Observing ‘Dry January’ can bring lasting benefits, studies show

People who observe “Dry January,” abstaining from alcohol during the month, often drink less the rest of the year and show “striking improvements in their health,” Anahad O’Connor of The Washington Post reports. The observance “is widely viewed as a temporary test of willpower — followed by a return to old drinking habits when the month ends. But according to research, that’s often not what happens.”

Studies in the United Kingdom have shown that people who participate in sobriety challenges “frequently experience lasting benefits,” O’Connor reports. “Often, they drink less in the long run and make other sustained changes to their drinking habits that lead to striking improvements in their health and well-being.” One possible reason: a month “provides opportunities to form new habits — like turning down alcohol in social settings, which in the long run can be empowering. And taking a break from alcohol can trigger immediate health benefits, like weight loss, better sleep, and a boost to your mood and energy levels, which can reinforce the new habit.”

Richard de Visser, a psychologist at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England, who has studied the phenomenon, told O’Connor, “It becomes a reinforcing message instead of a punishing message. Instead of public health people wagging their fingers and saying, ‘Don’t drink, it’s bad for you,’ people do it and say, ‘I didn’t realize how good I would feel.’ They often don’t realize how much stopping drinking will improve their sleep, or their concentration, or even just their levels of energy in the morning.” But 11% of participants have a rebound effect, drinking more afterward.

The observance was started 10 years ago by Alcohol Change UK, a British nonprofit that has a website where you can sign up to get support, also available via a mobile app. “Last year, 130,000 people globally signed up to participate in Dry January,” OConnor reports, offering other “tips that could increase your odds of success:” Do it with a friend. Find a new favorite drink that has no alcohol. Track how much money you save (which you can do on the app). “Manage your triggers; instead of meeting your friend at a bar after work, suggest going to a movie, taking a long walk, or having dinner at a restaurant instead.”

UPDATE, Jan. 2: The New York Times recommends non-alcoholic wines.
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