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Dry January: What’s All the Buzz About?

By Ian Andersen
Posted: December 05, 2021

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Reviewed By:

Dr. Hrishi Belani

Primary care physician & Sunnyside Advisor

If you haven’t participated in Dry January, you likely know someone who has or soon will. What is Dry January? It’s a simple concept: No alcohol for one whole month. In many ways it’s a nice respite from the frequently boozy holidays, and a way to jump-start your New Year health and wellness goals. It’s also gaining in popularity. 

While it’s picked up more buzz in recent years, the origins of Dry January can be traced back to Finland in 1942; Raitis tammikuu (Sober January) was created as a way to boost the war effort against the Soviet Union. John Ore, a noted proponent of going alcohol-free the first month of the year, coined the term “Drynuary” in 2006 and has written many essays about it. 

In 2013, Alcohol Change UK kicked off its first Dry January campaign with about 4,000 participants. In 2014, Alcohol Change UK partnered with local and national organizations, and the name was trademarked as participation spread. In 2021, 6.5 million people participated in Dry January. It’s now practiced across the globe. (A YouGovAmerica survey showed that about 15% of Americans had planned to participate in Dry January last year.)

The bottom line: Dry January is now a worldwide phenomenon. 

But Does Dry January Work?

There are many benefits to cutting back on alcohol. But do we, as a society, need to cut back? We’d say that would be a good idea. According to our State of Drinking in the US: Fall 2021 report, 80% of Americans are drinking the same or more alcohol as they were three months prior. And on days when they do drink alcohol, 48% of survey respondents told us they imbibe three or more drinks, which is considered above the moderate drinking guidelines (1 drink for women, 2 for men), according to CDC guidelines.

Dry January is about giving up alcohol completely – but only for a single month. The idea (or hope) is that it will be like hitting a magic reset button. With the turn of a calendar page you can then start drinking again but with a more thoughtful approach. 

But is that what really happens? 

Not necessarily.

A study released in October 2021 looked at whether or not an increase in participation in Dry January between 2015 and 2018 led to a reduction in alcohol consumption in England. Using survey results from more than 37,000 participants, the study showed that partaking in Dry January did not correspond to changes in people drinking less frequently over a six-month period, or in mean weekly consumption among drinkers.

Mindful Drinking: An Effective, Longer-Lasting Approach 

For a lot of people, drink-filled Februarys follow Dry Januarys. It turns out that giving up alcohol cold turkey for a short stretch is not what most people really want (or benefit from). Because like a restrictive diet, once the restrictions are gone, it’s all too easy to fall back into old habits.

The hope for many, of course, is that Dry January leads to more mindful drinking. But the concept of mindful drinking eschews the idea of austere sobriety year-round, and instead helps you reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. Dry January can potentially be helpful as a reset but what happens after that reset? The bottom line is that nobody is innately “good” at mindful drinking. Just like meditation or daily exercise or a healthier new diet, mindful drinking is a practice that often takes commitment, some coaching and the right tools to truly be successful. 

When Dry January first became a hot topic on morning talk shows and in magazines, the modern mindful drinking movement was in its infancy. So once February 1st rolled around, the odds of Dry January participants sliding back into less-than-optimal habits was high. In the final week of January many participants were counting down the days and ready to make up for lost time. Cravings can be powerful. And as they build up over time, the rebound effect can lead to not just a continuation of old habits, but even binge drinking. 

Today, the resources available to support people on their mindful drinking journeys are plentiful and vastly improved. Guides, books, essays, seminars and event retreats for the “sober curious” continue growing in popularity. 

Technology has made tools such as Sunnyside possible, giving you psychology-backed, daily, personal, mindful drinking coaching.

What Sunnyside Offers You

Want to give Dry January a shot? If you have wondered what is Dry January and you want to try it, Well, that’s good! But if you have tried Dry January (or “Sober October”) in the past and “failed,” or if the idea of giving up alcohol completely for just a month doesn’t excite you, don’t be hard on yourself. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for you.

So often we tend to think of life in stark and rigid terms. In order to lose weight, for instance, we deny ourselves sugar in nearly all its forms for a couple weeks only to suddenly realize that it’s not sustainable. We end up denying ourselves simple pleasures or feeling ashamed because we raided the cookie jar. 

So, what if, instead of Dry January, you consider a more mindful approach to drinking? What if, instead of denying yourself alcohol completely you simply think while you drink?

If you’re willing to change your way of thinking, and try this approach, there’s great news. Sunnyside can help you succeed – not in the form of a one-month challenge, but in lasting habit change.

Even small changes in your drinking habits can have a profound impact on your health and wellness. And that’s exactly where we come in. Our system (and our experienced, supportive coaches) can help you evaluate your relationship with alcohol and create a clear action plan that will accelerate your health and wellness goals. Unlike Dry January, our system isn’t an all-or-nothing approach. Rather it’s a strategy with a proven success record for impactful, lasting change. Put simply, mindful drinking is about prioritizing your overall health and experience over keeping up with the crowd. And we’re here to help you, no matter the day, week or month.

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Ian Andersen

Co-Founder of Sunnyside

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