The cold, dark days of the new year have come and gone with many having accepted the challenge of Dry January and passed with flying colours.
Whether it was the jumping off point for a long-term resolution or a month-long test of grit and determination, the annual abstinence effort can have a major impact on health and wellbeing.
Jennifer Flynn of national charity Drinkaware said there are a host of health benefits people could be experiencing now that Dry January is coming to an end.
“One of the first things people who have done Dry January will have noticed is that their sleep has improved. In particular they’ll be getting better REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is that part of sleep which has restorative effects and has a really big impact.
“It’s a bit of a catch 22, because some people drink to help them get to sleep,” she said.
The Drinkaware Annual Barometer for 2022 found that 51% of Irish adults cite coping as a reason for drinking – including helping them get to sleep.
Jennifer said packing in alcohol for a few weeks can increase our level of quality sleep while eliminating any irritability and dips in concentration levels that come the morning after a night of drinking.
Mental health boost
A big boost to mental health should also be on the cards after a month on the dry.
“Alcohol can contribute to anxiety and depression. When you stop, your mood improves and you should be feeling more positive overall,” Jennifer said.
“Drinking reduces our inhibitions and alcohol changes the chemicals in our brain, including lowing our serotonin which regulates happiness.”
She said waking up without the post-night out ‘fear’ makes it more likely you’ll do things that make you happy during the day like reading, exercising and spending time with friends and family.
Physical wellbeing is the biggest driving force behind reducing alcohol assumption – according to Drinkaware, 62% of people who cut down cite their physical health as their main motivation.
Lower blood sugar and weight loss are some of the short-term gains Dry January participants could be seeing after cutting out the high calorie and sugar content of alcohol.
“There are other things as well that we might not associate with alcohol consumption like headaches and heartburn,” Jennifer said.
“You could also have a healthier looking appearance. Alcohol dehydrates us and removes sodium for our bodies because we urinate more while we’re drinking which leaves skin looking dull and grey.”
Beyond Dry January – and quitting for good
Moving beyond Dry January, how can people carry all their hard work into February and beyond?
Jennifer said the most important thing is to look back after experiencing the positives of the sober month first hand.
“I feel what’s missing from the conversation around Dry January is asking ‘why did you want to do it?’ Take stock of the month and say ‘I did Dry January, what do I want to do to continue?’”
She adds that it doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposition but stresses the importance of managing a return to drinking in a healthy and responsible way by following the HSE guidelines for low-risk drinking.
“The benefits of Dry January won’t be undone once you go back drinking as you’ll have seen and felt them first hand”.
If you’re considering packing the drink in for good, there are a few helpful strategies to ease into what can be a tough challenge.
It’s vital to “avoid temptation in the early stages” so it may be best to avoid the pub or nightclub in the first few weeks.
“Giving up drinking is challenging, especially for young people who might be in university and socialising a lot around alcohol. It’s important to reward yourself, maybe by buying yourself something nice with the money you’ve saved,” Jennifer said.