Dry January Done? Experts Explain The Benefits Of Cutting Alcohol


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January is basically a month to physically, mentally, and emotionally reset, and one thing that’s become increasingly popular over the years is “Dry January,” AKA when you give up alcohol for the month of January and live a sober lifestyle.

This year, it felt like everyone we knew was embarking on Dry January. Suddenly, our social calendar became filled with wholesome activities like a spin class followed by an (oat) iced latte or our fave, Saturday brunch… but at 10 am instead of 2 pm.

While I didn’t embark on a totally sober month, I did cut back my alcohol intake considerably, drinking alcohol with only one meal per week. Once ‘Dry January’ came to a close, it got me thinking, why limit this lifestyle change just to January? It was undeniably good for both my mental and physical health. I was really getting in the groove of this new chapter, and I wanted to find out more about embarking on this path long-term. So, I decided to get in touch with two amazing women who champion a sober lifestyle; Founder of Sober and Social, Emily Syphas, and Functional Sobriety expert Dr. Brooke Scheller. They shared their stories with us, and honestly, after reading them, I felt so inspired to continue.

It’s important to remember that any lifestyle choice is your choice. It’s about finding what works for you and makes you feel your best, and that will look different for everyone. Some people may find that alcohol doesn’t negatively impact their life and enjoy it, while others may limit their consumption entirely. Right now, we’re sitting somewhere in the middle. Whatever you decide, it should benefit YOU!

Dry January and Embarking on a Sober(ish) Lifestyle

Whenever we hear people say, “I don’t drink” or “I’m not drinking,” it’s usually met with a flurry of questions. Admittedly, I’m always curious to find out what led that person down the path. Real talk: as a society, we’re obsessed and heavily dependent on alcohol. Even as someone who grew up in the Middle East, where alcohol is not as prevalent as it is in many other areas of the world, it was still present in my adolescent and adult life. For those whose religion it’s not a part of, choosing to live alcohol-free goes against the grain, and I always think it’s extremely brave. So naturally, I had to ask both Emily and Dr. Scheller where they started.

Emily walked us through her journey, “I was in an unhealthy cycle with my alcohol use, and my mental health wasn’t great, so I knew I needed to make some big changes, and for me, that had to be a long stint of living completely alcohol-free. I experimented with various stints of sobriety, and it always made me feel so much better, so I knew it was the right choice for me.” I could definitely relate to Emily as I know the feeling of anxiety (hungover anxiety) all too well, and even in the past month, living hangover and anxiety-free has been literally that: freeing!

For Dr. Scheller, her exploration of cutting out alcohol was incentivized by her physical well-being, “As a doctor of nutrition, I knew exactly what alcohol was doing in my body, but it took me a while to finally cut it out for good. In fact, while I was in the midst of writing a textbook chapter about substance use and nutrition, I was able to gain some clarity on my own drinking habits and saw just how much alcohol was holding me back from both a well-being and career standpoint. This process not only helped me cut alcohol from my life, but it also inspired me to develop a functional approach to help others do the same using nutrition, supplementation, and other lifestyle modalities.”

If you’re curious about embarking on a sober lifestyle, take some time to reflect. Ask yourself, does alcohol impact my life positively or negatively? If it is negative, delve deeper into those moments and ask yourself why? This is a great opportunity to journal and jot down all of your thoughts and really assess the impact. Then, try and find a solution to avoid those moments. Perhaps you hate the feeling of being hungover, so the next time you drink, you limit your intake and ensure you drink a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage. Or, maybe the next time you go out with your squad, you try it without alcohol. It’s a trial-and-error process. Find what works for YOU!

How Alcohol Impacts Your Mental and Physical Health

Alcohol is proven to have a negative impact on your mental health. Alcohol impacts the area of your brain that controls inhibition, so while in the moment you may feel confident, relaxed, and less anxious, the chemical changes in your brain can quickly dip and make you feel angry, depressed, or anxious, regardless of your actual mood.

It also affects your physical health. In the short term: it can impact your sleep, as well as lead to nausea, bloating, and migraines, AKA a hangover. However, in the long term, it increases the likelihood of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, liver disease, and cancer. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. It can also impact your hormone levels, worsen PMS, and lead to vitamin deficiencies.

Dry January and Beyond: The Benefits of Living Alcohol-Free

While we wouldn’t deny it can be hard to live a sober or sober(ish) lifestyle, for many, and definitely for Emily and Dr. Scheller, the benefits outweigh the challenges.

Dr. Scheller confirms, “My life is so much better without alcohol. Everything about my physical and mental well-being has improved. My skin is clearer, I have more energy, less anxiety, more mental clarity, and I’ve been able to accomplish so much without alcohol holding me back.”

Emily beams, “No hangovers are my favorite. I feel more motivated, sleep better, feel more present in my relationships with friends and family, feel more reliable, and overall cope with life’s ups and downs with healthier coping mechanisms.”

Even after just one month of cutting back, we’ve also experienced these benefits. There’s no better feeling than waking up on a Saturday, feeling well rested and hanxiety free, with feel-good activities lined up for the weekend.

The Challenges of a Sober Lifestyle

Of course, we can’t completely ignore the challenges. Dr. Scheller reminds us, “We all have hard days, and when you’ve used alcohol as your coping mechanism, it can be difficult to learn a new way to handle tough situations.” However, as a solution, Dr. Scheller says, “I like to incorporate a daily meditation to help with that. Alcohol cravings were also a challenge in the beginning but have subsided over time.”

For Emily, it was more complex, “Not drinking highlighted my poor mental health and having to deal with that with no escapism. I always blamed the hangovers, and I am sure they didn’t help, but ultimately even living an alcohol-free life, I can have really difficult moments with my mind.”

