After a season filled with Champagne, Whiskey Sours, Gingerbread Martinis and other libations, some might need a break from booze. Dry January – a public health campaign that encourages giving up alcohol until the first of February – can help with that effort. The health benefits of staying dry for a month range from thinner thighs to a fatter wallet.
“It’s very common for people to come home after a stressful day and unwind with a glass of wine or two,” said Alexandria-based substance abuse counselor Sarah Brewer, Ph.D. “But the reality is that while alcohol does seem to make you more relaxed at first, it can lead to anxiety or a depressed mood.”
Weight loss can be a pleasant side effect of abstaining from an evening pour, says nutritionist Kathryn Armstrong, who sites a report by the National Institutes of Health that showed a strong link between weight gain and alcohol. “Basically, the cocktail or wine that you’re drinking has empty calories,” she said. “Also, many people tend to eat, especially junk food, when they drink.”
“Another benefit of being alcohol-free for a month is that people often find that they don’t need that glass of wine to relax and unwind from a stressful day,” added Brewer. “Giving up alcohol for a month might give you an opportunity to find explore other relaxation methods like meditation or going for a walk or some other type of exercise.”
For those who regularly attend happy hours with friends or have a glass of wine to relax, abstaining during one of the longest months of the year might seem unpleasant or unappealing, says Bethesda-based therapist Carol Barnaby, LCSW. “You might to find things to distract you,” she said. “If you’re used to having a drink or going to a happy hour at the same time every day, you can schedule something else during that time so your mind isn’t on alcohol. People who enjoy the taste of alcohol might try eating fruit or drinking a fruit flavored sparkling water.”
Attempting to take a break from alcohol might unmask deeper issues, suggests Brewer.
“If you find that you can’t stop drinking, it could mean that you have a problem with alcohol consumption,” she said. “By not drinking you might find that you’ve been using alcohol to help deal with other issues like depression, PTSD or anxiety. In those cases you should get help from a medical or mental health professional.”