We drink a lot during the holidays. This is especially true at the end of the year, starting with the day before Thanksgiving and on through to New Year’s Day. The day before Thanksgiving is actually the biggest drinking night of the year in the US, and has come to be called ‘Blackout Wednesday.’ Christmas brings its own rush of alcohol, and we all know how drunk Americans get on December 31st. Some may find this amusing, but really it’s not funny at all.
Holiday drinking creates an extremely dangerous period of time.
During these short five weeks, drunk-driving violations increase by 33% across the country. More than 20 people a day are injured or killed from alcohol-related causes, triple the average rate. New Year’s Eve is the most dangerous drinking day. Drunk-driving violations increase by 155% and injury/death rates nearly quadruple. As bad as it may sound, nothing’s going to prevent this from happening. Americans are going to drink more than average during the holiday season. Many of us drink problematically during this time.
So why not take a break?
In the information age, ideas spread very quickly. Back in 2006, author John Ore began writing about something he was doing at home: taking January off from drinking. His then-girlfriend and future wife first suggested it to him then, and it’s become a tradition. Ore wrote about it more and more, and the tradition came to be known as “Drynuary.” Within a couple of years, the idea went viral and people were doing it all over, using social media to brag about it.
In 2010, a non-profit organization called Moderation Management (MM) linked up with Ore to promote a non-drinking January. According to their mission statement, MM provides “…peer-run non-coercive support groups for anyone who would like to reduce their alcohol consumption.” Together, MM and Ore started a website dedicated to the practice.
Participating in the dry January is now officially known as “Dryuary,” losing the ‘n’ due to web address availability. From the website: “The goal of Dryuary is to offer a supportive environment for taking a month-long break from alcohol. It’s an invitation to give your body a break for 1/12th of the year from a diet that includes alcohol. Dryuary is not therapy; it is simply an opportunity to reset your relationship with drinking by taking a break at the beginning of the year.”
There are inspirational quotes and songs for each day, along with blogs and forums to share your Dryuary experiences. You can access Dryuary through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. Although it’s over for this year, you can sign up to participate in 2018.
While obviously healthy and positive, it’s easy to see how someone could dismiss Dryuary at first glance. It’s just a silly thing to brag about on social media, right? Very, very wrong. Yes, it’s on social media, but Dryuary has become so popular, and is so obviously healthy, that even the American Psychological Association (APA) officially recognizes the health benefits. Let’s talk about what they are.
Major Health Benefits to Dryuary
US News published an article this January about four “surprising things that happen to your body” when you participate in Dryuary. In short, you drink less, you sleep better, you eat less, and you may even lower your risk of diabetes. We want to expand on these benefits and show exactly how just one 31-day period of abstinence can go such a long way. Here are four major health benefits to participating in Dryuary:
1. You’ll Drink Less
People who participate in the dry January actually drink less for at least six months in the future. Plus they “have greater confidence in their ability to say no to alcohol…,” as written in the US News article. Science has backed this up, officially recognizing the health benefits of Dryuary.
A study published last year in Health Psychology, backed by the APA, “revealed that participation in Dry January was related to reductions in alcohol consumption and increases in DRSE among all respondents at 6-month follow-up, regardless of success, but indicated that these changes were more likely among people who successfully completed the challenge.”
DRSE stands for “drink refusal self-efficacy,” and is basically a measurement of the strength to say no to a drink. How good are you at not drinking when either offered one or surrounded by the opportunity to do so? DRSE numerically measures this.
First of all, it’s amazing that drinking rates went down even for those who did not finish the month out. Secondly, it’s incredible that one month of sobriety reduces drinking for half of a year! It’s important to note that ‘rebound effects,’ or the tendency to drink more after a dry period to ‘make up for lost time,’ do not occur after Dryuary. According to the study: “The findings suggest that participation in abstinence challenges such as Dry January… is unlikely to result in undesirable ‘rebound effects’: very few people reported increased alcohol consumption following a period of voluntary abstinence.”
2. You’ll Sleep Better
As reported by Time, a study performed recently at the University of Melbourne showed how even one drink of alcohol near bedtime can result in lower quality sleep. In the study, twenty-four people between the ages of 18 and 21 spent about a week at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences Sleep Laboratory.
