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Medically Approved

Dry January and its health benefits

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BenefitsAlcohol and medicationAlcohol and chronic conditionsDry January and the liverSummary
Many people pledge to stop drinking during the first month of the year. Being alcohol-free for 31 days can reset the body and mind, save you money, and offer many other health benefits.
Medically reviewed by Jenneh Rishe, RN
Written by Nadia Zorzan
Updated on November 27, 2023

Drinking less alcohol can provide health benefits, like building a stronger immune system, reducing stress, promoting a healthier and more functional liver, and reducing blood pressure.

Many alcoholic beverages or their mixers can be high in calories, so cutting down can also help manage your weight.

Overall health benefits of giving up alcohol

Open diary with a cutting of a flowering plant laying on the left page and a pen in the book's spine. The pages are open on January 27 and 28 and depicts dry January benefits
Helen Rushbrook/Stocksy United

During Dry January, the body goes through many changes. While people may find the first few days challenging, it can help to focus on the overall health benefits that giving up alcohol may bring.

According to Alcohol Change UK, which started the Dry January initiative, 71% of people had better sleep by cutting out alcohol for a month, while 67% said they had more energy.

Improved sleep

Drinking alcohol before bed may affect sleep quality. By slipping straight into a deep sleep, you may miss out on the sleep stage known as rapid eye movement, or REM sleep.

REM sleep is the stage your brain enters to process and sort new information that it will store in the long-term memory. It also helps the body when it creates new cells and tissues and can affect concentration and mood.

A lack of REM sleep may lead to a lighter, less restorative sleep later in the night.

Heart disease

There may be a link between fragmented or lack of sleep and numerous heart conditions like:

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • high cholesterol
  • heart attack
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • stroke

There is also a link with atherosclerosis, a condition that narrows the arteries due to a buildup of plaque or fatty deposits, potentially leading to heart disease.

Increased energy and exercise

If you get better sleep, you may have more time and energy to complete daily tasks — you could even use this as an opportunity to exercise. A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis suggests that exercise is a useful way to reduce alcohol consumption as well as improve overall fitness.

A change of attitude toward alcohol

Quitting alcohol for a month may mean you reconsider your relationship with alcohol and may give you more control over your long-term alcohol intake.

Weight loss

Alcohol is often high in calories. A standard glass of red wine — 5 fluid ounces (fl oz) — contains around 125 calories, and a 12 fl oz glass of regular beer has about 153.

According to Alcohol Change UK, 58% of people who have participated in previous Dry January initiatives have lost weight.

Lowers blood pressure

Quitting alcohol may lower your blood pressure and help keep your heart healthy.

Research reports that alcohol consumption increases blood pressure for more than 13 hours after consumption. This, in turn, can also increase heart rate for up to 24 hours.

Stronger immune system

Abstaining from alcohol can lead to a healthier gut and stronger immune system.

A 2022 systematic review reports that even a moderate amount of alcohol can have a negative effect on the immune system.

It can change the gut flora, leading to inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and a leaky gut. This is where the intestinal lining allows bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream, which may cause tissue damage.

How does alcohol affect some medications?

Some medications can affect how the body processes alcohol. In some cases, the medication’s effects may increase, but sometimes the effects can decrease or even stop.

Medication interactions can cause unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects like internal bleeding, heart conditions, and difficulty breathing.

Below are some medications that alcohol may affect.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics like metronidazole (Flagyl), sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), and trimethoprim (Proloprim) interfere with how the body breaks down alcohol and may cause serious side effects, such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • skin flushing
  • faster heart rate
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness

Additionally, the antibiotic linezolid (Zyvox) can interact with red wine and beer and cause a dangerous blood pressure increase.

Pain relief

Pain relief such as tramadol (Ultram), gabapentin (Neurontin), codeine, and other morphine-like drugs can cause severe drowsiness and nausea if you mix them with alcohol.

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Benzodiazepines and antihistamines

You should avoid alcohol altogether when taking benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam (Xanax). This is because they can cause drowsiness and make you feel a little uncoordinated.

Some sedating antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), may also cause further drowsiness.

Antidepressants

You may feel an increase in drowsiness and feel uncoordinated when taking some antidepressants. If you combine alcohol with medications like amitriptyline (Elavil) and fluoxetine (Prozac), it may also worsen these symptoms.

If you have any questions about how your particular medication may interact with alcohol, contact a doctor or healthcare professional for advice before mixing the two.

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

How does alcohol affect chronic conditions?

Alcohol can have an effect on the following:

Mental health

Drinking alcohol may negatively affect certain chronic mental health conditions, like generalized anxiety disorder and depression, and in some cases, may cause alcohol-related psychosis. Speak with a doctor or healthcare professional before mixing alcohol with any mental health medications.

Diabetes

Alcohol can affect you if you have diabetes, as it can cause blood sugar levels to rise or fall depending on how much you drink. It can also interact with diabetes medications like glipizide (Glucotrol) and nateglinide (Starlix), potentially leading to hypoglycemia or insulin shock.

Additionally, alcohol is high in calories, which may lead to unwanted weight gain or make it more difficult for people with diabetes to manage their weight effectively.

Heart disease

There is very little research on the effects of alcohol on people with heart disease. However, there is evidence to suggest that alcohol causes hypertension and releases stress hormones called catecholamines. These hormones may put more pressure on the heart.

The World Heart Federation (WHF) recommends not drinking alcohol if you have cardiovascular diseases and other chronic illnesses. This is because it increases the risk for:

  • hypertensive heart disease
  • heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
  • atrial fibrillation or heart flutter
  • stroke

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol can affect some heart condition drugs. If you mix alcohol with alpha-blockers like clonidine (Catapres) or doxazosin (Cardura), nitroglycerin, and isosorbide vasodilators, it can lead to:

  • excessive low blood pressure
  • sedation
  • rapid heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • fainting

How does Dry January affect the liver?

The liver breaks down most of the alcohol that people drink to remove it from the body. This process creates a highly toxic carcinogen called acetaldehyde. This substance is more harmful than alcohol, and large amounts can damage liver cells and cause serious liver disease.

Over time, drinking can cause the liver to work harder, leading to various types of liver disease, including fatty liver or steatosis, where fat builds up in the liver and stops it from working properly. This can lead to liver scarring, or cirrhosis and inflammation in the liver, known as alcoholic hepatitis.

Stopping your alcohol intake for Dry January can help your liver heal and regenerate, reduce alcohol-induced inflammation, and help you lose liver fat.  

Summary

You can gain many health benefits by participating in Dry January. These may include improved sleep, a healthier heart, more energy, a healthier liver, and better weight management.

Alcohol can negatively affect specific medications and chronic conditions. Consider speaking with a doctor or healthcare professional to rule out any serious short- or long-term side effects that may arise from drinking alcohol alongside regular prescription drugs or health conditions.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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