Dry January Diaries: Tips, Tricks, and How to Ace the Challenge

I did the dry January challenge and learned some stuff along the way. These are my tips for sailing through with grace.

Published December 18, 2023
dry January calendar

So, you're thinking about embarking on a dry January challenge or you're wondering if you should keep going after just a week or two. I've been in both places, and spoiler alert, I did end up sticking with it to the very end of January. I learned a thing or twelve, and while I never had that epiphany moment or sudden change in my health habits, it was a memorable learning experience that has stuck with me for years.

What Is the Dry January Challenge?

For the entire 31 days of January, you skip the booze. Although, depending on who you ask, that sip of prosecco after the clock strikes midnight doesn't count. I firmly believe that it doesn't count either, but to each their own. The rules of your challenge don't need to look like anyone else's. 

At the core, the dry January challenge is simple: no booze, not a drop. You can swap in nonalcoholic versions, or you can imbibe in mocktails, but not a single sip of alcohol can pass your lips until February 1. Some may take a "California sober" approach, which is when you kick the bottle for a month but light a joint or twelve along the way. 

It's called dry January, not sober January, after all. But if you're using one substance to compensate for not having another, then it kind of loses the full effect. Be it a California sober approach, drinking cola six times a day, or losing yourself in your phone for 12 hours a day, so long as you're not using another substance to compensate, truthfully, I don't see an issue with it. You know yourself best. Make good choices.

Tips for Dry January

Regardless of how much you drink, dry January can feel like a challenge. But you can benefit from my experience. Here are my tips.

Let People Know Ahead of Time

Absolutely let people know you're diving into the new year with Dry January. So many are doing it now that it's no longer a surprise. But by letting friends, family, and roommates know what you're doing, they can be more mindful to not make those bottomless mimosa brunch plans and instead opt for a place that's more of a mom and pop diner. 

Do It With a Buddy

two women talking

Having a friend in the thick of it with you helps so much. A co-worker and my cousin were embarking on this journey with me, and without those two to whine to, I mean text, I don't know how I would've made it through as successfully. If anything, it helps to have someone to help keep you accountable and you do the same in return. 

Know Your Weak Points

Having a glass of wine when I'm cooking dinner is significantly more wonderful to me than having a glass of wine with dinner. I don't have a reason for this, although I'm sure if I did a hard look, I'd come up with an answer. So, as I cooked dinner without wine in hand those first few nights, I was totally lost. I still broke out my wine glass when cooking, but I'd have a ginger ale or lemonade instead. For me, I just needed that physical habit of cooking and jamming out to music with a glass in hand, and doing that with something other than wine went just fine for me. 

Knowing your weak points ahead of time may not be feasible. I sure didn't know mine! But as soon as I soberly stumbled across one, I found a way to change it. 

Prepare for Feelings You Didn't Expect

I was blue. My co-worker was blue. My cousin was blue. We couldn't figure out why. Alcohol is a depressant, we were getting better sleep, and we were more active, so why in the world were we so sad? Because we had lost our hang-out time with others at the beginning of dry January. Instead of hanging out after work and having a mocktail as a shift drink (or even just club soda), we were going straight home. 

You might find yourself feeling angry over how much you want to get a drink. Or you could feel stuck without something to do. Or maybe you're over-the-moon happy to feel free from alcohol. Whatever it is, and I know this may sound dorky, but journaling those feelings or allowing yourself to have a brain dump can illuminate a few things in your life that you didn't previously realize. 

Don't Skip Out on Being Social

Going dry on booze doesn't mean going dry on your social life. Continue to go on dates, get dinner with friends, hang out at that brewery (so many have alternatives at long last), or hit the bar with them and sip your club soda with pineapple juice or grapefruit juice and ginger ale. Call up your friends, get out of the house, and don't sit on your bed in the dark, wondering if it's too early to go to bed. 

Accept That You're Going to Be Hungry

Something my cousin noticed was that she was hungrier than before. Rather than feeling full from drinking beer, she was still hungry after a small meal. Like me, it was something she never would've considered would happen during dry January. 

It could be real physical hunger or hunger in the form of craving as you work through the month. Accept it, work with it, and continue on in moderation.

Keep Going!

After the first week, I thought, heck, I've done that, that's good enough. I kept going. The second week, I'd made it half a month. I'd proven I could do this. I could call it quits. I kept going. The third week came and went and I thought, ya know what? I've come this far. And after the fourth week, I was so incredibly proud of myself. 

Did I feel ridiculous being so proud about that? A little. But I was absolutely delighted. And weirdly enough, I wasn't sure if I was ready to quit just yet. But I'm someone who hates to break a streak, so I reminded myself I'd met my goal and tucked myself into bed. 

Ending Dry January Successfully

How did dry January go for me, a 20-something who was deep into the service industry? Well, I learned a lot. Come February 1st, I went to work as usual. Then I had one shift drink and went home.

Just kidding, I had a shift drink or two (Michael David's Freakshow, I had dreamt of it for a month), then hit the bar across the street that was third base for so many of us after work, missed the last T home, and took an Uber. I won't even tell you how I felt the next day. You can imagine the ginger ale, ibuprofen, and regret that flowed through my veins. It was that feeling the made me appreciate the dry month that had come before.

Give Dry January a Try

It may not have been in the middle of that hangover, but waking up on February 2nd changed things. Now, I was more mindful. Did I really want a second, third, or fourth drink that night? No, not really. I was better about pacing myself, keeping track of time to make sure I wouldn't need to pay an outrageous price for an Uber home, and being in the first wave of people heading home rather than hanging out at the bar until midnight on a regular basis. Dry January was, and is, so totally worth it. 

Dry January Diaries: Tips, Tricks, and How to Ace the Challenge