This Is What Happens To Your Body During Dry January
10 minutes read
The benefits of Dry January: From brighter skin to a healthier liver and lifestyle.
Following a specific health regimen or going on a booze ban for 31 days in the bleakest month of the year, the one famous for January Blues is, let’s face it, going to be tough.
However, to aid your motivation, we’ve spoken to leading experts, Holistic Nutritionist Maria Marlowe, Mental Health Expert Owen O’Kane, and the CEO of Alcohol Change UK, and organiser of ‘Dry January’ Dr Richard Piper. They reveal the secrets of surviving the season – let’s begin.
What is Dry January?
Dry January is a one-month alcohol-free challenge launched by the British non-profit charity Alcohol Change UK.
‘Dry’ means abstaining from alcohol, which means no wine, beer and spirits for a month. It’s come a long way since its inception in 2013, with millions of people participating in the challenge worldwide.
Why do people participate in Dry January?
A recent survey released by Alcohol Change UK last December showed that almost three in 10 drinkers (28%) had found themselves drinking more in 2021, compared to 2020. Around one in six drinkers (17%) have felt concerned about the amount they have been drinking since the removal of COVID-19 restrictions in the summer, and a quarter (25%) would like to cut down on the amount they drink in 2022.
“Dry January offers the opportunity for a total reset and a chance to see some amazing benefits like better sleep, a fuller wallet, more energy, and a calmer mind. But, more importantly, over 70% of people who do Dry January continue to drink more healthily six months later – so it’s an investment in your health and happiness year-round,” Dr Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK and organiser of ‘Dry January’ tells Beauty Daily.
“Having a month off alcohol may benefit some people, in its own right. But aiming for a month off alcohol as part of a well-designed behaviour change campaign is so much more effective and that’s where Dry January and our other behaviour change campaigns, such as Sober Spring, can make a significant difference,” Piper adds.
What happens to your body if you give up alcohol for a month?
Here are five Dry January benefits to your health.
1. Better skin
“When you skip alcohol for a month, you’ll probably notice clearer, more hydrated, less puffy, and more radiant skin. So although an occasional glass probably won’t make much of an impact on your skin, drinking regularly will,” says Maria Marlowe, holistic nutritionist and author of The Real Food Grocery Guide.
Alcohol is a diuretic that means increasing urine production leading to dehydration.
Marlowe adds, “Chronic dehydration may lead to the overproduction of sebum, which can clog pores and cause breakouts. Additionally, alcohol may increase androgen levels in females, which is associated with acne,” she explains. However, 54% of Dry January participants reported having better skin health.
2. Improved sleep
While a little bit of alcohol isn’t too bad, it can still have an impact on your sleep quality, according to sleep experts. Research shows that alcohol lowers restorative sleep quality and interferes with your REM cycle. REM is the stage of sleep during which we dream.
When we drink, REM sleep is suppressed, which is why we’re still so tired the next day, even after an eight-hour slumber. Nevertheless, 71% of the challenge participants enjoyed a better sleep quality during the month.
3. Healthy liver
Another benefactor in your participation in Dry January is your liver. “Alcohol is a toxin that your body, and liver specifically, must process, break down and remove from your system. If you overload the liver with toxins – not just from alcohol but daily life – it can become sluggish and less efficient. This can lead to fewer antioxidants, more oxidative stress, and more inflammation,” Marlowe explains.
The NHS says drinking large amounts of alcohol, even for just a few days, can build up fats in the liver. This is called alcoholic fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease rarely causes any symptoms, but it’s a vital warning sign that you’re drinking at a harmful level.
Give your liver a break and giving it four weeks can substantially reduce liver damage.
4. Weight loss
According to health authorities, it is unclear whether alcohol consumption is a risk factor for weight gain. However, it can be a contributing factor: it stops your body from burning fat, it can make you feel hungry, and tempt us into making bad food choices.
5. Prevent fatal diseases
Drinking alcohol impairs immune cells in key organs, which, when continuously compromised, can lead to a range of harmful effects on the body. It can diminish a person’s immune response and put them more at risk of fatal diseases and prone to COVID-19.
According to a 2018 report in the Lancet, reducing your drinking also lowers your risk of strokes, heart disease, and hypertensive disease and could increase your life expectancy.
Don’t know where to start? Here are expert-approved 9 Dry January tips:
1. Focus on the benefits.
“As humans, we need to be motivated to make changes in life. There is a lot of research showing the benefits of reducing alcohol for your physical and mental wellness. Apart from feeling better, it can also help with making decisions and even improving relationships,” Owen O’Kane, Psychotherapist and Sunday Times Best Selling author of Ten to Zen recommends.
2. Write down your plan.
Goals are great but plans are everything. Make a realistic plan down to the single detail, and stick to it. Jot down ten benefits or reasons why you are participating in Dry January. Make a checklist of all the things you hope to gain and how you’ll achieve them.
According to a study conducted by neuropsychologists, when an individual vividly describes the goals in written form, they are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish them.
3. Plan some activities that don’t involve drinking.
Do something you love or something fun. Watch a movie, go on a hike or walk in the park, host weekend brunch and invite some friends sans the alcohol. Find something to get busy with and time will fly.