It also impacts your social life, as entering a social setting where alcohol is heavily involved can feel overwhelming and isolating. Emily noted “how draining social situations can be when everyone else is drinking and feels on a different level to you.”

For me, this was very relatable; I love to go out, socialize over drinks, and end up in a club dancing the night away. However, after a few of those kinda events without drinking, I felt my confidence grow, and I ended up being the first person to drag people to the club. It also means I’m often the first to leave, but I always feel good in the knowledge that the best part of any night out is never the last two hours. Let’s be real; for many of us, that part’s just a blur!

Tips for Leading a Sober(ish) Lifestyle

Okay, now to the more practical section of this feature: tried and tested tips for living a sober or sober(ish) lifestyle. Seriously, there are some gems in here…

1. Remember What You’re Gaining, NOT What You’re Loosing 

Emily advises, “Write down all the negatives alcohol brings you. For example, a bad night’s sleep, anxiety, regret, no money, bad choices, hangovers, bad skin, poor food decisions. Then, write down all the positive effects of not drinking. For example, feeling more motivated, more clarity, [being] more present for friends and family, losing weight, saving money, more confidence, and feeling more positive. This will help you create a clear perspective on what you are gaining rather than losing when making a choice to go alcohol-free.”

Pro tip: Use this list as a positive reminder in those hard moments. I’ve created a note on my phone and turned to it often. You can also add to it as you develop on your journey.

2. Create Like-Minded Friendships

“This is a big one, but I have found it to be a game changer. Finding friends, communities, and support groups that allow you to connect with like-minded people. It allows you to talk to others that understand your journey, gives new depth to your social life, and allows you to feel less alone,” says Emily.

Dr. Scheller even created her own sober community: Functional Sobriety. She recommends “Surrounding yourself with alcohol-free resources so that you can learn from people who have done it successfully.”

Look for alcohol-free events in your area and bring a friend along to meet like-minded people. If you’re not ready for that or can’t find events locally, Emily also runs digital events, so check out Sober and Social for more deets.

3. Start Experimenting with Alcohol-Free Alternatives

Emily says, “There are so many amazing alcohol-free alternatives that are still totally delicious and give the fun without the fuzz! I would suggest trying Clean Co, Lyre’s, PentireCalenoLucky SaintReal Kombucha, and French Bloom  to get you started!”

Pro tip: In a social setting, rephrase “I’m not drinking” to “I don’t drink,” as this can help prevent others from trying to peer pressure you to drink. Or, if you’re going out with your squad, order an alcohol-free alternative. Nine times out of ten, people don’t notice.

4. Redefine What Fun Means to You

Dr. Scheller and Emily both stress the importance of finding fun hobbies and activities that don’t revolve around alcohol and support your new lifestyle.

Emily explains, “living hangover-free might mean that nightclubs and bars might not have the same appeal as they once did (or maybe they might, but that’s for you to figure out). I would recommend exploring what feels fun to you now alcohol is no longer the main ingredient. Maybe that’s getting up earlier and going to the gym, connecting with friends over brunch, booking a hike, finding an alcohol-free party to attend, or finding the best alcohol-free cocktail in town.”

5. Embrace Hangover-Free Mornings

“Imagine no groggy mornings, no feelings of regret or anxiety, and no wondering where all your money disappeared to. You get to wake up feeling fresh, motivated, and ready to attack the day,” says Emily. We’ve got to admit we’re obsessed with hangover-free mornings.

To make the most of these mornings, Emily suggests, “Put a morning routine in place. Think: ten minutes of meditation, a 20-minute run, or yoga, and then write down five things you are grateful for. This has been a game changer for me, and I guarantee it will help you stay on track!”

6. Use Nutrition to Heal and Help Manage Cravings

Dr. Scheller advises, “Use nutrition to your advantage to help you heal from damage and restore deficiencies caused by alcohol use.” She continues, “Supplements can help you manage cravings if that is something you experience.”

Dr. Scheller shared an example on her Instagram: “Chronic alcohol use can lower our body’s magnesium levels. Magnesium is important for coping with stress, relaxation, anxiety, and regulating mood. There’s a good chance you’re deficient (because somewhere between 50-75% of the population is). Therefore, magnesium [supplements] can be a powerful tool when looking to cut back or quit drinking.”

Lessons From Two Sober Women

After speaking to both Dr. Scheller and Emily, it became clear that their journey has led to nothing but empowerment and taught them a lot along the way.

Dr. Scheller said, “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m strong enough to face life without alcohol. I also find that I get more enjoyment out of life when alcohol isn’t in the mix, and I’ve realized that my personal relationships are now deeper, healthier, and more meaningful.”

As for Emily, she told us, “Asking for help isn’t something we should be ashamed of and is one of the most self-loving and bravest acts we can do for ourselves.” We couldn’t agree more.

She continued, “When I first started this journey, I was worried about what I was losing, but I soon realized it’s a celebration of what we are gaining and coming home to our true authentic selves.”

But most importantly, Emily concludes, “Everyone is an individual, and there isn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to cutting down or cutting out alcohol. We are all different and will need to find out what works for us on this journey. The key is to create self-awareness, remain curious and create a foundation of self-compassion.” Honestly, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Our Final Thoughts

To conclude, it’s extremely clear that this journey doesn’t come without its challenges, but ultimately, it’s mentally, physically, and spiritually rewarding. If you feel that your relationship with alcohol doesn’t negatively impact your life, then there’s no need to change your habits unless you want to try it out.

While I’m not going to go sober, I’m definitely going to continue on my cutback journey and delve deeper into my relationship with alcohol. If you’re sober and curious, feel free to message us in the comments below. After all, as Emily and Dr. Scheller reminded us, it’s all about community!