- After drinking regularly for a decade, I committed to an alcohol-free month in January 2022.
- Dry January wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but that’s because I had systems in place.
- I journaled about my motivations, joined a like-minded community, and swapped in alcohol-free beers.
After a decade of frequent drinking, I finally decided to commit to Dry January in 2022. I wanted to interrupt my near-daily beer habit, sleep better, lose bloat, improve my workouts, wake up fresh, and just conquer a new challenge.
I succeeded, completing Annie Grace’s 30-day live Alcohol Experiment and banking my longest alcohol-free streak since, well, probably getting mono in college. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as daunting as I’d feared either. At times it was quite rewarding and even fun.
But my success wasn’t down to luck or grit or stellar self-control. I credit it to the systems I had in place before I began. Here’s my advice for first-time teetotalers in 2023.
Identify your why
If you’re doing Dry January only because a friend asked you to or as punishment for overindulging over the holidays, you’re going to have a hard time sticking to it once your friend gives up and your hangover wears off.
Nick Allen, the CEO of the mindful-drinking app Sunnyside, recommends drilling down on your “why” before getting started. If it’s “I hate hangovers,” ask yourself why again. If it’s “I value productivity,” ask yourself why again, and so on.
You can also write down what you hope to gain: A deeper connection to loved ones? The confidence of knowing you can keep a commitment to yourself? A sharper mind at work? A chance to try new activities instead of defaulting to “let’s get drinks”?
For me, a big selling point was the chance to simply experience life — from dinners out to movie nights in — without booze. If after a month I decided those events were better with alcohol, there was always February.
Find a community
The Alcohol Experiment included free daily videos and journal prompts and, for about $50, access to an online community of people starting the experiment at the same time.
This community and the program’s structure were my secret weapons: Rather than white-knuckling my way through the month feeling deprived, I was encouraged to dive into the alcohol-free lifestyle with excitement and curiosity.
You learn about the science of addiction in a shame-free space, confront whether alcohol is really giving you what it promises, and work out triggers from ski vacations to bad days at work with other experimenters in real time.
Be vocal about your commitment
Some research suggests people who post more about their goals on social media are more likely to accomplish them, though it’s unclear whether that’s because they post about only achievable goals or the posting holds them accountable.
For me, it was the latter. I knew that if I’d given a sober month a shot in just my own head, I would have let myself off the hook. But I had too much pride to even consider it when so many others were on board.
Alcohol-free drinks were instrumental in my success. There are countless surprisingly satisfying zero-proof beers you can find on the online marketplace Better Rhodes, in an alcohol-free shop, or even in regular bars (most, I found, at least carry Heineken’s nonalcoholic beer).
These beers also tend to be much lower in calories — and far less likely to leave you craving three more, since they lack alcohol’s addictive qualities — than boozy brews.
With these alternatives, you can keep the rituals you like around booze — sipping while cooking, unwinding with coworkers, watching a game — without the hangover.
Alternative activities can be key too.
Allen recommends making plans for Saturday morning, such as a hike, a yoga class, or early coffee with a friend, if you’re one of the many people tempted to drink on Friday nights.
He told me that “shifting the reward center in your mind” from wanting to drink in order to relax to not wanting to ruin something you’re looking forward to the next morning “makes a really big difference.”
Be patient as your body adjusts
If you’ve been drinking regularly for years, the touted delights of sobriety — boundless energy, presence, joy — aren’t going to set in immediately. You may have trouble sleeping as your body adjusts to unwinding without a depressant, feel famished as your body makes up for the alcohol calories lost, and get cranky or sad as you stop numbing your emotions.
You may even gain weight, in part because the body metabolizes alcohol differently from food.
Be patient. Alcohol can stay in your system for weeks. Once your body finds some equilibrium, it’s worth it.
(Side note: If you’re worried you may be physically addicted to alcohol, withdrawal can be dangerous and requires medical support.)
Don’t let a slipup derail your entire month
Grace calls an unplanned drinking moment a “data point” to learn from and discourages people from feeling as if they have to start again at Day One. Quitting drinking, she says, “is not a linear process.”
So if you do throw a few back, she recommends getting curious, not judgy. What triggered you to drink? Did it feel and taste as good as you anticipated? Was it worth it the next day? Journal about it, and make a more informed decision next time.
And keep in mind there are benefits to drinking less. Research suggests that simply reducing your drinking has benefits, and Sunnyside has found that doing so can set you up to maintain a more moderate lifestyle in February and beyond.
“Think of this as a lifetime investment in your health,” Allen said. “If you take that philosophy, then one drink in January doesn’t feel like as much of a big deal.”