I’ve participated in Dry January for the last three years as a reset after the holiday season. I always look forward to my month-long break from booze at the beginning of the year — I sleep better, my skin looks clearer, and I have more mental clarity, to name a few of the benefits I’ve experienced while forgoing alcohol.
“There are so many reasons to participate in Dry January or take a break from alcohol for any length of time,” says Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge. “Some popular reasons to give up booze include people feeling like they’ve been drinking too much, they want to get healthier in general or improve their diet in the new year, or they are simply just not feeling their best after imbibing.” (Just note that Dry January and dry month challenges aren’t a replacement for AA or recovery programs.)
In 2022, I made an even bigger commitment to not drinking by ditching alcohol for a full year. Here’s why I did it — and what happened in the process.
Why I gave up drinking alcohol for a year
During Dry January last year, I read How to Quit Like a Woman, which prompted me to reflect more on my relationship with alcohol. More specifically, it made me question why I felt like I needed a glass of wine (or two or three) after work and why I always had to have a cocktail in my hand at social gatherings.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t actually like the way alcohol made me feel anymore. I was using it as a way to de-stress — but it ultimately made me feel more anxious and came with some other nasty side effects like an upset stomach and poor sleep.
It was clear: Alcohol was no longer serving me. So, I decided to take a year off from drinking and reassess my relationship with alcohol from there. Now, more than a year after I made that initial choice, I’m still not drinking — and I’m honestly not sure if I ever will regularly again because of how good I feel. (Not having to deal with hangovers is pretty amazing!)
It turns out I’m not alone in ditching alcohol completely: “I’ve noticed that people are drinking fewer drinks during all months — or giving it up completely — in and outside of January,” says Sheinbaum. She adds that just five years ago, there weren’t that many options for nondrinkers at bars and restaurants, but these days, you can find nonalcoholic options on plenty of menus.
“Now, you can find bars and restaurants, like Lamalo at the Arlo NoMad in New York City and The Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn, that serve a variety of nonalcoholic options,” says Sheinbaum. “You can also search for venues that serve nonalcoholic drinks in your area on an app called Better Without.”
5 things that happened when I quit drinking for a year
Here are the five biggest benefits I experienced when I gave up alcohol for a year, along with insights from a health expert in case you’re sober curious.
1. I felt less anxious
Living through a global pandemic and navigating a chronic health diagnosis caused my anxiety to spike over the last few years. My main reason for drinking was to ease this tension — and while downing a couple of drinks after work initially calmed my nerves, I always ended up feeling more anxious by the end of the night. When I gave up alcohol, my anxiety started to decrease. (I also added yoga and meditation into my weekly routine for an additional mental health boost.)
What a health expert has to say: “Initially, you might feel more happy and relaxed while drinking and it might put you in a euphoric state,” explains Robin Barrett, PharmD, NASM-certified personal trainer, and creator of the Dr. Robin B app on Playbook. “However, in the long run, alcohol can take a toll on your mental health, affecting chemicals in the brain to cause signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety.” Taking a break from alcohol could potentially improve long-term mental health issues, adds Barrett.
2. I had more energy
Whether I drank one cocktail or five, the outcome was the same: I couldn’t get a night of uninterrupted sleep after imbibing. In turn, I’d have no energy the next day and would be irritated and sluggish. When I quit drinking, I no longer experienced those restless nights. Instead, I was able to get a full night’s rest and had so much more energy the next day to tackle my to-do list.
What a health expert has to say: “Taking a break from alcohol will allow you to sleep longer and deeper,” says Barrett. “With alcohol in your system, you spend less time in the REM stage of sleep, which allows you to feel less rested and refreshed. You’ll have less sleep disruptions and not wake up feeling groggy and tired.”
3. I worked out harder
After a night of drinking, the last thing I wanted to do the next day was exercise. And on the rare occasion when I forced myself to work out, I half-assed it because I didn’t have the mental or physical capacity to give it my all. Cutting out alcohol allowed me to work out harder and made it much easier to stay motivated. I now consistently work out three or four times a week and look forward to it.
What a health expert has to say: A night of drinking causes your insulin levels to spike, which leads to low blood sugar and affects your ability to perform the next day, explains Barrett. When you take a break from alcohol, you can expect your performance and endurance to increase, she says. “Also naturally, our motivation is reduced and we are not attacking our workouts with the same intensity as we would on a normal fully rested day of training,” adds Barrett. “Taking a break from alcohol and hydrating instead will help prevent dehydration and improve circulation to get oxygen to your muscle cells.”
4. I got my glow on
One of the most surprising things that happened when I quit drinking was the effect it had on my skin. My complexion looked brighter and smoother — even though I hadn’t changed up my skincare routine.
What a health expert has to say: “Hydration plays a huge role in healthy skin,” says Barrett. “When you drink, its diuretic properties make it dehydrating to the body, causing the skin to look dull and lifeless. This may lead to wrinkles and sometimes puffiness or inflammation.” When you take a break from alcohol (and drink water instead), redness will decrease and your skin’s elasticity will be restored. “These major skin improvements will get your glow back,” says Barrett.
5. I learned how to have fun without alcohol
I was worried about how to handle social scenarios without my go-to crutch — and I was nervous to tell people I wasn’t drinking. As time went on, though, these things became easier. I’ve found many ways to have fun while sober — and none of them come with a next-day hangover. While my friendships that centered around drinking have faded, I’ve deepened many other friendships (and even made some new friends!) over the past year.
What a health expert has to say: “In addition to the physical and mental benefits of quitting alcohol, your quality of life will increase,” says Barrett. “You will enjoy more quality time with friends and family from a genuine lens. You don’t need to drink to have a good time. Alcohol isn’t going anywhere, but you only get one body to care for and celebrate so give it what it needs.”
The bottom line on giving up alcohol
“Overall, when you cut back on alcohol, you’ll feel a major improvement in your physical and mental health,” says Barrett. I certainly experienced these benefits in my own life.
Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that cutting back on alcohol is freaking hard. So if you want to try a dry month (or go so far as to do a dry year, like me), don’t beat yourself up if you have a drink here or there.
“Alcohol is part of so many activities including sporting events, birthdays, celebrations, weddings, and dates — so if you have a drink during your dry month, don’t call it quits,” says Sheinbaum. “Just start right where you left off.”