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The Dry January Challenge: Are You In?

March 6, 2017

Since 2012, Dry January has been a growing trend that promotes health and wellness through encouraging people to take a 31-day break from alcohol. Started in the UK, people here in the US and around the world connect on social media as they encourage one another to stick to sobriety for a solid month and celebrate the benefits. For most, it is a time to help their body recover from the overindulgence that is usually a big part of the holiday season, but for others, it provides a stark realization that alcohol is not a finite issue that can easily be managed but a serious disorder that requires professional intervention and treatment.

Are you ready to take the Dry January challenge and figure out your true relationship with alcohol?

Physical Dependence

One of the first signs in Dry January that alcohol may be a serious issue may come in the first few days. Though many people will feel some level of discomfort when they stop drinking if they have been doing so regularly and/or heavily for any extended period of time, serious physical withdrawal symptoms can indicate the need for immediate treatment.

That is, the following symptoms in the first few days of Dry January are normal:

  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Dehydration

When you experience those issues and/or any of the following symptoms, however, it can indicate an addiction:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Stomach cramping
  • Nausea or vomiting (not associated with a hangover)
  • Insomnia

Physical discomfort may be annoying, but it is not impossible to manage alone. Severe withdrawal symptoms that feel like they can only be quelled with a drink require treatment at a medical detox center.

Note: Serious issues, such as seizures, hallucinations, delusions, racing or irregular heartbeat, serious tremors, hallucinations and other disturbing symptoms, require immediate medical care.

Emotional Crutch

Similarly, it is not uncommon to feel some sense of change when you stop drinking if you have been drinking almost every night for the past couple months or drinking heavily more often than not at holiday events and parties. However, how you experience that discomfort can provide some insight into the nature of your relationship with alcohol. For example, if you just feel bored and like you aren’t sure what to do with yourself until you lock on to a better plan, it is a normal part of the Dry January process and perfectly fine. However, if you feel agitated and unhappy, or unable to think about anything else, it is a good idea to connect with help that can put some positive coping tools into your emotional toolbox.


Cravings take feeling like alcohol is an “emotional crutch” to a new level. Obsession with alcohol may occupy every waking minute, create insomnia, or extreme feelings of discomfort that are impossible for you and those around you to ignore. It may be hard to get through the workday or do anything without craving alcohol, and in some cases, there may even be a physical component to those cravings. Pacing, feeling jumpy, and being unable to remain still – if going without alcohol feels this difficult, reaching out for help immediately is recommended.

A Better Way

Dry January – and potentially, a “dry” life – can pave the way toward a healthier and more functional life. What may start out as an experiment can be an eye-opening, life-changing experience. Here’s how to get the most out of it:


  • Stop using all substances. While you are detoxing your liver, why not give your entire body a break from the toxins that are inherent to all illicit substances and alcohol?
  • Eat well. Many people find that they lose weight when they take part in Dry January even if they do nothing else to improve their health. Why? Alcohol has a ton of calories. Plus, it decreases your energy, which may make you feel like you need to eat more to compensate. Additionally, it can cut into your sleep time – another issue that may cause you to eat more. Amplify the health improvements associated with Dry January by making healthy eating choices too.
  • Get lots of rest. Sleep gives your body time to repair itself, so try to get good solid rest throughout the month. Go to bed and get up at the same time. Make sure your sleep space is quiet, cool, and dark. Shoot for between seven and nine hours of rest each night.
  • Get some exercise. While you are making positive eating and sleep choices, why not incorporate three or four workouts into your weekly schedule? Try walking, swimming, or weight training, and watch how all the benefits of Dry January increase.

Professional Assistance

If you find that it is impossible to get through the month – or even the week – without taking a drink, connecting with treatment services is recommended. No two people have the same relationship with alcohol, so it is a good idea to talk to a substance abuse treatment professional to determine what treatment interventions and therapies will be most effective for you.

Will you take the Dry January challenge?

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