The Health Benefits Of Dry January, Explained

As much as the medical community has gone back and forth on whether a glass of red wine can be considered a health drink, it's definitely in agreement that swapping the vino out for a non-alcoholic beverage every so often can have its benefits. That's partly why Dry January has become such a widespread phenomenon: Giving your body a month off from booze can feel really good.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why you might be interested in participating in Dry January (ideally, you're doing it for yourself and not because of social pressure), and everyone's experience with it is very personal. Nevertheless, there are certain results you're bound to feel if you drink fairly often and then suddenly cut alcohol out of your life.

So what exactly does Dry January do to your body? To find out, we spoke with Margarita Rohr, MD, clinical instructor of medicine at NYU Langone Health. Read on to learn more about how your body responds to taking a break from drinking (aside from, you know, a lack of hangovers).

Better sleep quality

To put it bluntly, alcohol is not sleep's friend. Dr. Rohr says drinking can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night more frequently and decrease the amount of restorative sleep (in which you complete all five stages of sleep) you have overall. So when you're not drinking, you're more likely to feel well-rested when you wake up in the morning.
A boosted immune system

Regardless of your drinking habits, better sleep means a stronger immune system. And according to Dr. Rohr, participating in Dry January may give you an added boost in this area. She explains that drinking can make you more susceptible to illnesses, and taking a break can give your immune system a chance to get back to its regular strength. You won't be supernaturally invulnerable to the flu, but you may finally kick that sniffle.
Easier digestion

If you've ever experienced a hangover poop, you already know that drinking can have a negative impact on your digestive system. Dr. Rohr says it starts when alcohol irritates your stomach lining, which can lead to gastritis, or inflammation that's normally characterized by indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. Much like your immune system, the lining of your stomach will benefit from Dry January as it has time to heal.
Alcohol withdrawal

If you've been drinking excessively on a regular basis (for women, the CDC defines heavy drinking as having eight or more drinks per week), Dr. Rohr warns you may experience symptoms of withdrawal as you make the transition to Dry January — which is why it can be important to check with your doctor before giving it a try. Your blood pressure and heart rate may rise or you might feel more anxious, she says, as your body tries to adapt to such an abrupt break from drinking.
Reduced alcohol tolerance

Dr. Rohr says that you stand a chance of being more sensitive to the effects of alcohol after participating in Dry January. Aside from getting drunk faster, you might notice one or more of the possible adverse effects of drinking — like poorer sleep quality, digestive issues, and a weakened immune system.

According to Dr. Rohr, though, that's kind of the point of Dry January — to take a step back and notice how your body changes from an alcohol-free lifestyle. "If you stop alcohol for a month with the idea that you will immediately start drinking in excess once that month is up," she says, "then you have missed the point."
produced by Brianna Donnelly; edited by Sam Russell.
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