Setting Sail on Dry Seas with a Sobriety Challenge: Dry January

Been on a bender through December? Up for a challenge? Dry January is approaching and anyone can participate. 

What is Dry January?

Dry January is a challenge where people voluntarily abstain from drinking alcohol for the entire month of January. Some people participate in Dry January as a healthy way to kick off the new year. Others may want a break from alcohol, to “reset” their drinking or to cut down in general. Some just simply like a challenge. 

While anyone can take a month off drinking, the two most popular dry challenges we hear the most about are Sober October and Dry January. Sober October may have formed simply as a play on rhyming words, however, Dry January actually has a little history. 

Origins and Participation

There are a few sources that suggest the inception of Dry January began in Finland during World War II. The Finnish Government launched “Raitis Januar” as an effort to encourage citizens to conserve natural resources —namely sugar —by not drinking alcohol in January of 1942. 

According to Wikipedia, the Dry January we know today was started by Italian-American Businessman, Frank Posillico, after taking a month off drinking in January 2008. This started an international movement by British campaign group Alcohol Change UK, which Switzerland, Germany, Norway, France, and the US have participated in each year since 2013.

There’s no sign-up for Dry January, it’s simply a voluntary pledge to take on a whole month without drinking. However, with the sober curious movement on the rise, more and more people are partaking in challenges like Dry January as a way to test their willpower or see what all the sober buzz is about. 

Benefits of Dry January

A dry month can serve as a springboard to recovery. Some have committed to Dry January or Sober October and prolonged their abstinence from alcohol further into the year. Some have never returned to drinking at all. Whatever the reason for taking a month off booze, there are many benefits. 

After a month alcohol-free, you may notice your skin glows, your sleep is better, you have more energy, and you may even lose some weight. Even just a short intermission from alcohol can decrease anxiety for some participants, as alcohol is known to cause next-day post-drinking hangxiety.

There are cost benefits to Dry January, as well. Not drinking for a month can put some extra cash in your pocket, since the cost of both alcohol and bar tabs are on the rise. Just one month off booze can help jumpstart a more financially sound new year. 

Dry January Eye Openers

What some people may not realize is that Dry January can be harder than they thought. For people who may not yet recognize that they have a problem with alcohol, setting out on Dry January can be a revealing exercise. Perhaps you’re craving alcohol quicker than expected, or even experiencing some mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms after an alcohol-indulgent holiday season. Some set out to participate in Dry January and find they can’t complete it — myself included. 

In 2020, I set out on Dry January and made it only 14 days. What got me to cave was what is referred to as a “case of the fuck its.” I wasn’t emphatically committed to completing the month, and when my boss got a beer for our train ride home, I said “fuck it” and got one too. I didn’t have the resolve to finish out Dry January, but I’m also an alcoholic so I was looking for any excuse to drink — my boss getting a tall boy was it.  

However, not succeeding at Sober October or Dry January isn’t a failure. If anything, it provides you with valuable information. If you find your cravings are worse than anticipated, you can be more prepared for that should you want to quit in the future. If being around certain people, places, or things causes you to throw in the towel, you can recognize that as a trigger. Whatever the case may be, you can always take time off drinking. It doesn’t have to be during Dry January.

What’s next

Most people go back to their old drinking habits once the month is over. But be careful of binge drinking when reintroducing yourself to booze. Some who complete the challenge blow the doors off when February rolls in. That can lead to a brutal re-entry back into drinking. 

If you want to know why you drink, stop drinking — even for a month. The information you get back when you feel tempted to drink can teach you a lot about yourself and your behavior. You can use that moving forward to work on your triggers, or even start a recovery journey of your own — whatever that looks like. 

Have you completed a Dry January? Share what it was like for you in the comments below. 

For people with alcohol dependence, Dry January may lead to alcohol withdrawal syndrome once they completely abstain from alcohol. If you think you are physically dependent on alcohol, consult with your doctor before participating in Dry January.


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