The Ultimate Guide to Dry January (How to Crush a Month of “No Alcohol”)

So you want to learn all about Dry January?

Giving up alcohol for the first month of the year is a growing health trend and something we’ve seen many of our Online Coaching Clients partake in. Today, we’ll share with you the same tips and tricks we provide them when abstaining from alcohol.

Here’s what we’ll cover in today’s guide:

Pour yourself a tall one (of water) and let’s do this.

What Is Dry January?

Dry January, simply put, is the tradition of abstaining from alcohol for the month of January. You might also hear it called “Drynuary.”

While it’s gotten a lot of buzz (pun intended) in recent years, it actually dates back to 1942. The Finnish government launched a campaign called “Raitis tammikuu” or “Sober January” as a post-war effort to drink less.

Undoubtedly though, it’s been practiced by people in other places and times before that – as a way to focus and reset after the holiday season.

January doesn’t have a monopoly on sobriety though. 

You’ll also come across:

  • Sober September, to mark the end of summer festivities.
  • Go Sober for October (or Sober October).
  • Dry July, an Australian charity similar to Dry Feb.

No matter what you call it, it’s all more or less the same goal: don’t drink for the month. 

What Happens When You Do Dry January? (Why Take a Month off Drinking?)

Here at Nerd Fitness, we’re really, really big fans of your “BIG Why” – the reason you start anything. 

Digging into your BIG Why can be incredibly helpful for you when you start any sort of health or fitness habit, and especially when you come up against challenges along the way (which WILL happen).

“Those who have a ‘why’ can bear with almost any ‘how.’”

-Victor Frankl

So before you dive further into Dry January, ask yourself “Why do you want to do it?”

Then dig deeper into that. Try to go three levels down! 

For example:

“I want to do Dry January so that I drink less.”


“I want to drink less because alcohol is really affecting my ability to get up early and workout.”


“Since I haven’t been able to work out regularly, I move terribly, and have a hard time keeping up with my kids. Drinking less will help me be there for them.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Make. It. Personal. 

You may tell your friends and family about Dry January, but at the heart of it all, it’s your journey.

Naturally, the more you can personalize your BIG Why, the more it will uplift you during difficult times this month (and beyond).

What Are the Benefits of Dry January?

Here are some of the positives of abstaining from alcohol for a month:

#1) Better Sleep

The negative effects of alcohol on sleep have been well documented.

However, with even just one night of heavy drinking, it doesn’t take a pile of scientific papers to let you know your sleep is affected.

Good sleep is one of those “domino habits” that affects so many other things in our day.

A good night of sleep can help you get up and workout in the morning (or just start the day sooner and get more done!). 

You’ll likely be better focused at any tasks you have. There have even been studies correlating lower amounts of sleep to obesity.[2]

#2) Improved Mood

No doubt, better (and longer) sleep will improve your frame of mind. Not only that, but there is some evidence to suggest that reducing alcohol consumption might improve your mood in general.[3]

#3) Money Saved

Booze is expensive! Especially if you’re going out for it! 

Many people’s New Year’s resolutions include seeking financial improvement. An easy target to reduce spending could be to cut out alcohol.

#4) Losing Weight

As we discuss in The Nerd’s Guide to Alcohol, booze is pretty much void of any nutrients.

Sure, wine and some other beverages might have some antioxidants here and there.[4] But other than that, it’s more or less just alcohol, water, and calories.

That’s why you’ll often hear booze referred to as “empty calories.” Cutting back on alcohol will reduce your “calories in,” essential for weight loss

Not only will you cut the calories from the booze itself, but there’s another insidious effect alcohol can have on our weight loss efforts: the choices we make after a few drinks.

After a few cocktails, we may find our cravings increasing and our willpower decreasing. Avoiding this situation, by avoiding alcohol, can help support healthy habits.

At this point, we should note that not everyone will benefit from taking a month off drinking.

Who Shouldn’t Do Dry January? (The Risks of Cold Turkey)

We’ve just spent some time going over the benefits of a Dry January – and there are a lot! 

But we also need to give the very real warning that this is NOT for everyone

We’ll go over a few possible scenarios, but if there is ANY apprehension to starting Dry January for any reason, then please consult your doctor first.

