Dry January Could Mean Clearer Skin, Better Sleep, and Healthier Habits (According to Science)

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Dry January has the potential to be your best resolution yet. With the sober-curious movement slowly becoming a bigger part of wellness culture, people seem increasingly curious about the role alcohol plays in their lives. Everyone approaches Dry January with different goals in mind, but what are the actual benefits of Dry January, and is it worth the self-discipline?

Before diving in: If you’re a heavy drinker and think you may have an alcohol dependency, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor or seek out support services (listed at the end of this article) before cutting back completely. If you stop drinking abruptly, you may go through alcohol withdrawal. “Alcohol dependence is a chronic medical condition where excessive alcohol is ingested due to an urge and inability to stop,” Flora Sinha, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician, told POPSUGAR. “These patients will experience withdrawal symptoms like shakes, diarrhea, chills, and sweats if they stop suddenly.” This article contextualizes sobriety for people who are light to moderate drinkers and will likely not experience withdrawal symptoms.

Given all the hype, one of our former editors decided to try Dry January for herself. At the end of the month, she reported having more energy, developing better eating habits, and saving money. Based on her positive experience, we spoke to experts about what else sober living might do for your mental and physical health. It might not be easy at first (tips are available if you need them!), but according to doctors, the Dry January benefits are seriously rewarding.

Dry January Benefits

Weight Loss and Changed Appetite

Experts say it’s not unusual to lose weight after eliminating alcohol – our aforementioned editor included. “The easiest way to lose weight is to cut out ‘liquid calories’ that have minimal nutritional value. That’s alcohol for a lot of people,” Dr. Sinha said. Plus, alcohol can have a negative impact on the metabolism by interfering with your liver’s ability to process fat.

Over time, you may feel less hungry after taking alcohol out of the equation. Dr. Sinha noted studies suggest alcohol can increase hormones in the brain that regulate appetite. She said it’s important to know, though, that heavy drinkers (or those who abuse alcohol) have decreased appetite “because they, at that point, are getting the majority of their calories from alcohol.”

Improved Sleep

“At the beginning of the night, alcohol has a sedative effect, so most people will notice they can fall asleep easier or even ‘pass out,'” Meredith Broderick, MD, a triple-board-certified sleep doctor and neurologist, told POPSUGAR. “But once the alcohol wears off, there is a surge of the sympathetic nervous system, causing an early-morning awakening or several awakenings in the second part of the night.”

Alcohol also “causes the airway to collapse easier, so people may notice snoring, waking up gasping for air, or even a swollen uvula,” Dr. Broderick said. Ultimately, alcohol disrupts sleep, which means participating in something like Dry January may provide some extra zzz’s.

Better Skin

Samantha Ellis, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at UC Davis, told POPSUGAR that drinking conservative amounts of alcohol doesn’t necessarily lead to worsened skin health or appearance in those without underlying skin conditions (although we do know that alcohol can dehydrate your skin). However, she noted that drinking in excess “can take a toll on multiple organ systems, including the skin. This can lead to a sallow skin appearance, dilated and broken blood vessels on the skin’s surface, and worsening of chronic cutaneous diseases like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.”

Cutting out alcohol may also benefit the skin in other ways. “We know those who consume alcohol can make poor dietary choices and have disrupted sleep, both of which negatively influence skin appearance,” Dr. Ellis explained. “Without the sedating effect of alcohol, individuals may also feel more motivated to participate in healthy skin-care habits like removing makeup before bedtime, performing a restorative skin-care routine, and exercising regularly.”

Improved Mental Health

Alcohol in moderation is perfectly fine for your mental health and in some studies is even correlated with an increase in mood. Once drinking goes beyond moderation, however, it’s associated with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, Christopher Johnston, MD, addiction medicine specialist and chief medical officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers, previously told POPSUGAR. This can impact a person’s relationships and life responsibilities, which in turn can make mental health suffer even more. Cutting back on alcohol, on the other hand, may result in less anxiety and a boost in overall mental well-being, research suggests.

What Are the Longer-Term Benefits of Cutting Out Alcohol?

Dr. Sinha said that cutting out alcohol could benefit the liver within weeks – that’s if you’re someone who does not already have liver problems. Looking at the long term, eliminating alcohol can decrease liver damage and prevent alcoholic hepatitis and fatty liver disease (though people can get fatty liver disease without alcohol consumption). Eliminating alcohol for an extended period of time may also lower your long-term risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, Dr. Sinha added.

What Happens After Dry January?

Dr. Sinha said that if you want to go back to drinking alcohol after Dry January, stick to moderate drinking. For healthy adults, this generally means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men, according to the CDC. A standard drink looks like:

  1. Beer: 12 fluid ounces
  2. Malt liquor: 8 fluid ounces
  3. Wine: 5 fluid ounces
  4. Distilled spirits or liquor: 1.5 fluid ounces

-Additional reporting by Alexis Jones and Chandler Plante

If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of addiction or alcohol dependence, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline is a free confidential service you can call 24/7 for information and treatment referral. It’s 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Plus, find other resources at samhsa.gov.

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