glass of water with ice exploding in front of a sunset

How to make your Dry January a life changing one

‘Dry January’ is now so much part of our vocabulary that it has its own entry in the Oxford Dictionary. It started as a campaign run by the charity Alcohol Change back in 2013 and is now an established event in the calendar for people in the UK. Four million people officially signed up for the challenge in 2020 and the actual number of people doing it is way more. 

One of the great things about Dry January is that you know that you’re unlikely to be the only one in your circle doing it. More people are abstaining than any other time of the year, so you know you’re not alone, and that herd mentality and joint support can really help. You won’t feel like you’re missing out too much. 

Going teetotal for January is considered normal, working alongside that full on health kick with the dieting and new exercise regime. It’s the perfect time to counteract the usual end-of-year excesses. However, this year was special; with excesses throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

The lockdowns in 2020 tested our resilience and more of us were drinking way too much. More people were drinking at home for obvious reasons but at more varying hours of the day as well, with booze o’clock starting in the afternoon. Anxiety combined with boredom was the perfect excuse to reach for a cheeky glass of vino.

That extra hour you got either side of the working day because there was no commute meant you could have a drink, so why not? Then there was an extra hour in bed in the morning too so you stayed up late and drank even more. You wouldn’t be over the limit from the night before either, because you weren’t driving to work. You could crawl to the kitchen table in your pyjamas and crank open the laptop while the espresso machine was on. 

Well what else was there to do? 

Health matters more

The cruel irony is that our health matters more than ever. Zoonotic viruses such as Covid-19 are spilling over more frequently from animals to humans and we need to be in tip top health in order to resist them.

This could be the most significant Dry January you ever do. 2021 is the year to address our long term relationship with alcohol and start to live healthier lives all year round. We owe it to ourselves and our families.


It’s interesting to note that Alcohol Change is not an anti-alcohol charity. They address the social issues that lead to alcohol problems. Their purpose of Dry January was to make people pause and think about their drinking habits and reset their relationship with alcohol. 

Unfortunately this point can be missed.

Many people use Dry January as an excuse to binge drink for the rest of the year, particularly going mad in December with the run up to Christmas. ‘I’m doing Dry January in the New Year so it’s okay for me to have 20 lagers.’ It can feel a bit all or nothing for some, they go completely over the top with it, depriving themselves then going madder than before. 

There are some who will be counting the days off the calendar, praying for the month to end so that they can have that huge booze blow out to celebrate and end up drinking more than ever afterwards. They tell themselves that they have ‘been so good’, undoing all their hard work and making Dry January a total waste of time. 

Despite these scenarios, research has proved that Dry January is effective in changing people’s behaviour. In a study, a high percentage of participants managed to sustain their reduced levels of drinking for the remainder of the year after having an alcohol-free January. 

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

For a regular drinker, the physical and mental benefits of 31 days off the sauce are huge. You sleep better and have more energy. Your mood improves and so do your memory and concentration levels. You’ll get more things done. You’ll lose weight. Then there’s fresher looking skin and an improved digestive system. 

And don’t forget the rest of your insides; reduced blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower diabetes risk. You give your poor liver a rest too. It plays a vital role in over 500 other processes inside you, so leave it to get on with those. 

Yes, you can get all of that in just 31 days of no alcohol. 

What’s not to like? You might even realise that you don’t need alcohol in your life as much as you thought you did.

Ditching alcohol for good remains the best move for your health, but cutting down or abstaining occasionally is a smart move too. Whether it’s a month, or a few days a week. 

How to Keep Calm and Carry On after Dry Jan

31 days of sobriety doesn’t have to be the end. If you haven’t found it quite as painful as you thought, why not carry on and reap even more health benefits? 

Here are 9 tips to keep going.

1 – Celebrate the end of Dry January

Reward yourself with a treat on 1st February and make it an alcohol-free one. A new haircut, a pair of shoes, a juicer… you get the idea. Use the cash you’ve saved by not drinking; it can be a huge motivator. 

2 – Give your hands a more interesting job

Many treat a glass of alcohol as a prop, having it in their hand can be a surrogate comfort blanket. Try a paint brush, knitting needles or a guitar instead (and obviously use them for what they are intended.)

3 – Get your alcohol-free repertoire organised

There are a lot of good quality alternatives to choose from these days. It’s a new trend. Or make up your own non-alcoholic cocktails. Write down a list of your favourite non-alcoholic beverages to make at home, and a list of drinks you can order when you go out. You’ll be less likely to spring back to your old choices if you’re well-prepared.

4 – Prove to everyone you’re just as much fun without it

You haven’t stopped drinking forever, you just don’t feel the need to drink all the time and you can be a real scream even on your nights off the wine. Post on social media if necessary.

5 – But don’t get all judgemental and preachy

There is nothing worse than being an anti-alcohol guru for a couple of months when people know that you like a drink. There is no need to bang on about the benefits. Everyone knows that too much alcohol is bad for you, it’s not a secret. If anyone asks about your sudden sobriety, just tell them that not drinking is making you happier, you’re on a health kick, and you feel so much better for it. Hint, hint.

6 – Remind yourself that alcohol is a drug

And a highly addictive one at that. Have you not wondered why one glass of wine is never enough? We treat it differently to other drugs because it is legal and socially acceptable; we use it to celebrate and commiserate. But it is still an addictive drug. 

7 – Focus on the painful parts

Keep focussing on everything that you absolutely don’t miss about drinking rather than what you think you might be missing out on; the awful hangovers, the stupid drunk texts, the double chin and the expense, to name a few. 

8 – Remember you’re not the only non-drinker

More and more people are giving up drinking for health and lifestyle reasons. Did I mention it’s trendy? You must know at least one friend, family member or colleague that doesn’t drink or who has never touched alcohol. Add to that all the celebrities that don’t drink. Write their names down.

9 – Listen to podcasts about the alcohol-free lifestyle

There’s a whole community of like minded people out there. Podcasts like Over the Influence will really support you while adopting a non-drink centred lifestyle.

Let me know how you get on – share in the comments below!

Madeleine Walsh

Madeleine Walsh

Madeleine is a writer and freelance virtual Personal Assistant based in Greater London.


  • I have been focusing on my AF lifestyle for a few months now after discussions with my best friend. I always thought I controlled it but became aware of the amount of times it controlled me . I found that the ‘habit ‘ of opening the bottle of wine was the biggest step to overcome, once it was open it “needed” to be drunk .So now I have ceased to buy it. I love the clear head in the morning, the clarity of thought and the feeling of control I now have. I am not saying I will never drink again just that I will do so consciously .

  • I so agree with your comments ‘don’t get all judgemental and preachy’. Since going AF in October 19 I have never been judgemental but have found myself annoyingly becoming a bit preachy. In my defence this is purely because I feel so clearheaded, positive and present that I want everyone to feel the same. I have found out such interesting information about alcohol that I want the world to know. I’ve made a note to self after reading this article – be peachy but not preachy! Oh and a quick note to anyone deciding to cut out or cut down – those annoying wine/beer o’clock cravings
    really really do go away.