What To Expect Over the Month
Everyone is different, but there are some common trends when people take part in Dry January. You might not get all of these, but here’s a rough timeline of some of the weird and wonderful effects reported by participants last year!
You might be nursing a hangover from New Year’s celebrations, so there’s not much we can do for that I’m afraid. The best option is to go for your usual hangover routine, and remember to drink lots of water.
Sometimes people have trouble getting to sleep if they’re used to alcohol to help. The important thing to keep in mind is that while alcohol helps you to initially drop off, it actually makes the sleep less restful (by stopping you getting deep, REM sleep). So once you adjust you’ll feel much better for it. The NHS have some good tips on sleep hygiene.
OK, so the first few days can be a challenge for some people. If you’re a regular drinker, sometimes people report getting mild headaches, or waking up to hangover-like symptoms in the mornings. This is probably dehydration, and a fairly normal side-effect, usually from a combination of eating leftover salty, fatty snacks from Christmas and not drinking enough water. Make sure you’re staying hydrated, particularly in the evenings where if you’ve dropped the booze and haven’t replaced it with something else, you probably aren’t drinking all that much. It is temporary, usually gone in a few days, so drink lots, take some pain killers if you need them and take it easy.
Try healthy smoothies and mocktails to get some goodness in with the hydration too!
Some people report sugar cravings and an over-zealous sweet tooth. Sugar is quite addictive, so if you drop the sugar from your alcohol (of which, depending on your drink of choice, there can be a lot) your body can crave it from other sources. Combine this with general January blues and the increased sugar intake in the weeks before (damn you chocolate selection boxes) and it can be a pretty strong compulsion. Know that it passes in time, and you can’t expect to change everything in your diet in one big swoop, so have a treat every once in a while if you’re really craving something.
Week one down!
By now most people are finding they’re sleeping better as they’ve adjusted to falling asleep naturally and getting the full spectrum of restful sleep cycles. Many people wake up feeling better in the mornings, some better than they’ve felt for years!
It’s worth noting that some people report getting really vivid dreams. We only dream during the REM sleep cycle, which alcohol interferes with. Therefore when we’re getting lots of REM we dream more! The dreams aren’t usually reported as being particularly unpleasant (at least no more than normal dreams), but it’s a completely normal (if somewhat odd) side-effect!
When Things Start Getting Good
Many people by this point are starting to get the good side effects. Better hair and skin are very common, as is weight loss – we had one person reporting 3lb in the first 6 days, and one person lost 25lb over the month! Alcohol is incredibly high in empty calories (so called because it contains no nutrients) – in fact the average adult gets 10% of their calories from alcohol. You can find out more at the Alcohol Concern Calorie Converter.
Of course these results aren’t always drastic, so don’t feel disheartened if it takes a bit longer, or is less drastic than you hoped. Just know that you’re building a healthier, happier you!
Day 11- 14
One really important development tends to happen somewhere around this point – improved mood. If you’ve been drinking for most, if not all of your adult life, you might not have actually been two weeks without a drink before. While we associate alcohol with fun and good times, it’s actually a depressant, and in the long term it’s linked to low mood, anxiety, and even depression.
Many people at this point report feeling better than they have for years – happier, more energy, reduced anxiety (and fewer panic attacks for those who get them).
If you haven’t already, now is a fantastic time to get started with exercise! Energy levels should be up, you should be sleeping better and feeling healthier than you might have felt ina long while, all of which exercise will make even better. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment to run a marathon, but start looking for small healthy changes you can make.
See if you can discover some healthy drinks to stick with even after the month is done? Maybe a post-dinner green tea instead of an alcoholic digestif, or buy in some soda water for when you’re craving something bubbly.
Three weeks in, it’s worth counting up how much you’ve saved on booze so far in the month. It’s estimated that the average adult spends around £886 every year on alcohol – that’s almost £75 every month, which is money in your pocket for Dry January! How will you spend it?
It’s the final week – you should be well within your stride now! It’s worth considering how you’re going to handle alcohol after the end of January. Maybe you’ll not drink on weeknights and stick to the government guidelines at the weekend (no more than 2-3 units for women, or 3-4 units for men). Maybe you’ll save alcohol for when you’re out and about so you don’t have it in the house. Maybe you’ll have a new pub-only soft drink that feels more special than something you might get in a lunch meal deal so you don’t miss the booze.
The majority of people drink less as a result of Dry January. Even six months later the skills, understanding and confidence they built over the month stay with them, and they feel more confident turning down alcohol.
In fact nearly 10% of participants last year said they weren’t planning to drink again. Even if you’re not one of them, you’ll be much healthier and wealthier for having made it through the month!
The last day! Many people report feeling apathetic to alcohol now – they aren’t desperate for a drink but they might have one at some point. Others are looking forward to a drink. Neither is right or wrong, but it’s good to be in a position where you’re not craving something and instead making a conscious decision to drink, rather than it just being a habit.
Bonus Tip: Day 1 – 2 of February
It’s worth noting that many people who do overindulge in the booze at the end of the month come to regret it! Keep in mind your body isn’t used to alcohol any more, so your tolerance might have gone down. Even those who drink relatively little report feeling a bit rubbish in the morning (even just one glass of wine!). There’s usually another batch of people saying “actually, if I feel like this after booze, it’s not really worth it…”. They’ve experienced a month without alcohol possibly for the first time in their adult life, and can therefore actually feel the effects, and make an informed decision.
But whether you’re back to drinking or not, congratulations on the month off! Now, don’t forget to collect up your donations and get the nay-sayers who thought you couldn’t do it to put their money where their mouth is!
Important Note: It’s really worth stressing at this point that Dry January is not a medical detox plan for those who are alcohol dependent. If you’ve been drinking heavily every day for many years, it might be worth consulting your GP before starting. Similarly if you get any worrying symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal (including tremors, vomiting or hallucinations) seek medical help. These symptoms usually come on within the first 24 hours of your last drink.