The festive season is a time of relaxation and merriment and, for many, more than their fair share of alcohol.

All the Christmas celebrations are a drinker’s paradise, from the free bar at the office party to the booze-frenzied farewell-to-the-Old on New Year’s Eve, which is why you can find yourself nursing more than just a sore head on the morning of the start-of-the-New.

January 1st is often a day of reflection on how much damage all the season’s alcohol has done. Not just in terms of the latest hangover, but longer-term harm too: to your liver and waistline, your personal relationships and mental health.

So, the New Year is a good time for looking forward, setting goals and making resolutions.

The concept of Dry January

As the name suggests, Dry January has become a widely practised way of drying out after the alcoholic excesses of December – and changing your approach to drinking for the year ahead.

Since it became an official public health campaign in 2013, spearheaded by the charity Alcohol Change UK, hundreds of thousands of people have signed up. In 2021, 130,000 turned to the campaign as a way to improve their relationship with alcohol.

But can a single month off the booze really bring about a healthy change to your drinking habits?

Following the first Dry January in 2013, the results were remarkable. After six months, 70% of participants had experienced an ongoing positive change to their drinking habits. And 25% of the people who had been drinking at harmful levels before the campaign, were no longer doing so.

So here are six reasons why making this January a dry January could be good for your mental health.

1. Break the addictive cycle.

Alcohol is an addiction. Despite the apparent feelings of wellbeing you get after a few drinks, the consumption of alcohol on a regular basis can have harmful side-effects.

And yet, like any addictive substance or habit, alcohol’s addictive properties make it extremely hard to give up once you’re hooked. Breaking the addictive cycle by going ‘cold turkey’ for a month may be just what you need.

If you’ve got into the habit of drinking too much or too often, or both, to a level you’re concerned about, going dry in January might help you change your drinking habits for the better. You might even decide to give up totally.

2. Avoid the depressive effects of alcohol.

It may feel like you’re on a high when you’ve had a glass or two of Prosecco, and for a while you are. Alcohol can help loosen you up, free you of self-doubt, and boost your confidence. It’s one of life’s coping mechanisms.

But regular drinking can actually create symptoms similar to depression. And feeding clinical depression with alcohol, while a tempting form of self-medication, may only mask the real symptoms and make diagnosis and treatment more difficult.

Alcohol is a toxic chemical that can play havoc with the chemical balance of your brain. It:

  • Increases cortisol – the ‘stress’ hormone.
  • Lowers serotonin levels – the brain chemical that regulates mood.
  • Has a sedative effect – causing drowsiness and loss of inhibition.
  • Is a diuretic – this is what causes dehydration.
  • Mimics the effects of anxiety – you don’t just feel low after a big drinking session: you can experience ‘hangxiety’ or irrational levels of worry and concern.

So, a month off the drink could well improve your mood and help reduce the risk of developing depression. And if you’re already suffering from depression, signing up to Dry January could mean you’ll start managing the symptoms more effectively.

3. Sleep better

You may fall asleep quickly after a few drinks, but the quality of that sleep is compromised by the efforts your body is still making to process the alcohol you’ve consumed. The result: a bad night’s sleep and that groggy morning feeling.

Research suggests that the tendency to fall into deep sleep more quickly after drinking creates an imbalance in sleep patterns, resulting in more sleep disruptions and shorter sleep duration. Not good if you want to wake up feeling fresh.

For a good night’s sleep, it’s important to fall asleep naturally, without stimulants, including alcohol. This allows you to reach the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep in your own time, and gives your body and mind the recovery they need.

According to Alcohol Change UK, 70% of people who do Dry January sleep better.

4. Improve your relationships.

A drink is often a good conversation icebreaker and an excuse to initiate a social encounter. How many great conversations have been started sitting at the bar of a local?

But stopping alcohol for a month could mean you start approaching your time with those close to you differently and more positively, including:

  • More focused conversations.
  • Fewer alcohol-fuelled arguments.
  • More involvement with your children.
  • Fewer rash and upsetting choices.
  • More attending to the needs of your loved ones.
  • Less falling asleep early.
  • More time for alcohol-free activities.
  • More supporting each other to cut down.

5. Save money

After stretching the finances to near breaking point over Christmas, what better way to rein the purse strings back in than by reducing your booze-spend to zero?

When you’re spending £4 on a pint and £10 for a decent bottle of wine, it’s easy to get through some serious money on a night out drinking. Sipping on a mineral water could help you buy that something you’ve been saving for, or just reduce your weekly outgoings.

According to Alcohol Change UK, 86% of people who do Dry January end up saving money.

6. Get more stuff done. Feel great!

Waking up with a hangover, or just feeling a bit below par after a few drinks the night before, can reduce your daily productivity. With a new alcohol-free spring in your step, you can start setting goals and getting things done.

The sense of satisfaction that comes with achieving goals is great for improved mood and better mental health. And that includes the knowledge that you’ve said ‘no’ to alcohol for a month and taken some real control over your decision-making.

So, if you want to go alcohol-free for January, improve your chances of drinking more healthily year-round, and get into a better, stronger headspace, all you have to do is commit to it.

If you think it’s not going to be that easy, you could sign up to Dry January with Alcohol Change UK, download their App and get access to their tools and resources.