Dry January Is Over, but Mindful Drinking Can Help Make Those Benefits Last All Year Long

  • Dry January, or taking a monthlong break from alcohol, continues to rise in popularity in the United States.
  • You can continue to evaluate your relationship with alcohol all year round by practicing mindful drinking.
  • Mindful drinking—that is, drinking with intention and purpose—can have both physical and mental health benefits.
two people sitting at a table drinking alcoholic drinks

Stocksy/Andrew Urwin

Dry January may be over—but you can continue to practice mindful drinking all year round, regardless of whether you went the full 31 days without a sip of alcohol, or if you opted for a “damp” January instead.

According to the most recent data, Dry January participation has been on an upswing: In 2022, participation jumped to 35% of U.S. adults—up from 21% in 2019. And those people are actually sticking with the resolution, with 74% of participants claiming that they abstained from alcohol for the whole month.

But your alcohol habits don’t have to begin and end with the first month of the year—in fact, if you are able to stick with Dry January in any iteration you choose, you may have a leg up on changing those habits for the rest of the year or longer.

“If you start living your life differently for 30 days, that is enough time to start a pattern,” Aaron Weiner, PhD, an addiction psychologist and president of the Society of Addiction Psychology, told Health. “It can be a springboard to push you in a positive direction.”

Because it may be difficult to think of maintaining a resolution all year, whether it’s completely abstaining from alcohol or simply cutting back, experts suggest shifting your focus from Dry January to mindful drinking, or drinking with intention. Here’s what you need to know—and how to execute a revamped relationship with alcohol.

Mindful Drinking, Explained

Mindful drinking is a phrase used when people are drinking with intention or purpose. Unlike Dry January, where you completely cut out alcohol, mindful drinking gives you leeway to enjoy happy hour after work or crack open a beer at a birthday party. The important thing is that you’re not drinking randomly. Instead, you’re moderating your drinking without having to sacrifice enjoyment.

“You’re setting boundaries with yourself and drinking with explicit intent,” James Giordano, PhD, a professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, told Health. “It goes along with the amount and frequency that you’re going to be drinking.”

This can mean instead of seeing where the night takes you, you set a limit for yourself—like a glass of wine with dinner—and you truly savor the drink, along with your meal and your company. Those situations and amounts can differ as well, but the point is to go into drinking with a plan.

Ultimately, mindful drinking is an alternative to mindlessly drinking—and an opportunity to be cognizant of what you’re putting into your body.

“What mindful drinking is really doing is providing you a more centralized locus of control instead of having the situation dictate or strongly influence how much you’re drinking,” Dr. Giordano said.

How to Practice Mindful Drinking

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other experts recommend the following ways that people can begin to cut back on how much they drink:

  • Set hard limits for how much alcohol you plan to consume.
  • Use apps such as DrinkControl to measure and track your drinks.
  • Telling a supportive loved one of your choice to drink less
  • Don’t stock up on alcohol at home.
  • Surround yourself with people who will not pressure you into drinking.

Benefits of Mindful Drinking

Practicing mindful drinking will likely result in a decrease in your overall alcohol consumption—a habit that will have numerous positive effects to your health.

Alcohol is a leading modifiable risk factor for cancer, and cutting back can help reduce your risk of developing at least six different types of cancer: mouth and throat, voice box (larynx), esophagus, colorectal, liver, and breast cancer.

Cutting back on alcohol can also greatly benefit your brain health. According to Dr. Giordano, alcohol can act as a toxin to your brain and impair your neurons from performing their full range of function—but those effects are potentially reversible with alcohol abstinence.

Your sleep may improve once you cut back on alcohol as well. “One myth about alcohol is that you can drink yourself to better sleep,” Weiner said—but while you may fall asleep faster, you’re not necessarily getting restful sleep. Alcohol can actually shorten or delay the REM stage of sleep, or the restorative phase that’s important for memory, learning, and mood regulation.

Other benefits of reduced alcohol intake include improved liver function and cardiovascular health. And because alcohol often contains a good amount of calories, cutting back may also help with weight management, when paired with exercise and a nutritious diet.

Potential Concerns About Mindful Drinking

Mindful drinking is a subjective practice, which means it’s up to you to decide when and how much you should drink. But if you’re not following your own rules or giving yourself too much elbow room to overindulge, it is possible to fail at mindful drinking.

“If you’re the one who’s setting the parameters in terms of how much you’re budgeting yourself, and you continue to violate them for no good reason,” Giordano said, “what you’ve essentially done is abandon your responsibility and motivation to change.”

Mindful drinking is also not recommended for everyone, including people who have dealt with binge drinking, or those who have alcohol use disorder.

“It’s actually very unsafe for someone who has alcoholism to just stop drinking,” said Weiner. As many as 50% of people with a history of alcohol abuse can exhibit alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Weiner also referenced a severe manifestation of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens, which affects about 5% of people with alcohol addiction.

The condition, sometimes known as DTS, typically begins within five days after a person’s last drink, and can cause shaking, confusion, high blood pressure, fever, and hallucination. Left untreated, it can be fatal.

If you are at risk for symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, it's best to work with your healthcare provider who can support you medically if and when you stop drinking. They can then offer you resources tailored to your needs during your quitting process, including behavioral treatments, medications, and/or support groups.

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