Is Doing a ‘Dry January’ Good for Your Health (or Not)?
Considering doing a ‘Dry January?’ Our expert weighs in on whether abstaining from alcohol all month benefits your health.
Did you over-indulge a wee bit (um, maybe a lot) over the holidays? It’s quite possible that you had a few extra drinks between Friendsgiving and the ball drop on New Year’s.
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If so, you might be wondering if a ‘Dry January’ — or avoiding any alcohol for the first month of the year — is what your body needs to get back on track. But can it really help your health?
Liver specialist Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, says going ‘dry’ can decrease liver inflammation brought on by drinking alcohol.
“When people stop drinking, even if it’s a month, this alcohol-induced inflammation will have the chance to improve,” Dr. Wakim-Fleming says.
“It’s like you’re giving that wound a little bit of time to heal itself. It may not heal all of the way back if you’ve been drinking a lot before and your liver has been severely damaged by alcohol. But it will still help.”
Dr. Wakim-Fleming points out that if you have a history of heavy drinking, you may suffer from scarring of your liver (like fibrosis or cirrhosis). At this point, the damage may not always be reversed by going dry.
A recent study shows more adults are engaging in binge-drinking now than ever before — especially women over age 40.
How much is binge drinking? Binge drinking is defined as more than five drinks in one sitting for men, and more than four drinks for women.
One way to keep it under control? It’s wise to create a ‘budget’ for your alcohol use each year, the same way you budget your finances, Dr. Wakim-Fleming suggests. Take a look at the year ahead and consider how often you drink and how much.
As far as Dry January goes, Dr. Wakim-Fleming says going for longer stretches (like three to six months) without alcohol is a better bet for seeing liver recovery.
“If you stop to take a Dry January because you drank during the holidays and now you’re going to give your body a rest, that is awesome,” she says. “That’s very good compared with someone who did not stop in January. But we’d like to see if the dry month could be extended to a dry three months or six months.”
Of course, Dr. Wakim-Fleming says, it’s best not to drink alcohol at all — especially if you have liver disease. But if you decide to go back to drinking after a dry spell, consider drinking less.
It’s always a good idea to have a conversation with your doctor about your alcohol habits, she says. Together, you can develop a plan that’s best for your long-term health.