It’s no secret that the holiday season is full of occasions to indulge in everything from mulled wine to peppermint martinis. But October—well before the festivities really pick up—presents an opportunity to cut the stuff out entirely, and perhaps even reap some benefits along the way.
Sober October is basically exactly what it sounds like: a month without alcohol. It began as a fundraising campaign, but it’s also about evaluating your relationship with alcohol, according to Healthline. Dry January is a similar challenge for those who prefer to abstain after the season is over.
Whichever 31-day challenge you choose, we’ve got everything you need to know about a month sans alcohol (including some great drink options!) below.
This article is not intended to provide advice for those who are or think they may be struggling with alcohol addiction. If you feel that your drinking is problematic or no longer in your control, please reach out to a trusted healthcare provider.
What are the benefits of cutting out alcohol?
Science says there are plenty of potential perks to ditching drinking. A study currently under review for publication examined three cohorts of participants in the annual Alcohol Free for 40 challenge, a community-based abstinence program hosted through Ochsner Health. Body fat, liver enzymes, and cholesterol, among other metrics, all improved after the 40 days. But wait—there’s more.
“Those are the things that we could see objectively,” says Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, a sports dietitian with Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans. But there were also anecdotal improvements, she says.
One of the biggest areas of change that participants experienced? Their anxiety. People spoke about this in different ways, according to Kimball—some simply said their anxiety was better. Others noted that they were less irritable or even that their families liked them better.
“While we turn to alcohol to relax, when we consume alcohol on a regular basis (and for many a daily basis), it actually heightens our body’s stress response,” she explains.
People also noticed a significant improvement in their sleep, Kimball notes. The takeaway: While you may think that your evening glass of wine helps you catch some z’s, we know now that alcohol can impair quality of sleep.
Participants even claimed that they noticed less puffiness and ruddiness in their faces, along with clearer eyes and less prominent under eye circles.
Why might I try a month-long alcohol-free challenge?
Along with all of those potential benefits listed above, Kimball believes there are a few other reasons to participate in a challenge like Sober October, Dry January, or Alcohol Free for 40.
“So many times we get into a routine, [and] it becomes our crutch,” she explains. “It becomes what we think we ‘need.’” And it could be anything from your morning cup of coffee to your evening cocktail—in other words, it’s not always something negative, Kimball notes.
But “anything that encourages us to shake up that routine, I think can be a good thing,” she says. You might find you’re happy to go back to your old ways, or perhaps you’ll take note of something to edit going forward. For example, a challenge like this may be the first time you’ve ever questioned your relationship with alcohol, Kimball explains, and you might discover that you’re heavily relying on it for a level of security or happiness—or not at all.
“In Alcohol Free for 40, we see a lot of different responses,” she adds. Some people start to use the challenge as an annual reset after the holidays, while others decide they want to reshape the role of alcohol in their lives, whether that means only drinking in social settings or nixing their nightly scotch on the rocks.
Kimball’s Alcohol-Free Challenge Tips
If you’re itching to take on this challenge, Kimball has a few words of wisdom to help you through. First of all, she recommends deciding on some replacement behaviors up front. For instance, what are you going to drink instead of alcohol? Deciding on some back-ups (other than just water) will help you avoid feeling like you’re being punished, she explains, adding that there are tons of zero proof spirits now. Meanwhile, kombucha (which does contain a trace amount of alcohol, BTW) and sparkling water might be good options.
“It can even be as simple as adding a few drops of bitters to club soda,” Kimball says. (And yes, she acknowledges that bitters can have alcohol—but it’s a very small amount in just a few drops.) Ultimately, there are plenty of ways to get that flavor and satisfaction while limiting alcohol and sugar intake, she says. (Keep reading for our favorite NA options!)
You’ll also want to consider what you’re going to do during the times you’d normally be drinking, according to Kimball. Ask yourself: When do you usually reach for a drink? Maybe it’s when you get home and are sorting through your mail, or perhaps you sit on your porch with your partner and enjoy a cocktail every night.
“A lot of times people need to do something that’s going to bring an endorphin release [instead],” Kimball says. So an activity that incorporates movement, she says, can be a great replacement behavior (as well as a way to hit your Streak and unlock rewards in the Paceline app).
Kimball also notes that it can feel pretty uncomfortable to give up alcohol at first. But it gets easier as the days pass, she says. And if you do slip up (think: accepting a glass of Champagne at a wedding), don’t beat yourself up. In that case, she advises resetting the parameters for yourself and getting right back on track.
Paceline’s Favorite NA Options
Keep scrolling for our top picks, and head to the rewards section of the app to get $$ off your order from Monday, Hiyo, Athletic Brewing, and more NA brands coming soon.
1. French 75 | The Eat Fit Collection
This one comes from Kimball’s new book, Craft: The Eat Fit Guide to Zero Proof Cocktails, and it’s got just 25 calories, four grams of sugar (no added sugar), and no fat. It’s also gluten-free, vegan, and low-carb. The recipe below makes one serving.
- 1 ounce zero proof gin
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Eat Fit Simple Syrup (recipe below)
- 4 ounces zero proof sparkling wine
- Lemon swath, expressed, for garnish
Combine gin, lemon juice, and Eat Fit Simple Syrup in a small shaker tin filled with ice. Shake and double strain into a tall Champagne flute. Top with zero proof sparkling wine and garnish with expressed lemon swath. (Pro Tip: The lemon juice really fizzes up the sparkling wine. Tilt the Champagne flute as you pour the sparkling wine to keep it from overflowing.)
For the Eat Fit Simple Syrup, you’ll need:
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup Swerve granular or 1 1/2 cups granular allulose
In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Reduce to medium-high heat and add sweetener. Stir to dissolve and continue to heat for 10 minutes. Pour into heat-safe glass container and refrigerate to chill. Store unused portion in airtight container in refrigerator for up to four weeks.
2. Athletic Brewing Co. Non-Alcoholic Brews
If you’re the type to reach for a beer while you’re watching the game, Athletic Brewing may have some great replacement drinks for you. You can get tons of different styles, including IPA, Wheat, Lager, and Light, and choose from flavor profiles like “Tropical,” “Refreshing,” and “Hoppy.”
3. So.Beer “Beer with Benefits”
Another NA beer option, So.Beer says their brews have “built in immune support” via 250mg of Beta Glucan. They were created by The Naked Collective, a carbon neutral beverage company founded in Ireland.
4. Monday Zero Alcohol Spirits
Remember those zero proof spirits Kimball mentioned? Monday has ’em, including NA whiskey, mezcal, and gin. You can also opt for a trio pack if you’re trying to build up that alcohol-free bar cart.
5. Hiyo Sparkling Social Tonics
If White Claws are your drink of choice, then you might want to check out these tonics made with “organic adaptogens, natural nootropics, and functional botanicals.” They’re actually designed to boost your mood, and they come in three fun and creative flavors: peach mango, watermelon lime, and blackberry lemon.
The Benefits of Alcohol-Free Challenges—And Some Expert Tips is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.