MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (01/12/2022) — With New Year’s behind us, individuals may participate in New Year resolutions. One that is common is Dry January or Sober January, when people abstain from the consumption of alcohol for the month. 

University of Minnesota Medical School expert Sheila Specker discusses what Dry January is and what to expect when participating.

120 seconds — What is Dry January and the purpose for those who choose to participate?
Dr. Specker
: Dry January, or Sober January, is a public health campaign urging people to abstain from alcohol for the month of January, practiced in Europe and the U.S., following the overindulgence of the holidays. It is an opportunity to “reset” and re-examine relationships with alcohol.

The idea of Dry January started in 2011 when a woman in the U.K., was training for a marathon and decided giving up alcohol to make the training easier. She lost weight, slept better and had more energy. Both Europe and the U.S. have taken on this practice as a public health campaign. Positive benefits continued after the month: A U.K. survey found that after six months, 75% of people were able to keep harmful episodes down;  almost 25% of those who were drinking at harmful levels were now in the low-risk category. Low risk drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as no more than one drink/day for women and two for men.

In a 2021 U.S. survey, participants gave various reason for making the decision to abstain:

  • 79% indicated desire to be healthier in general
  • 72% wanted to drink less.
  • 63% wanted to “reset” their drinking -interrupting a pattern of unhealthy use.
  • 49% said they drank too much during the pandemic.

90 seconds — What can people expect from participating in Dry January? Is there a difference for people that drink seldom than those that drink often?
Dr. Specker: The distinct health advantages include reducing liver fat, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight, as well as improvements in concentration and sleep patterns. Mental health benefits include improvement in mood and reduced anxiety. Some of these benefits such as liver, blood pressure would be most profound in those who drink heavier but even those who drink less often can find improvement in sleep, mood and general well-being. It is important to keep in mind that alcohol is a sedative — a depressant — so that persons with depression can be particularly affected by alcohol. 

For persons who seldom drink, it is an opportunity to look at their health choices and commitment to healthy living.  

During Dry January, heavier drinkers might critically examine the role that alcohol has in their lives, weighing the pros and cons, and making preparation for the next step after January — or if it is a struggle to stop. 

80 seconds  — What advice would you give to an individual struggling with addiction participating in Dry January for it to be effective long term?
Dr. Specker: For individuals struggling with addiction, this month may provide insight into what drives alcohol use such as boredom, low mood, conflict or stress. Rates of drinking have significantly increased during COVID likely related to these factors.

If a person is a heavy daily drinker, there are medical risks to abruptly stopping so seeking medical advice is important.

For sobriety to be long term, there must be acceptance of the fact that it is a problem, decide to change and obtain help — whatever form that may be — and get support from others. Addiction is a chronic condition and there can be recurrences and return to use, but what is important is continuing to work towards abstinence. We are fortunate in Minnesota to have many resources and telehealth has broadened the ability to get support.

Sheila Specker, is an addiction psychiatrist with the University of Minnesota Medical School and M Health Fairview. She is also a member of the University’s Medical Discovery Team on Addiction. Her expertise is in eating disorders, substance us disorders and addictive disorders.

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Please contact Kat Dodge at kdodge@umn.edu for video files for media use.

Contact: Kat Dodge, U of M Medical School, kdodge@umn.edu.

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