Dry January—getting off the sauce for the first month of the year—isn’t a new idea, but in 2021 it hits a little different. After ten months stuck at home, for a lot of people a pour of red wine or a cold one from the fridge has been the only definitive sign that the workday is over. It’s been a real source of comfort and routine—and potentially trouble.
In spite of years of claims to the contrary, we now know pretty firmly that any alcohol consumption is worse for your physical health than abstinence. (That’s to say nothing of excessive drinking, which is simply terrible for you—it can lead to heart disease, stroke, and a slew of other negative health effects.) So while there’s obviously nothing wrong with drinking in moderation, virtually anyone who drinks could benefit from checking in to make sure their relationship with alcohol is where they want it to be. These days, that often means taking a month off from drinking.
“Many people have leaned into alcohol to cope with stress or boredom, or because working from home leads to an increased opportunity to drink,” says Dr. Joseph R. Volpicelli, Ph.D, executive director at the Institute of Addiction Medicine. “For this reason, Dry January may prompt a deeper rethink about their drinking relationship.”
Of course, there’s nothing magical about a monthlong interval. (Quitting alcohol for a few weeks will not radically overhaul your overall well-being.) But, as Dr. Volpicelli puts it, it’s a good chance to rethink—to assess how drinking fits in with your life as a whole. Here are the top suggestions from experts to do just that.
1. Keep drinks out of sight and out of mind.
You’ve likely reorganized your space to cater to spending endless amounts of time inside, accommodating some sort of indoor fitness routine and too many Zooms. If you want to be successful at avoiding alcohol, the same goes for your liquor stash. “When you’re constantly passing by a bar cart or opening your fridge and seeing a six-pack, you know it’s there and it’s available,” says Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month.
Instead, store your stash somewhere that’s hard to get to—whether that be on the top shelf of your bedroom closet or better yet, at a friend’s place. At the end of the month, you might decide that that bar cart, despite its mid-century good looks, is more trouble (and real estate) than it’s worth.
2. Build some new social rituals.
Consider recruiting a partner for this challenge. Not only will going in on your alcohol-free month with a companion hold you more accountable, but then you have a built-in buddy to do non-drinking activities with. (Long walks! Board games!) “This person can also be your support system when things will tough,” says Sheinbaum, who did her first-ever Dry January a few years back as part of a bet with a friend.
Ideally, you’ll be able to carry this forward, which a new sense of how to have fun that’s not simply meeting up for drinks.
3. Figure out what you like to drink that isn’t booze.
The non-alcoholic beverage scene is booming right now. Everyone from Heineken and Athletic Brewing to Seedlip are offering up better tasting zero-proof options, making it easier to feel like you’re consuming the real deal—but not. “More premade cocktails exist than ever right now,” reflects Sheinbaum. “So even if you’re not super creative in the kitchen, you can buy premade and pour over ice. There’s no need to sacrifice taste and flavor (or the experience), if that’s what you’re used to.”
4. Try keeping a journal.
Keeping track of how you feel during a Dry January experiment can help you identify rewards that may not be intuitively obvious, like weight loss or anxiety levels. Better yet, Sheinbaum recommends to start your journaling now when alcohol may be a part of the equation. This way, you can take notice of how you feel on the mornings after you’ve had that big “one glass” of whiskey. Compare notes at the end of your sober month, and you may just be surprised.
Volpicelli notes that outside of traditional journaling, there are plenty of apps out there, like Streaks, that can help you keep track of your day-to-day progress as well. “It’s gratifying to close my ‘exercise rings,’” he says, “and the same is true here.”
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