Come January, many people are saturated from the drinking that comes with the holiday parties and get-togethers. Odds are at some point during the 2021 holiday season, you experienced a harsh hangover from too much champagne, eggnog, and other festive cocktails, leading you to say to yourself, “I’m never drinking again.” In comes the Dry January trend to help ring in the New Year by putting a brake on alcohol consumption for the whole month. And as it turns out, there are more benefits to a dry January than hangover-free mornings. Research shows that a month-long respite from alcohol can significantly benefit one’s mental and physical health. We turned to NYC neuropsychologist, Dr. Sanam Hafeez, for insight into the benefits of taking a month-long, booze-free challenge. Here she outlines some of the benefits of a dry January.
The Benefits of a Dry January
You will save money
According to Fortune Magazine, overall price averages for alcoholic beverages continue to increase thanks to craft cocktail trends. A 2021 survey by OnePoll estimated that Americans’ social spending around the holiday season more than doubles, with a big contributor being alcohol. If your wallet has felt the booze as much as you have this season, the math could be reason enough to pause the drinks and close your tab for a month. “Think of the financial stress you could take off your back by cutting back on the money spent on alcohol during January,” says Dr. Hafeez. “An average person could hit the bar twice a week, spending about $30-$75 dollars, depending on what drinks you are purchasing. Add tip and your expenses for a night of drinking could reach or surpass $100 easily. Throughout a single month, this could cost you a good chunk of change.” Add more money saved if you’re also a weekend social drinker; add way more money if you are inclined to purchase bottles when out with friends.
Your skin will rejuvenate
While alcohol consumption doesn’t directly cause acne or wrinkles, it destabilizes hormone levels and immune functions, which lead to dull skin, breakouts, flushed complexion, puffiness, and exacerbated fine lines. If you like to “rosé all day” or consume mixed drinks with more sugars, syrups, and other additives, you can start seeing the toll of these habits on the texture and tone of your skin. “A part of being successful when reducing alcohol intake is the compliments you receive, the energy you feel, and the changes you see in the mirror. These can all be fuel to help you live a healthier life in the new year,” says Dr. Hafeez.
You’ll get a head start on your weight loss resolution
Research in the Journal of Obesity says people who don’t drink tend to eat less, simply because alcohol heightens the senses and numbs reasoning. In other words, it makes that late-night pizza seem even more appetizing. Plus, when you remove alcohol intake, it diminishes the overall calories you consume. Think about three beers or glasses of wine at about 150 calories each. Those calories add up. Dr. Hafeez explains that “any person seeking help with weight management has heard the advice ‘don’t drink your calories,’ alcoholic beverages are some of the drinks that most easily overwhelm your caloric consumption. Drinking less, or not at all for a month, will leave you with improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels and help optimize your organ function, which will help you be more active and in a better mental state.”
You will have more energy
The last thing you want is to be tired at the start of the new year. “One great benefit of going alcohol-free is renewed energy. You will not be giving up your day to recover from last night’s drinking, and waking up earlier will help you establish better morning habits that prime your brain for productivity and creativity,” says Dr. Hafeez. “You will also see improved concentration and endurance as the day goes on because your energy level will not be in a deficit before the day even begins,” she says.
You will feel less depressed
Dr. Hafeez explains that alcohol is actually a depressant that affects the neurotransmitters in the brain. “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel joyful and stabilizes our mood. Drinking alcohol can temporarily boost serotonin levels, therefore making you feel upbeat, but the long-term excessive consumption of alcohol can actually lower serotonin levels, and therefore either cause or worsen depression,” she says. “Another problem comes when depression and anxiety, even at the mild levels, begin to be alleviated momentarily with alcohol. This can quickly become dangerous because it will work in a negative cycle: Alcohol intake will get worse, which will heighten the depression and then cause the person to drink more.”
You will get better sleep
Alcohol affects your sleep pattern by inhibiting your REM sleep and disrupting your circadian rhythm. “REM sleep is incredibly important to the quality of your rest. When blocked by alcohol, you could lose out on the most restorative part of your sleep, which can affect the way you think, concentrate, and process information the next day,” explains Dr. Hafeez. Another issue with alcohol is that it makes you wake up during the night to go to the bathroom. “Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning an agent that prompts the passing of urine. This means that at nighttime, instead of sleeping throughout the night, you may need to get up repeatedly to relieve yourself. This will make it even harder to get the rest you need. In the absence of alcohol, your sleep is more comfortable and energizing,” she says.
Your relationships will improve
“It is important to note that when your friendships and relationships rely on social drinking, a booze-free month can affect how those interactions happen. So, while you have more time and energy, you might want to try new activities friends who are willing or use this time to plant new friendships,” says Dr. Hafeez. Alcohol-free activities will increase the quality of time you are spending with others. She also talks about the opportunity to focus on you, explaining that “self-care is important yet often neglected over a good night out for drinks. Suddenly, happy hour is not an option, but a fitness class after work or a workshop on a topic that interests you is The time will add up, and you can use it to promote your self-confidence and personal development.
“One thing to consider is that people who label themselves ‘social drinkers’ may feel these improvements within days. Meanwhile, people who battle with alcoholism can often cause harm to themselves if they decide to stop drinking cold turkey. If you are a frequent/binge drinker, speak with your physician before abruptly ceasing alcohol consumption,” says Dr. Hafeez. “Committing to going without alcohol may reveal there actually is a bigger issue going on. If someone can’t last the week without alcohol and feels physical repercussions like nausea, headaches, night sweats, and tremors, or insomnia, consulting a doctor would be an important next step.”
About the Expert: Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, is an NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist, a teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College, and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. a neuropsychological, developmental, and educational center in Manhattan and Queens. Dr. Hafeez masterfully applies her years of experience connecting psychological implications to address some of today’s common issues such as body image, social media addiction, relationships, workplace stress, parenting, and psychopathology (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, etc…). In addition, Dr. Hafeez works with individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, attention and memory problems, and abuse. Dr. Hafeez often shares her credible expertise to various news outlets in New York City and frequently appears on CNN and Dr.Oz. Connect with her via Instagram @drsanamhafeez .