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Dry January: What It Is, What I Learned & Its Positive Affect On Me

Dry January is a full month of no drinking. Find out why you should try it, a list of zero alcohol drinks, and a mobile app that can help.

Most people choose Dry January as their new year’s resolution. For more ideas, check out our other New Year’s Resolutions posts.

This Dry January post was originally written by Pete in 2020.

A Sierra Nevada glass filled with water and the words "Dry January: What It Is, What I Learned & Its Positive Affect On Me" digitally written above it.

Quick note before we start: We advise you to speak with your health professionals before changing any routines, including deciding on Dry January, before beginning. This post is meant for entertainment only, is not medical advice, and does not replace speaking with your doctors.

Dry January. So it’s a thing, which makes sense. With the new year comes resolutions, so it follows logically that some people feel like a good resolution is to get their drinking habits under control.

I’ve been saying I was going to try a dry spell for over a year now, but there was always some bullsh*t excuse, like “Ugh, I’ll do it after the holidays,” or “Ugh, I’ve got so and so’s birthday party this weekend,” or “Ugh, I’ve got so many social engagements to attend to this month, this just really is a bad month,” on and on, month after month, ad infinitum, lying to myself.

The reality is that Dry January — a month of no alcohol or liquor — is hard. Anything worth doing has to be hard or else what’s the point? I’ve found in life that the hardest things to do are also the most satisfying because you’re actually working hard to meet a challenge. And when you do it feels good. There’s a sense of accomplishment.

Add in the fact that everything pretty much everyone does revolves around drinking, there will never be a good time to have a sober January — even if you don’t try to start in January. You just have to jump in and do it.

Yes, you’ll hear it from your friends. Comments like “You’re doing WHAT? Why the hell would you do that?” or “That’s stupid.” In a world where fun is many times measured by how “wasted” you get, how late you stayed out drinking, or how you “closed the bar down, man!,” it can sound like heresy to people when you say something like, “I think I need to take a break from booze for a while.”

Dry January

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Dry January: Frequently Asked Questions

What is Dry January?

Dry January is a movement/public health campaign that encourages people to abstain from drinking alcohol for the month of January.

Since it’s nothing official, you can be flexible with the rules. You can either abstain completely, add in non-alcoholic beer (which, by technicality of the process has 0.5% of alcohol or less), omit alcohol during the workweek, whatever works for you.

Dry January also doesn’t have to start in January. You can do a month of no alcohol, and call it Dry January, at any time. Some people partake in a month of no alcohol after the summer and call it Sober September. Others shoot for a Sober October because it rhymes.

Why do people try a Dry January?

People try a Dry January for various reasons and consequently their goals are varied as well.

For some, it’s a fun challenge they do with friends, perhaps a bet, and when they’re done abstaining from alcohol for a month, they go right back to drinking just as much as they did before.

For some, it’s more serious. Alcohol could have cost them their job, gotten them in an accident, in jail, or alcohol has become an addiction that has cost them their marriage. And, in cases like this, people stop drinking completely.

And, of course, there are many other reasons that lie in between these two ends of the spectrum. All I have any authority to speak on is my reason and goals, which is the whole point for writing this.

Why did I have a Dry January?

Bottom line: For me, alcohol isn’t the problem per se, it’s too much alcohol. I absolutely hate the way alcohol makes me behave sometimes.

Not to say that every time I get drunk I don’t like my behavior. If I get drunk 10 times, I’d maybe engage in some undesirable behavior once or twice. But for me, those one or two episodes of depression or anger are in no way worth the eight or nine times I just get drunk and silly.

To sum up my feelings on my reason to go dry, a quotation I recently read comes to mind: “Alcohol is your best friend, then it becomes your only friend, and then it becomes your worst enemy.”

The blackouts, the hangovers, the boredom of sitting on bar stools for countless hours, spending countless dollars, the lost productivity, waking up at 2 am having a panic attack because I may have done something to upset somebody — or definitely did something to upset somebody, — I was sick of it.

To be honest, I’ve been sick of it for over 10 years. But what else is there to do? This is just what you do, right? It is that line of thinking that kept me drinking too damn much for too damn long.

Another issue I pondered was why I drank.

In addition to quantity, I think the intent is important here. For me drinking took the “edge” off. That “edge” — or anxiety, more specifically — was always there, so I just always drank. Makes sense, right? Wrong. I’ll come back to the irony of this statement later.

Drinking was just a habit I had attached to other daily activities of mine: get home from work, crack a beer; crack a beer, play guitar; crack a beer, take a shower; crack a beer, watch a movie; crack a beer, get the mail; crack a beer and do freaking laundry.

Once I actually started to think about all of the activities I did with a beer in my hand, I began to realize that there wasn’t much I didn’t do without a beer. There was almost nothing I did at home without a beer in my hand. Luckily though, driving is not on that list.

Starting Dry January

What I realized was that having a Dry January would have to involve me breaking the connection beer had with pretty much everything I did at home. At first I thought it would be impossible.

I also decided to go dry so I could prove to myself that I didn’t have to rely on alcohol as a crutch. That I could take it or leave it and be totally fine with that. That I could control it, not the other way around.

