a Dry January program. “One of the most common things we experience when cutting out alcohol is cravings for both alcohol and sugar,” she adds. “If you've ever tried to quit, then you know that the sugar cravings [can be] quite extreme. This is due to how your blood sugar responds to the reduction of alcohol intake. By consuming protein at each meal and snack , you can better balance blood sugar and reduce cravings.”
Replace the alcohol with another (healthy) habit.
Our habits are learned and reinforced by a complex reward systems in our brains that involve a stimulus or trigger (the craving for a cocktail), the behavior (drinking the drink), and the reward (the immediate, pleasurable experience of alcohol: the buzz, the taste, the ritual—whatever you love about it). If you find that drinking is a habit you engage in automatically—first thing when you get home from work; first thing when you walk into a party; first thing when you feel stressed—then swap out the alcohol for something else in the moment in order to “trick” your brain and create a different habit loop. If you love the ritual of drinking, cocktail-making, and “cheers”ing with friends, make some delicious mocktails . Pour yourself a seltzer with lemon—and put it in a festive stem glass. Stressed after a long day of work? In place of that typical glass of rosé, make a cup of ginger tea, take a bubble bath, or go for a 30 minute walk.
Find an accountability partner.
There’s no better motivator than having a loved one on your side who’s right in the experience with you. “Ask a friend to go on this journey with you,” Hallerman recommends. “For some people who may already drink only occasionally, Dry January will be a fairly straightforward experience, but for those who have a more complicated relationship with alcohol, it could be fraught with certain emotions and obstacles.” It’s always easier to stay the course when you’re doing it with a buddy, she explains, so you can discuss how you’re feeling along the way and experience the sense of validation together.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Dry January can be an enlightening month when people start to become more aware of their previous drinking habits—maybe they end the month resolved to continue drinking less in general, or realize they may actually have an unhealthy relationship to drinking and want to make a larger commitment to sobriety. “If you’re having trouble not drinking and recognize that this could be more of a problem than you’d initially thought, don’t hesitate to ask for help,” Hallerman says. “It takes courage to acknowledge that you need help.”