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Instead of Dry January, this viral challenge can help you drink less all year long

Intimidated by Dry January? One woman has seen major health benefits from a new approach that's going viral.
/ Source: TODAY

If taking a full month off of alcohol for Dry January feels like too much, try starting with the One Week No Booze Method instead. With this strategy, which is taking off on TikTok, you'll only cut out drinking for one week per month.

Bridget Stangland, the creator of the One Week No Booze Method, knew she didn't love the way alcohol made her feel. But she felt like cutting out drinking had to be an all-or-nothing, Dry January-style challenge.

She had taken a three-month break from alcohol before but realized she was treating it "like an alcohol diet (rather than) really authentically choosing to take the break," Stangland, 31, tells TODAY.com.

When she started drinking again, "I don't like the way I feel, even if it's a few drinks each weekend," says Stangland, a Nashville, Tennessee-based yoga teacher and wellness influencer who also works in tech events. "It creates brain fog. I don't feel as sharp on Monday morning when I start my job."

Stangland had also started to notice just how ubiquitous alcohol was in her social life, and that drinking was starting to feel like an automatic part of any event. So, when she was trying to find a sustainable way to mindfully cut back on drinking, she started small.

Like many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stangland motivated herself to work out by committing to just 10 minutes at a time. And she decided to approach cutting back on alcohol with the same strategy: by taking just one week off of drinking per month.

Since embarking on this journey a year ago, Stangland has noticed she has less brain fog, she sleeps better and her skin has improved. And she's not the only one.

Stangland shared the now-viral video on TikTok explaining the method. And today, she's built a community on social media around the One Week No Booze Method, including people who have ultimately decided to cut alcohol out of their lives entirely.

What is the One Week No Booze Method?

The method itself is simple: Don't drink alcohol for one week out of the month. At the end of the year, that adds up to three full months without drinking.

You can pick any week in the month, Stangland says, and you can start at any time. She recommends people set themselves up for success by starting with a week with fewer temptations. But, if you do slip up, there's no reason you can't start again the next day, week or month, she says.

Stangland chose to start during a week she was traveling for work and therefore not drinking, she says. Later on in the experiment, she pushed herself to choose a week that included a good friend's birthday party.

"You can choose (to start with) something that feels really easy," she continues, and then as you go on each month, maybe challenge yourself to go without alcohol in a situation where you'd previously thought you needed it.

During a big party like that, Stangland would normally have wine. But without alcohol, she realized she had just as much fun — if not more fun — than she did when she was drinking.

"I just felt so present," she recalls. "And then driving myself home and not having to spend on an Uber, climbing into bed and feeling that clear-headed feeling, I'm like, this is amazing," she says.

After a while, you might want to challenge yourself to go two weeks without drinking, Stangland says. Or, like some of her followers, you might decide to save it only for special occasions or to go without alcohol entirely.

Possible health benefits of cutting out alcohol for one week

Reducing your alcohol intake can definitely have health benefits, Dr. David Fiellin, professor of medicine and director of the program in addiction medicine at Yale School of Medicine, tells TODAY.com.

You may even start to notice some of those health benefits from cutting out alcohol after just a few days, one week or one month, Fiellin says.

Those benefits can include:

  • Improved sleep
  • Better concentration and mental clarity
  • Mood improvements
  • Reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression

People who have medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias or diabetes may see other benefits, Fiellin says. They should notice better glucose and blood pressure control "when they're not drinking, even for a relatively short period," he explains.

There's also the benefit of not waking up with a hangover, he adds. And, for people who are trying to quit smoking or vaping, reducing drinking may also help them stay away from those other behaviors.

"I find it hard in my patients to address their smoking without addressing their drinking," Fiellin explains. In this way, the One Week No Booze Method may give people the opportunity to cut down on other harmful habits.

People also forget that alcohol is a carcinogen, “There’s an increased risk for esophageal cancers, stomach cancer and breast cancer,” he says, so reducing your alcohol intake can have long-term impacts on your health.

Finally, Stangland and Fiellin both say that taking a temporary break from alcohol may help you understand more about your relationship with drinking. "A trial of stopping alcohol can help a person realize the extent to which they do or do not have control over their drinking," Fiellin says, and some people may decide to take more drastic steps to address their drinking habits.

Before you try cutting out alcohol...

Stangland recommends beginners try a few things when they're just starting the One Week No Booze Method:

  • Pick your first week carefully, and challenge yourself little by little.
  • Try journaling or taking notes of how you feel during the experiment and focus on the positive.
  • Find what Stangland calls your "natural dopamine boosters," which could be activities like walking, drinking calming tea before bed or reading.

And keep in mind that, for some people, a plan like this simply won’t be enough to manage their alcohol use, Fiellin says. And Stangland always notes that her method isn't designed to help people with substance use disorders.

If you try to cut out alcohol for a week and notice that it’s particularly challenging for you not to drink, or you develop symptoms of withdrawal, those are signs that you may have a more serious issue with alcohol.

For example, "Folks may be able to cut down from three drinks a day to two drinks a day, but they can't get to the point where they can get down to one drink a day," Fiellin says. "It's all good progress, but it's also a sign that they should seek out professional help."

There are effective treatments out there for substance use disorders, Fiellin notes, including behavioral counseling, medications and mutual support programs (such as AA). There's even preliminary evidence, mainly from animal studies, that medications like Ozempic can help curb cravings for alcohol, he says.

Although it may seem like just a minor change, Stangland says the results for her and many of her followers have been massive. "Small changes lead to big results," she says. "Pick a small goal, go from there and see what you can achieve."