I had to prove to myself that I could attend parties and go out to bars and not drink a sip, and be okay with that. I wanted to escape the deeply ingrained mindset that I had to have alcohol in order to have fun and be social, and to make socializing more tolerable and amusing. Thoughts become behaviors, and my goal was to change how I thought about alcohol, and therefore change my drinking behavior, e.g., not drink.

Full transparency: I only went dry for two weeks. I was going to try a month, but for me, I wanted to learn to walk before I tried to run. Baby steps.

I decided that after two weeks I would one) strictly limit my drinking to a “6 pack max” for the entire weekend, two) eliminate drinking at home completely, and three) only drink for occasions, not drinking just to drink.

Gone are the days of opening a beer at 10 am on the weekend and drinking beer all day and into the evening.

Okay. Now that we’re done with all the foreplay, here’s a play by play of how going dry went down for me, observations, opinions, etc.:

Dry January: Week by Week

January 1 to 5:

Sucked. I was miserable.

When everything you do involves drinking a beer while doing it, how do you do anything if you can’t have a beer? It was quite the paradox. I turned down every invitation I had gotten from friends that weekend because every invitation involved getting drunk at bars.

So I exiled myself in my house, watched Netflix, football, played guitar, and drank Busch NA (which is actually pretty damn good as far as non-alcoholic beers go, by the way).

Funny story: I was watching football in my garage that Sunday when there was a knock at the door. I opened it up and it was my neighbor, who proceeds to say, “What’re ya doin’? I’ve got a 6 pack of IPA’s. Ya gotta try one!” To which I replied, “Wow those look awesome but I’m drinkin’ this for two weeks” as I held up my can of Busch NA. He replied, “Oh god why the hell are you drinking that crap?!”

Talk about being tested.

January 6 to 12:

This is where I got over the hump. With the work week starting, it was much easier to live alcohol free.

I immediately noticed the benefits of Dry January: I was sleeping soundly for the first time in literally years, which in turn improved the duration and quality of my morning workouts, which, when combined, lifted my mood and greatly reduced my anxiety.

And there were other Dry January benefits: I was thinking more clearly, as if a fog had lifted, like my thinking went from low resolution to full HD. I also found that I was more creative.

Oh, and remember how I said I drank to take the “edge” off? Here’s the irony: The “edge,” the anxiety, I discovered, was actually caused by alcohol, not a remedy for it.

I was actually doing this! For the first time in my life, in 20 years, I not only went one day without having to get a buzz, but TWELVE DAYS! It felt great, and it became self-propelling from there. I had wind in my sails, and it felt so satisfying to meet the challenge and win.

January 13 to 31:

The final leg. I know, January 14 was two weeks, and I said I was only doing this for two weeks, but now I’m only drinking on weekends and only for occasions remember?

I’d broken the grip alcohol had on me, a grip that developed over the course of decades of habitual drinking. The pros outnumbered the cons so drastically that it can’t be understated.

I’m more productive, I’m less moody, I’ve got more energy, I’m less anxious, and I’ve learned the joys of waking up at 7 am on weekends fully rested and without a hangover. I even incorporated an extra workout into my week.

I also learned something I had never even considered, it was right there in my face the whole time, so close to me that I couldn’t even see it: Alcohol, the thing I had thought was a solution to many of the problems I was dealing with, had actually been the cause of them all this whole time.

Hand holding a pink drink.

Tips For A Dry January:

If you’re looking for a few tricks and tips to help you have a successful Dry January, we have a few of those for you below.

Have a mocktail

Instead of ordering cocktails when you go out, mocktails are a great alternative for when you’re having a Dry January.

This list of mocktail recipes can give you a ton of options to get you excited about trying new alcohol-free drinks this month.

Heineken Zero Beer in a fridge.

Drink zero-alcohol spirits and beer

Dry January means you’re abstaining from alcohol. But it doesn’t mean you have to swear off everything. You can have zero-alcohol spirits and beer.

Back in the day, everyone knew about O’Doul’s, a non-alcoholic malt beverage, as the only NA option. But now, there are so many non-alcoholic beers and spirits. Just be sure to check the labels because some do have a hint of alcohol in them still.

To make it easier. We listed some options for you below. Just keep in mind that even though these are non-alcoholic, they are still only for consumption by people who are legal drinking age.

Non-Alcoholic Beer

The first three in this list are actually 0% alcohol. The second two are NA by technicality only, as they’re under 0.5% alcohol, which is the least they can be to be considered NA. So, you just have to figure out what is best for you and how strict you’re being.

Zero Alcohol Spirits

You can even get zero alcohol spirits, which can really up your mocktail game. We haven’t tried any of these, personally, so you’ll have to let us know what you think.

Screenshot of the Try Dry app.

Use the Try Dry app

Alcohol Change UK has a great app called Try Dry, which is the official app of Dry January. The app tracks your total dry days, the amount of drinks you’ve skipped, and the total amount of money and calories you’ve saved. It also keeps a dry streak going for you. You can view it by week, month, year, and total.

There are also resources like blog posts, a podcast, and its own Try Dry book. The organization also supports Sober Spring (three months of not drinking) and Alcohol Awareness Week.

You can get the Try Dry app for Apple or Android, completely for free.

Have you tried to have a Dry January? How did it go?