O’Kane, who just released his new book Ten Times Happier, highly suggests creating new habits. “Most research on changing habits outlines that if you consistently replace a habit with a healthier alternative, then eventually that becomes the new ‘norm.’ For example, you could go to the gym, cook, read, or whatever works for you. Also, try to replace your ‘normal tipple’ with a natural flavour drink that is tasty but without alcohol.”
4. Find a substitute non-alcoholic drink.
When you’re out socialising, go straight to the non-alcoholic beverages menu and opt for sparkling water or soda (with a slice of fruit or cucumber) or virgin beverages, so it doesn’t feel like a boring option.
When you feel like treating yourself to a post-work or weekend drink at home, Nutritionist Marlowe suggests making mocktails to keep your drinking at bay.
“Glow Glo Juice recipe is a refreshing citrus blend of lemon and orange with a little zing from fresh ginger. The juice has a fun neon yellow glow from the inclusion of lemon peel which makes it a fun mocktail and conversation starter. Plus, it offers skin and immune benefits.” She continues, “Another tasty juice recipe that can be made virgin is this Green Lemonade made with cucumber and lemon. Leave out the gin, and you have a hydrating beauty beverage.”
Want to go pro with your mocktail mixing? Check out cocktail expert Derek Brown’s book called Mindful Mixology. Sixty recipes of no-and-low-proof cocktails, meticulously choreographed around taste, texture, body, and piquancy to give you equally satisfying “adult beverages” minus the booze. Happy Mixing!
5. Avoid temptations or triggers.
Do a spring clean before partaking in the challenge. First, make sure there is no alcohol in sight. Also, when out and about, avoid locations or situations that you associate with drinking.
6. Create a support group.
Inform your family and friends of your intentions. Use the people closest to you as a support group to help keep you in check. A study reveals that telling the right people about your goals will significantly increase achieving them.
“Unquestionably, we are more likely to succeed at something if we update someone on our progress. If you are accountable to someone daily, it will add another layer of motivation that helps make this happen for you,” O’Kane says.
7. Download the Try Dry app.
“Those who take part in Dry January get access to Alcohol Change UK’s free tools and resources, such as our Try Dry app, motivational email programme, and our fabulous online support group,” Piper says.
Research shows that those who sign up via the tools and resources provided by Alcohol Change UK are twice as likely to have a completely alcohol-free month compared to those who try to avoid alcohol in January on their own.
8. Avoid the ‘all or nothing mindset’.
If you encounter a mishap, don’t give up and have a pity party. Try again the next day. Just the idea of going in for this challenge means you want to change or make improvements; pat yourself on the back. You’re already giving yourself a favour by being a day healthier.
9. Reward yourself.
Celebrate the small wins. Reward yourself every week or after completing the challenge. It could be a luxurious spa day, a dinner at a fancy place, or a new handbag or shoes.
Using alcohol to cope with Covid-19 stress
“We’ve seen more and more interest in the campaign over the past couple of years in particular. COVID-19 has undoubtedly played a role in this. The long-term stresses of the pandemic and growing levels of home drinking have generated a significant jump in the number of us seeking to regain control of our drinking. There has also been even greater interest in personal health and in learning about ways to drink more healthily,” Piper explains.
While other people find it manageable to stay sober for a month or two or stop altogether, some individuals have become alcohol-dependent and are struggling to take control.
Former NHS clinical lead, O’Kane, says, “I believe many people have suffered varying degrees of trauma. I have spoken recently about a diagnosis I coined called Post Pandemic Stress Disorder (PPSD). This explores the trauma impact of the pandemic on mental wellbeing. I think it’s important that this is acknowledged and dealt with.”
Adding, “Excessive alcohol use during lockdown will have played a part in ‘numbing’ this trauma. We will only see the true impact when the pandemic has ended. This will be seen in a deterioration in physical health, mental health, addictive patterns, financial issues, and a multitude of other social factors. Awareness and preparation for these issues are important.”
Am I drinking too much? Here are the signs of alcohol addiction
“Many people look for comfort when life isn’t easy, life is easy, and when they are emotionally in pain. Understandably, comfort comes in the form of using a ‘fix’ that helps numb or anaesthetise pain,” O’Kane explains.
While most experts would agree that there is little harm in using alcohol recreationally in a sensible controlled manner – however – this isn’t always the case when someone finds themselves unable to control the compulsive urge for more drink.
Know when to seek help from a pro
If the urge to drink feels out of your control, alcohol may have become a problem that Dry January can’t fix. If you can’t do it alone, seek help from alcohol support organisations or a trained professional. Stopping excessive alcohol quickly can be medically unsafe if the risk of withdrawal is present.
“Recovery from any addiction is possible and there are many support networks out there. But don’t ignore the emotional root causes of your struggles if your goal is long-term recovery. Whatever is going on in your life now, remember this is not a permanent state. Although it might feel comfortable with numbing the difficult emotions, remember it will feel incredible when you deal with them,” O’Kane advises.
The past two years have been challenging, with more of us working in different ways and our normal routines out of whack.
“Our current circumstances are not an excuse to drink more heavily and regularly as it can put us at real risk. If you’re drinking more than you would like to, it’s a good time to consider whether you’d like to cut down or take an extended break,” Piper concludes.
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