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Type “Dry January” into Google and you’ll get almost three billion results—not bad for a movement that’s less than a decade old. Dry January started as a public health campaign in Britain to get people to drink less and rethink their relationship with alcohol, but taking a month off from drinking has resonated with people around the world. Last year, 23 percent of imbibing Americans said “hold my drink” and attempted the teetotaling feat, and January 2022 is expected to be even drier.
“Dry January gives people solidarity,” says Liz Willette Danneels, who hosts the Boulder-based the Fine Line podcast about balancing the love of food and drink with health and wellness alongside fellow wine industry veteran Emily Gold. “It’s like why group fitness classes are so effective—you feel like you’re in it with other people, and there’s an energy behind it. Plus, post holidays and with New Year’s resolutions, it’s a great way to head into a new year with a clear head.”
Gold agrees on the timing. “It’s about all the excesses that happen in the holiday month. After squeezing in all those dinners and holiday drinks, it’s a convenient time to pull back,” she says.
Of course, after the couple years we’ve all collectively experienced, it may not have been only in December when we’ve overindulged. Here’s a sobering thought: 75 percent of us reported turning to alcohol more since COVID entered our lexicon. The momentum of Dry January may be just what we need to reset ourselves.
Benefits of reducing or eliminating our alcohol consumption can include improved mental health, better sleep, a healthier immune system, and better awareness of how alcohol affects both our bodies and minds. And without the extra calories and expense, not drinking can also buoy common resolutions like weight loss and saving money.
If 31 days without a drink seems overwhelming, you could always modify to a “damp” January, where you cut back on your alcohol consumption without abstaining entirely. Both Gold and Willette Danneels take this approach. “Sometimes less is more. A month is so intimidating, but I can always find seven days,” Willette Danneels says. “And give yourself a break if you fall off the wagon. Just get back on the next day. You didn’t fail—you’re still going to get huge benefits not drinking six out of seven days.”
To maximize your chances of keeping your dry spell dry, try using a tracking app like I Am Sober; share your challenge with friends and family for additional support and accountability; schedule social events around your resolution or swap in hikes and game nights for happy hours and bar hopping; and build in healthy rewards for yourself like a massage or special fitness class at the end of each week.
For heavy drinkers, quitting cold turkey can be potentially dangerous, and you should be on the lookout for withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating, and high anxiety. If you’re concerned, medically supervised detox centers can be a great help getting you through the first few days safely. (And anyone can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for treatment referral or information.)