Dry January Good For Your Health

Cold (turkey) truths

After the insufferable hangover otherwise known as the holidays, many New Year's resolutionists commit to 31 days of sobriety in January. Common pursuits during this time include Instagramming breakfast bowls and talking to pretty much anyone who will listen about mind/body balance.

Critics argue that Dry January is counterproductive, causing people to jump back on the wagon even harder come February. But according to a doctor who specializes in alcohol consumption, Dry January is actually a really good thing.

"If somebody quits [drinking] for a month, then automatically that person will feel better," Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), says. "Any way you look at it, it should be encouraged."

Dr. Mokdad authored a sobering study about the dramatic increases in heavy and binge drinking across the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy drinking as more than one drink a day for women and two for men. Binge drinkers are defined as men and women who have five and four drinks, respectively, in one night out a month.

In other words, you're likely a binge drinker, and you don't even know it.

"In the public health sector, we would like people to live a healthy life throughout the year, not just on a monthly basis," Mokdad explains. "But [Dry January] is a good start."

A Dry January study at England's University of Sussex backs this up. Six months after concluding 31 days of abstinence, 72 percent of participants claimed to have kept harmful drinking episodes down. Research also showed that people who had completed Dry January became more comfortable refusing alcohol in social situations throughout the year.

There is no hard data yet on whether an annual personal prohibition can save people from contracting long-term alcohol-related illness, such as liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure and heart disease. But Dr. Mokdad points to the immediate benefits of abstinence—namely, avoiding all the trouble our drunk selves tend to get into.

"There are two kinds of harm as a result of heavy drinking: long-term but also short-term risks, such as violence, alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behavior and overeating," Dr. Mokdad explains.

In the UK, where Dry January began, a tertiary trend called session drinking, or imbibing cocktails made of low-proof liquor, provides a more noncommittal alternative to Dry January.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Mokdad, session drinking is still problematic. It leaves too much room for individuals to create their own interpretations of moderation, and knowing one's own limits can be difficult. (For proof, cast your mind's eye on every drunk relative you've ever seen at a family wedding.)

"A drink is still a drink," Dr. Mokdad says. "It is still alcohol, whether it's beer or Scotch. So I wouldn't say it is necessarily better for people to switch to having drinks with low alcohol content."

There you have it. While the onslaught of #dryjanuary posts may irritate those of us still on the wagon, it turns out participants aren't totally spinning their wheels.

Start the year off right with the healthy ingredients, dishes and recipes that will stick with you long after you've abandoned those pesky resolutions. We're going all in on Clean(er) Eating—and drinking, too.