Here's How to Do Sober October and Dry Challenges the Right Way

Pink mocktails.

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Key Takeaways

  • Challenges like "sober October" and "dry January," when done safely, can motivate you to meet your goals of reducing and/or quitting alcohol and drugs altogether.
  • However, dry challenges can also promote all-or-nothing thinking and lead to disappointment.
  • Resources like online sober communities, addiction counselors, and mutual aid groups can also offer support.

Dry challenges like "sober October" can motivate us to cut down or quit substances like drinking alcohol or drugs. And while October may be coming to an end, there's no shortage of dry challenges for each month.

If you want to reevaluate potentially unhealthy habits, why not start with one month of sobriety?

While these challenges pose opportunities for change, Sarah O’Brien, addiction specialist for Ark Behavioral Health, tells Verywell that everyone should consider their own personal alcohol and drug history before embarking on a dry challenge.

"Sober October is a great trend—for some people," she says. "But when you're dealing with individuals who struggle with severe alcohol and drug problems, the repercussions of Sober October could be very dangerous."

In order to have a safe and fulfilling sober October, dry January, or another sober period, there are a few things to keep in mind: Do it safely, expect set-backs, and use other resources to increase your chances of maintaining the changes long-term.

What This Means For You

If you or a loved one have been drinking heavily and/or regularly, it is not safe to quit alcohol by yourself. If you stop, you may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. To begin the quitting process, you may need to detox in the care of medical professionals. SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service (TTY) 1-800-487-4889 provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations in English and Spanish, 24/7. You can also search for treatment services nearest to you.

Step 1: Do It Safely

This might seem counterintuitive—but when someone quits alcohol and some drugs cold turkey, it could pose a danger to their life.

If you're a daily drinker, or if you've struggled to cut down in the past, "something like [sober October] could teeter on the edge of dangerous," O'Brien says.

When someone has been drinking heavily for a while, stopping will lead to alcohol withdrawal. Once the body has gotten so accustomed to the effects of alcohol, suddenly not having it leads to an upheaval in how it regulates itself.

Experiences of alcohol withdrawal vary in severity, depending on the duration and amount of alcohol consumed. Common symptoms include trembling, insomnia, anxiety, and nausea. Longer and heavier consumption can lead to more severe symptoms.

One of the most severe forms is known as delirium tremens (DTs), which can lead to confusion, hallucinations, whole-body tremor, vomiting, profuse sweating, and high blood pressure, as well as progress to cardiovascular collapse and death.

Is Withdrawal the Same for All Drugs?

The short answer is no—alcohol withdrawal is not the same as withdrawal from other drugs. Each drug, from alcohol to cocaine to opioids, has its own characteristic withdrawal process.

O'Brien says she's seen horrible cases of people trying to stop on their own. Some have even had seizures or fallen and hit their head.

"Stopping without medical attention, or without letting your doctor know, can be deadly," she says.

So for anyone considering a dry challenge, O'Brien says to take an honest look at your drinking history, and/or to ask a professional for their advice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines "heavy drinking" as 15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 or more per week for women. Binge drinking—5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within two hours—can also be more harmful than a glass or two each day.

Again: if you drink heavily and have over a prolonged period, take extra precautions before quitting alcohol.

However, if you're a relatively low-to-moderate drinker, a dry challenge can be helpful. "[It can be] doing something to make healthier changes," O'Brien says. "Like putting the booze down for a change, saving some money, eating better, sleeping better."

Step 2: Expect Set-backs

While they can be motivating, dry challenges can also promote an all-or-nothing approach. And this black-and-white thinking, Kevin Bellack, who runs the Sober Ginger Instagram account, tells Verywell, can stand in the way of someone meeting their goals.

For instance, the first time Bellack tried sober October, this kind of thinking didn't help.

In August 2018, Bellack decided he wanted to cut down on drinking. It had begun to wear on him physically and cause health issues; his doctor advised him to reduce or quit.

At first, though, he didn't know what to do. Then, a few days before October 2018, he was listening to a podcast when a conversation about sober October came up. "Maybe I'll try that," he thought to himself.

But after four or five days, he says, he started drinking again. "Then I was like, 'October's done. There's no reason to keep going with this, so I'll just go back to drinking,'" he says.

Just because he drank once didn't mean he had to throw sober October out the window. But this kind of mentality, he says—of giving up when the plan doesn't work—can set unrealistic goals for cutting down and/or quitting.

"I went into it with no tools whatsoever," Bellack says. "And I think that's a problem a lot of people have. They go into these things and say, 'I'm not going to drink.' Then they fail, and think 'Oh well, I can't do this."

Step 3: Identify Your Tools

For anyone looking to cut down or quit alcohol long-term, Bellack says dry challenges like sober October should be one tool of many.

Bellack ended up finding help through many tools, one of which was a therapist. And while professional attention can be necessary, not everyone can afford to go to regular therapy sessions.

"That's the good thing about social media," he says. The online sober community is expansive, and accessible to anyone with a smartphone or computer and account. Sober communities and profiles can be found on social media via searching hashtags like #Sober and #SoberOctober.

Another major source of support, regardless of income level and access to devices, is free mutual aid groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Moderation Management (MM), and SMART Recovery. AA might be the most well-known one, but Bellack says it's not for everybody. MM and SMART Recovery present alternatives in both approach and philosophy.

Now, Bellack helps people with another tool: As a coach on the Reframe App.

"Reframe is a neuroscience-based way to quit or cut back drinking," he says. "It's not totally abstinent, because not everyone's looking for that."

When it comes down to it, Bellack adds, social support is key for maintaining goals, whether it's found online or off. Finding a community that can support you through the process is crucial.

"It's just people giving their time and giving back to their community, and that's the thing I lacked in my [first] sober October," Bellack says.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mainerova B, Prasko J, Latalova K, et al. Alcohol withdrawal delirium - diagnosis, course and treatment. Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2015;159(1):044-052. doi. 10.5507/bp.2013.089.

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Alcohol Withdrawal.

  3. American Addiction Centers. Delirium tremens.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions.

By Sarah Simon
Sarah Simon is a bilingual multimedia journalist with a degree in psychology. She has previously written for publications including The Daily Beast and Rantt Media.