Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Dry January' is low-pressure way to reflect on alcohol use, say Pittsburgh-area addiction experts

A cocktail on a wooden table.
Chris Ayers
90.5 WESA

Doing a "Dry January" alcohol cleanse is a trend that's gained popularity in recent years.

People participate for any number of reasons — wanting to drop weight gained over the holidays, get better rest, or recalibrate their alcohol intake after a couple of months of heavy drinking.

Mandy Fauble, director of clinical services at UPMC Western Behavioral Health, said she loves the Dry January movement because it popularizes evaluating one's relationship to alcohol. By making this self-reflection mainstream, it removes feelings of blame or shame.

“That judgment that people experience and the judgment that people are afraid of really holds them back,” said Fauble.

Normalizing reflection of one’s drinking habits is especially important within the context of binge drinking, said Dr. Julia D'Alo, the chief medical officer of Gateway Rehab.

Most people who binge drink are not addicted to alcohol, though it is associated with a host of serious risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They include increased incidence of violent crime, motor vehicle crashes, and poor pregnancy outcomes, including stillbirth and miscarriage. Binge drinking is linked to long-term health issues, such as various cancers, high blood pressure and liver disease.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

The CDC says that 1 in 6 U.S. adults binge drink, 25% of whom do so weekly. It’s defined as consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men; for women, it's four or more. (The CDC classifies “heavy drinking” for men as having 15 or more drinks per week, and eight or more for women.)

“People can still function and binge drink … They may be an executive or a top-ranking whatever, incredibly talented and skilled, or they're a wonderful mother or father,” said D’Alo. “But when Friday hits, they're drinking very, very heavily until they go back to work again the next week.”

If someone attempts Dry January and starts to feel ill — nausea, headaches, tremors — they should seek medical attention. Sometimes, when people go cold turkey, they get sick because their body is used to having large amounts of alcohol. This can be highly uncomfortable and even dangerous as in extreme cases, a person might experience seizures or hallucinations.

Medications and supportive care can help someone safely stop drinking.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.