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Social and celebratory events can often include drinking. According to a 2019 national survey, 85.6% of people 18 and older reported that they have had alcohol at some point in their lifetime. But over the holidays, the amount of friend and family gatherings increases exponentially, especially with the extra free time associated with the season. On average, Americans will double their usual amount of alcohol intake during the holiday season. This, plus the coming of the yearly ‘new year, new me’ trends that happen every January, leads many to consider cutting back or cutting out their drinking habits.

Many people are joining ‘Dry January’, a personal challenge to not drink alcohol in the first month of the year. Some participants this year, however, are opting for more of a ‘Damp January’, in which they choose to cut back on the number of drinks, or number of days during the month that they drink. This can lead to more mindful or healthy drinking habits in the long run.

Dry January could lead to better drinking habits by providing a glimpse into what would change by drinking less. Participants often experience weight loss and lowered blood pressure during this challenge. Cutting out drinking can also cause an increase in brain function for those under 21. For those who drink excessively, there’s the added benefit of not having to worry about what happened the night before. Being able to see this difference firsthand can be an excellent motivator to continue drinking less, or not at all, in the following months.

Restricting the initial goal to one month also makes it attainable while also letting people get far enough to actually see this difference. With this challenge, participants typically aren’t doing it alone. Due to the growing popularity of the challenge, about 1 in 5 people are attempting it this year which makes it far easier for people to find moral support and even friends to do it with. At the beginning of the year, everyone has new goals they’re working on in their day-to-day life.

Cutting back on drinking for that long, for some people, might even make people naturally continue to drink less throughout the rest of the year. Drinking in the evening, or on weekends, can sometimes turn into a routine. People usually want to have a glass of wine at the end of the day, or meet up with friends at the bar on Saturday, because they’re used to doing that. That time of the day can make them think of alcohol, and be tempted to drink. 

Research shows that depending on the person, it can take as little as 18 days for a new behavior to become automatic. Based on this, Dry January is a great facilitator to make drinking less come naturally, as well as a great motivator. After spending a month not drinking, most people would have come up with something else they enjoy doing at that time, shifting behavior after the challenge ends.

This does not apply to those who are physically dependent on alcohol or experience a severe alcohol use disorder. Those who meet this criteria should speak to a medical professional and receive treatment, rather than cutting out alcohol on their own as it is dangerous and potentially fatal.