#1) Alcohol Dependency

If you currently have a strong alcohol dependency, then going cold turkey can be potentially life-threatening. There are numerous withdrawal symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, increase in potential for seizures, and even hallucinations.[5]

Again – and it bears repeating – if you believe you have any sort of dependency, please talk to your doctor before making dramatic changes in your alcohol consumption.

 #2) Predisposition to Seizures

As mentioned above, alcohol withdrawal can cause an increase in potential for seizures (due to an increase in your central nervous activity). 

If you are already knowingly prone to seizures for any reason, then a rapid swing in your drinking habits may exacerbate the situation.

 #3) Depression and Anxiety Issues

If you have been diagnosed, or suspect depression or anxiety issues, then sudden removal of alcohol as a possible coping mechanism may have detrimental effects. 

We recommend, as always, to reach out for professional support in these cases! 

You can find tons of outside resources in our guide, A Nerd’s Introduction to Mental Health.

In addition, if you feel like you want to start Dry January to absolve yourself of dietary “sins” from December, (“I can’t believe I ate and drank so much”), we’d also recommend that you revisit your BIG Why for starting.

We want this experiment to be beneficial to your health, not something that triggers a big swing in the opposite direction.

How to Start Dry January

“Alright Jim, I’ve gotten this far and I’m ready to start! I just stop drinking…right?”

Sure, sure – that’s the core of Dry January. But there are a few things to consider, to really personalize it and get even more out of it.

#1) Dry or Semi-Dry?

While the more popularly discussed variation of Dry January involves cutting out alcohol completely, perhaps you just use the month to do an alcoholic audit. You might just decide to reduce your consumption a bit. 

This may end up looking like one or more of the following:

  • Eliminating weekday drinks only.
  • Having drinks only on special occasions.
  • Reducing the amount of drinks you have in one sitting.

The point is that this “Dry” January may look different to everyone, and that’s ok. As far as we know, there’s no “Dry January” police that are going to bust in your doors for any dietary infractions.

This was a much better reference than The Untouchables.

#2) Are You Stuck in “All or Nothing” Thinking?

On a similar note, Dry January presents the challenge of having absolutely NO alcohol for the entire month. So maybe you start the month off with the best of intentions – no alcohol for me! – and then something happens and you have a drink.

Then it’s time to give up the rest of the month and return to old habits!

Also, whenever I get a flat – I make sure to slash the other three tires!

Jokes aside, if you start with one plan and things don’t quite go how you expected – that’s fine

Get right back to it. You are still making changes and focusing attention on improving your health.

And again, no Dry January police.

#3) What Are Your Triggers?

With any behavior you’re looking to change, it helps to identify what triggers that behavior in the first place.

Charles Duhigg, in his New York Times bestselling book The Power of Habit, talks about cues that lead to routines, that lead to rewards (note: the rewards may not always be healthy)

If you’re able to identify triggers, you have a better chance of avoiding or adjusting them to support your new behaviors. 

In regards to alcohol, look for triggers related to:

  • Time: Are you always drinking during a certain time of day, or day of the week?
  • Location: How about always drinking in a certain place?
  • Preceding Event: Is there something that always seems to happen beforehand, that then leads to having a drink?
  • Emotional State: How do you usually feel before having a drink? Or even just having a craving to drink?
  • Other People: Are you interacting with certain individuals before drinking?

Asking yourself these questions will help get to the root cause of your drinking habits. 

The other thing to consider here is “friction.”

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, talks about habit change and the importance of “friction” – or how easy or hard you make an action. 

Specifically, we should look for ways to change our environment to increase or decrease friction. If you change your environment to reduce friction, you won’t have as many decisions to make to take the action you want. Then things start becoming automatic. 

For example, let’s say you want to “work out more.” Reduction friction might include putting your gym bag where you’ll always run into it, or setting a phone alarm to train.

Around here, we call these strategies “Hacking Your Batcave,” because of course that’s what we’d call it.

On the flipside, increasing friction for a habit we want to reduce (e.g., drinking) would mean we want to make that habit invisible

We can increase the friction with drinking by:

#1) Getting rid of all the booze in your house.

