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Wellness Wednesday: the benefits of Dry January

Posted at 8:42 AM, Jan 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 10:42:22-05

IDAHO — We're inching closer to the mid-point of the month, but there's still time to get involved in the Dry January initiative.

Dry January is a global movement that began nearly a decade ago, encouraging people to abstain from drinking alcohol for the first month of the year.

"The idea is that if you stop drinking during the first 31 days of the new year, your life and health may be better throughout the rest of the year," explains Dr. Amy Khan, Regence Executive Medical Director.

Dr. Khan says January is the perfect time to start with a resolution like abstaining from alcohol, especially after a tumultuous 2020 may have left more people reaching for a bottle or glass.

"We started 2021 with an increased number of stressors that affected everyone's life. Emotional and economic stressors from COVID-19 led to increased anxiety and depression, and with more social isolation, the threshold for using alcohol was probably lower and persisted through this post-election discord," she says.

The ease of access to alcohol, according to Dr. Khan, also makes it a popular coping method, even though it isn't the healthiest way to deal with stress or anxiety.

"It's really important to think about those other positive options that you might have. Meditation, reading a book, calling a friend, taking a walk. It's not surprising, and particularly of note this month as we think about observing Dry January, there's over 15 million Americans today struggling with alcohol use problems and even more that are struggling with a pattern of alcohol use that's not healthy," says Dr. Khan.

If you choose to take part in Dry January, Dr. Khan says you could see health benefits continue well after the first 31 days of 2021.

"The thing about Dry January is, not only do you not use alcohol for a period of time, but it actually has been shown that you don't use as much alcohol for the rest of the year," she explains. "A few studies have shown that people who participated in Dry January had lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar. They had better sleep, better rest. Overall, they felt more energetic, and they saved money."

Dr. Khan says that despite it being mid-January already, it's not too late to take part, and you'll see benefits from completing even half a month without alcohol. She says one of those benefits is keeping your immune system strong which can, in turn, help you fight off or avoid severe COVID-19 infection.

For ideas on where or how to start Dry January, she suggests checking out a 12-step program or calling your health insurer. You can also find more here.