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Take the ‘Dry January’ Challenge. Here’s How and Why

CU Anschutz expert shares health benefits and success tips for lowering alcohol intake

minute read

Written by Laura Kelley on January 4, 2024

The “Dry January” trend started more than decade ago, encouraging people who may have indulged in too many libations over the holiday season to kick off the new year by taking a break from alcohol – or at least cutting back. The number of pledgers has steadily risen since the challenge began in 2013, spreading to other countries and inspiring drinkers from around the world to rethink the social habit for at least one month.

Joseph Schacht, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who specializes in alcohol-use disorder (AUD). Below, Laura Kelley, media relations professional in the CU Anschutz Office of Communications, speaks to Schacht about the benefits of "Dry/Damp January," how to be successful and why it’s important to create a plan that goes beyond Jan. 31.



Joseph Schacht, PhD, studies brain scans of volunteers as part of his research to better understand alcohol-use disorder.


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Dry January started as a UK campaign encouraging people to detox from overindulging during the holidays but has since picked up steam around the world. What is the best approach people can take during a “dry” or “damp” January to set themselves up for success?

Start by setting a concrete and realistic goal: Do you want to stop drinking completely? If not, how many days a week do you want to drink, and what is the greatest number of drinks you want to have on those days? Many people find that simply keeping track of their drinking on a day-to-day basis, using a calendar app or log, makes them more aware of it and less likely to overindulge.

Once you have a goal, think about the things you’ll need to do to achieve it:

  • Make sure you have non-alcoholic beverages in the house (and remove alcohol if it will be a temptation).

  • Make plans for alcohol-free events and decline invitations for events during which it might be difficult to resist drinking or over-drinking (such as football watch parties or weekend trips with friends with whom you typically drink).

  • Practice saying “no” when you’re offered a drink (start by doing this with a spouse or friend with whom you’ve shared your goal).

Can Damp January (reducing the amount of alcohol you consume rather than cutting it out completely) be beneficial if someone isn’t quite ready to tackle Dry January? Why or why not?

There is no question that it is beneficial to reduce the amount you drink, even if you don’t want to commit to full abstinence. Doing a short-term “trial” of cutting down can be a helpful way to understand if you are able to drink in moderation, or if you need to commit to an abstinence-only approach and/or need professional help to manage your drinking. There is no shame in any of these options: Everyone has a different history and relationship with alcohol.

What are the benefits of cutting out or cutting back on alcohol for a month? What impact does it have on you physically and mentally?

Most people who drink regularly but moderately will find that they sleep better, wake without hangovers, and lose a little weight if they cut out or cut down on alcohol. Among people with alcohol-use disorder (AUD) who drink more heavily and have other problems associated with their drinking, cutting down is associated with reduced blood pressure, improvements in liver enzyme values, and improvements in mental health and quality of life, including relationships with others. Alcohol consumption at any level is associated with small but significant increases in risk for cancer and many other negative health outcomes, so reducing your drinking and maintaining this pattern will reduce the risks of these outcomes.

If people are struggling with sticking with their “dry” January program, what are some proactive activities they can do so that alcohol isn’t on their mind?

It can be helpful to recognize why you choose to drink alcohol in the first place and engage in other activities that fulfill those needs. What do you get out of drinking? If it helps manage stress or anxiety, would taking a hike or doing a meditation or mindfulness practice accomplish that goal instead? If it’s a social lubricant, could you join an alcohol-free group centered around a hobby you enjoy, such as a recreational sports league or a book club, instead?

If you’re participating in dry January, but your friends/family aren’t, what’s the best way to handle social situations during the month?

Tell your friends and your family what you’re doing, and why. Research shows that we are more likely to follow through on a goal when we tell other people about it. You may feel concerned that others will make a negative judgment about you, but they’re more likely to praise you for your efforts (and perhaps reconsider their own relationship with alcohol).

At what point should you worry about your relationship with alcohol when you’re evaluating your attempts to cut back or quit?

Noticing that you’re drinking more, or for longer, even when you don’t want to, is a sign that you may have lost some control over your alcohol consumption. Listen to your body when you’re not drinking or drinking less: If you feel better, your body is telling you something important about how alcohol affects you.

Where can people go for help with alcohol-use disorder?

 The UCHealth Center for Dependency, Addiction, and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) offers evidence-based care for AUD, including medications, psychotherapy, residential treatment and medical alcohol detoxification. The NIH’s Alcohol Treatment Navigator can identify other evidence-based treatment programs in your area as well.

Is there anything you want to add?

Also think about what you want to do when January is over. Do you want February and the rest of the year to be damp or dry as well? Cutting out or cutting down on alcohol is very similar to dieting; without a long-term plan, old behaviors will come back quickly.

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Joseph Schacht, PhD