One night they were each given a nightcap of vodka and orange juice, and the next night they were given a placebo: orange juice with a straw dipped in vodka. Before lying down for the night, each participant was hooked up to an electroencephalogram, or EEG. This machine measures brain activity with high accuracy.
According to Time: “Not surprisingly, on the nights they drank alcohol, people showed more slow wave sleep patterns, and more so-called delta activity…,” which occurs during deep sleep. However, alpha activity was also increased when they drank, which only occurs when the brain is awake.
The article continues: “Having both delta and alpha activity together therefore leads to disrupted sleep, since the alpha functions tend to offset any restorative efforts the brain neurons are trying to squeeze in.
So while it may seem that a drink or two before bed helps you sleep, it does not. That nightcap helps you fall asleep, but lowers the quality of the actual sleep you get. Therefore, a month of no drinking after that holiday period of bad sleep will ensure that you sleep better. More sleep means a better mood and better concentration, which overall means better performance. Thanks, Dryuary.
3. You’ll Eat Less
How much food do you eat on Thanksgiving? Are there leftovers that you nibble on for the rest of the month? When all the Christmas candy goes on sale in early December, do you buy any? How about on Christmas itself – do you eat a nice, big meal? Are there snacks out for your alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve party? If you’re a fan of the NFL, are you eating “football food” during the playoffs in January? Are you drinking throughout all of these occasions?
Let’s face it. Holiday season is all about the eating… and drinking alcohol. Turn on the sobriety for a month starting on New Year’s and you’re guaranteed to eat less during January, which could lead to better eating habits.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition performed a five-year long study of 7,608 men, who at the end “completed a postal questionnaire on changes in alcohol intake and body weight.” The results were not so great. Body mass index, or BMI, “increased significantly from the light-moderate to the very heavy alcohol intake group…,” wrote the researchers. “Similar patterns were seen for all types and combinations of alcohol.”
The conclusion of the study was literally summed up into one sentence: “Heavy alcohol intake contributes directly to weight gain and obesity, irrespective of the type of alcohol consumed.” The bottom line is that alcohol has a lot of calories, especially beer and wine. Liquor might not have a huge calorie count, but it is often mixed with sugary drinks.
On top of alcohol causing weight gain, drinking makes you eat more in general, and usually not health food. An unnamed study, referenced in the US News article linked above, found that on drinking days, men consume 433 calories more than they would on non-drinking days. Women consume 300 more calories.
Participate in Dryuary and lose that New Year’s resolution weight!
4. Possible Lower Risk of Diabetes
Another unnamed study was referenced in the US News article, this time regarding alcohol use and liver health/glucose levels. The study involved ten regular drinkers staying sober for a five-week period. Six of the participants went the whole time without drinking. Four participants drank.
For those who succeeded, both liver health and blood glucose levels improved. Also, liver fat, (which is a precursor to fatty liver disease, which is a precursor to cancer), fell by 15% or more after five weeks. Blood glucose levels fell by 16% on average. No such improvements were noted for any of the four who drank.
This particular study is a pilot study, meaning it is in the beginning stages. As said in the US News article, “This pilot study gives no indication of how long the improvements persist, but it does lay the groundwork for larger studies.”
These four benefits of not drinking for a month are backed with science, not just opinions. There are countless more benefits. For example:
- You will save a bunch of money.
- You will be hangover-free for a month.
- If when you drink, you use nicotine more, that will stop.
- You will be alert and conscious if and when the time comes.
- You have zero chance of getting alcohol poisoning.
Many more benefits exist; all you have to do is go sober for a month and see for yourself. It doesn’t have to be January. It can be any month. It can be any thirty-day period of time. Regardless of when you choose to do it, one month of no drinking will make you drink less alcohol in the future. It will give you better sleep. It will make you eat less, and it more than likely reduces your risk of not just diabetes, but liver problems as well.
For those who are not alcoholics and only enjoy responsibly, consider this: Alcohol isn’t going anywhere. Resisting for a month won’t make it disappear forever. Just try going for a month and see how you feel.
We bet you’ll feel like a million bucks.