Dr. Berardi of Precision Nutrition often says:

If a food is in your possession or located in your residence, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate will eventually eat it. 

That means if you don’t want to drink it, don’t keep it at home! 

#2) Avoiding areas where you can buy alcohol. 

  • If you have a beer and wine aisle at your regular supermarket, consider if you can shop without going near it.
  • You could also opt for grocery delivery, so you don’t even have to set foot inside a store with a beer/wine aisle.
  • Change your routes – if you walk or drive by a bar or liquor store regularly, look for new ways to go. Out of sight goes a long way for out of mind. 

Strategically increasing and decreasing friction will go a long way towards reducing the habit of drinking. 

If you want more tips and tricks for habit change, I’ve got two great resources for you:

Tools to Help You With Dry January (Additional Resources)

Let’s chat about some additional resources that may help as you begin your month-long journey.

#1) Community and Apps

Some find community and social accountability really helpful during Dry January. Others just like to see a visual streak of their success.

Nerd Fitness Prime provides social support through Facebook and Discord to hundreds of other Rebels. We’ve already used that community to tackle other challenges like running 5Ks: 

And rocking chin-ups!

For seeing a visual streak of progression, we have our NF Journey App (which is part of your NF Prime membership). 

We’re actually rolling out a 31-day habit challenge this January (boy, what excellent timing!). So jump on in and let it help your Dry January too! 

You can try a 7-day free trial of NF Journey right here:

#2) Non-Alcoholic Drinks

When reducing or eliminating alcohol in your routine, it can sometimes help to have a substitute that gives you a similar experience as alcohol, without the depressive effects. These options have come a LONG way from the days of watery, tasteless non-alcoholic beers.

For NA beers, I’ve personally tried the following:

For NA spirits, there are a couple good options here too:

They even make some non-alcoholic wine now, although admittedly I haven’t tried any yet:

#3) Outside Help

As previously mentioned, if you do suspect you have an alcohol dependency issue – please talk to your doctor, your therapist, and/or social resources like Alcoholics Anonymous.

What to Do in February (Next Steps)

As you go through Dry January, it can be easy to focus on the end date.

You just need to hold out a little longer, then you can get “back to normal!”

Instead, I’d recommend using the month of “no alcohol” to think about what February 1st will look like. 

This should be about introspection, not just avoidance. Use it as a time to look into your relationship with alcohol.

Ask yourself:

  • What adjustments have you made during January that feel sustainable?
  • What adjustments don’t feel sustainable?
  • What had you been using alcohol for in the past? (Boredom? Coping? Anxiety?)

Studies have shown that Dry January can become a foundation for continued and long-lasting changes to your health.[6]

However, for you to really see the benefits, you need to do the extra work here.[7]

Well, we hope to have provided enough information about Dry January that you can make the best decisions for yourself.

There is no shame if you’re not ready for this challenge (just as there’s no shame if your friend doesn’t participate while you do).

Whatever you’re going to embark on, we are here to support! 

If you want to continue your journey with Nerd Fitness, you can check out:

#1) Our Online Coaching Program: we work hand in hand with our clients for all sorts of nutritional changes, including drinking less. 

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:

#2) If you like the idea of doing challenges with a group of others, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

#3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion. You’ll meet all sorts of individuals who are trying to better themselves, by drinking less, eating more vegetables, or lacing up to go for a run. 

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Diet Cheat Sheet, which will show you where certain alcoholic drinks fall on the “healthy or less-healthy” spectrum. 

Download our free weight loss guide
THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life

  • Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
  • What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
  • 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target

Let’s go!


PS: Make sure you check out A Nerd’s Guide to Drinking for more thoughts on how to drink while still being a healthy individual.


Photo source: Talk like a pirate day, boule13 ©, Brian Jackson ©, Dmytro Sidelnikov  ©, The Pirates are coming, Jaromir Chalabala ©; Ready to plunder the Californian Beaches…, Let’s quench our thirst

Footnotes    ( returns to text)

  1. Read, “The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep.” Souce, PubMed.
  2. You can read this study or this study for more.
  3. Read, “Alcohol Dependence, Withdrawal, and Relapse.” Source, PubMed.

This content was originally published here.

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