Dry January: 6 Reasons to Consider Mindful Drinking

Last year's Dry January challenge 2023 was easy. My social calendar was light and I breezed through it. This one is more of a test; I’ve already forgone the champagne part of a caviar-champagne pairing and I have two wine tasting events on my calendar in the week ahead.  Do I spit (not a fan of the practice) or just fill my glass with water with visions of February dancing in my head?    

As in several Januarys gone by … even through the pandemic lockdown … I am once again teetotalling my way through the start of the year.  In these volatile times when so much of life is out of our control, the wellness benefits of giving of alcohol for the month come with a bonus:  the emotional lift of setting a goal and sticking to it.  


My ongoing commitment to an annual Dry January isn’t that I have a drinking problem or that I am frequently sloshed. As a resident of Sonoma, California, wine is a significant part of my lifestyle.  But when something is so accessible, it’s easy for mindless habits to take grip, as mindless habits often do. Certain triggers cause my brain to expect a glass of wine, even when I’m better off abstaining such as when I need a good night’s sleep to be at my best the following day or when I need to drop a pound or two.


While my original intention for my first Dry January was to restore greater appreciation of the wines I enjoy and to break the habit loop of mindless drinking, I’ve subsequently come to appreciate much more about how alcohol affects my overall wellbeing and how Dry January benefits are ongoing throughout the year.


how does alcohol affect your sleep

Wait. What? My husband used to say “two glasses, she is fun; three glasses, she’s asleep.” A glass of wine or two late in the day ensured I would fall asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. 

But the reality is that the quality of sleep is degraded by alcohol’s interference of optimal REM cycles. I’ve found that when I skip late day alcohol, it may take me a little longer to fall asleep, but I feel much more rested when the alarm app chimes in the morning. 


how does alcohol affect your brain

The blood alcohol levels that lead to (often regrettable) decrease in inhibition interfere with the brain’s communication pathways. For me, even a glass or two of wine with dinner affects “lexical fluency,” my ability to produce words and names off the top of my head. Because the effect on sharpness and focus spills over into the next day as a result of poorer quality sleep, there’s a now-and-later blow to brain function. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that mental computing power is inversely proportional to wine consumption. 


The good news is that as I’ve gotten older, red wine headaches are less of a problem. The bad news is that the headaches have been replaced by acid reflux that wakes me up and makes my voice hoarse … and not in an especially sexy way. The multitude of benefits associated with better sleep and a healthier esophagus are two reasons that leaving the wine corked through January motivates more mindful consumption throughout the rest of the year. 


Substituting water for wine with dinner can mean a significant reduction in caloric consumption. Even just one glass of wine per evening meal accounts for 4000 calories over the course of a month. And because they are liquid calories, you don’t necessarily add to feelings of fullness, so the tendency can be to pile on another helping of potatoes. Following the bloat of holiday over-indulgence, Dry January is a jump start to waistline recovery.


What’s trending in selfcare?  Our ever-increasing appreciation of how the invisible universe of microorganisms populating our skin and our intestinal tract can be friend or foe well beyond our general gut health.  

Habitual consumption of alcohol can change the composition of our microbiome, diminishing the population of healthy protective bacteria and allowing the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria.  This not only affects our ability to appropriately digest nutrients but can lead to a host of other issues that result from leaky gut and heightened inflammation throughout our bodies.  The adverse effects include compromised immune function and a toll taken on mental wellbeing.  


As a beauty industry veteran, smoother, brighter, healthier looking skin is one of the primary reasons I have become an advocate of Dry January. Alcohol is a diuretic that can cause your body to pee out more water faster, leading to dehydration and lack-luster, dry skin. Part of skin’s essential function is to control the loss of water from the body; alcohol consumption makes that more of an uphill battle. In essence, Dry January is a source of beauty from the inside out.


For me, the most difficult part of Dry January drinking is FOMO: fear of missing out, especially at social events where fine wines flow freely. So I’ll hold a glass with a short pour and enjoy the nose (smell) of the wine without drinking it.  

Some people find that journaling helps them notice the effects of abstaining and encourages them to keep going. Others have found benefit from the Sunnyside App for mindful drinking. My approach is one of healthy substitution. 

As my body is experiencing the benefits of the alcohol hiatus, it’s a perfect time to introduce an alternative beverage habit. Golden Moment Turmeric Elixir is an ideal happy hour or evening alternative to a glass of wine. The modern take on a traditional Ayurvedic beverage is not only deliciously satisfying, it may help to further support sleep patterns, digestive health and skin radiance, further enhancing the benefits of Dry January. 


For many of us, a cocktail or two is an easy way to self-medicate the symptom of everyday stressors through the release of feel-good endorphins for a short-term lift. However, for far too many, it can lead to dependency that is difficult to escape.  That’s why it’s a good idea to join the tens of millions of adults in the US who plan on participating in some version of a dry January to start 2024. There’s meaningful satisfaction in taking control when we can. A small success in January encourages commitment to ongoing healthy change and to brighter months and years ahead. 

Lori Bush is a wellness and beauty industry innovator and thought leader.  She has authored a number of papers dealing with health, beauty and business leadership and is a co-author of a best-selling beauty and wellness book.

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