Abstaining from alcohol is the new black. For the past few years it has become the thing to do come January, right along with dieting and exercising. Those resolutions are no doubt still popular, but it’s dry January that I hear the most about these days.
From what I can tell, dry January can trace its roots to the United Kingdom about a decade ago. In our increasingly shrinking world, the trend hopped across the pond a couple of years ago and now it’s all the rage.
I’m not much of a resolution maker, but for a little while, I toyed with the whole dry January thing. It seemed like a healthy aspiration; reset the body and start the new year squeaky clean and sober. I can get on board with that, and so I did, for all of one week.
Then came the first weekend, a cold night, a warm fire, and the desire to complement it with a lovely red. So I poured myself that glass and enjoyed. I felt no guilt after it, either, for only making it seven days without alcohol.
Here’s the thing: I am a very healthy person, with very solid habits in place already. I exercise six days each week, eat a well rounded, nutritious diet, and get plenty of sleep. I check all the boxes and have outstanding stats to show for it. My doctor loves my blood pressure, and compliments me every year at my annual physical.
When it comes to alcohol, I probably average one or two glasses of wine per week. I like a glass with Saturday night dinner, at book club with the neighbors, or while capping off the weekend with a movie on Sunday evening. That’s it.
So when I started thinking about it, it seemed incredibly silly to deprive myself of this simple pleasure. In fact, many physicians even recommend the occasional glass of red wine for the resveratrol it contains, a heart-healthy antioxidant.
Sure, there are people for whom a bit of drying out is a very good thing, and many Americans just want to “clear out the toxins” at the start of a new year. There is no doubt some health benefit can come from avoiding alcohol for 31 days.
Alcohol is empty calories, in some cases, red wine not included. It can lower your inhibitions around food—I know this because I remember the mad cases of munchies I would get in college following a night of over imbibing. This can lead to unwanted pounds, which again, I know from personal, collegiate experience.
Other downsides to alcohol can include dehydration, interrupted sleep, and according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, sometimes involves a rise in depression and anxiety. This is all without even touching on alcohol’s addictive characteristics, which for some, become problematic all too easily.
Other solid reasons exist, too: Listen to an AMR podcast on why this mother runner is happy she chose Dry January.
In my case, these issues don’t apply, so why restrict something that brings me pleasure and enhances my experiences? Not only that, but as a parent, I believe showing my kids moderation with alcohol is a good example. Restriction, on the other hand, models the idea that even for adults, there is no middle ground. I don’t want to send that message.
I believe that as a culture, Americans tend to extremes with our diets. There’s plenty of demonizing of food groups and behaviors, which can lead to a whole host of new problems. I go out of my way to avoid that for myself and my kids, and want to apply that to alcohol as well.
With this one extreme or the other culture in which we exist, I would bet that come February 1, most bars see a big uptick in business as the January teetotalers celebrate their dry month by, well, getting drunk. All of which rather shoots the whole point of a month sans alcohol.
Maybe some people find they improve their habits around alcohol by giving it up for a month, and that’s great. Heck, maybe there’s even a population that finds its way permanently sober after a long stint of alcohol abuse. These are wonderful outcomes, if so.
But for me, the likely less-than-average imbiber, I can’t see any benefit to dry January. I enjoyed the occasional glass in January and plan to keep it going all year ‘round.