Dry January: How it went, and what happens now

Abby Cleaver discusses Dry January, what it is, why we do it, and her personal experience

The rules for a Dry January are simple: no alcohol for the entire month of January. The first reported Dry January was in 2008, inspiring a campaign by UK charity, Alcohol Concern, in 2012. Since then, it has grown year on year to become an annual phenomena worldwide with more than ever giving up drinking for 31 days. For some, it has become an annual tradition. 

Sober curiosity is a trend that has blown up over the last few years, with celebrities such as Tom Holland, Zac Effron, and Robert Downey Jr. publicly opting for an alcohol-free lifestyle, and openly speaking about how giving up or limiting their alcohol consumption has changed their lives for the better. The science looks good too. Research carried out by the Royal Free Hospital in London investigating the benefits of Dry January on moderate drinkers found that participants showed an improvement in concentration and sleep patterns. Additionally, a reduction in glucose levels, cholesterol, blood pressure was seen in participants, as well as weight loss shown overall. The health benefits seem clear, and are a huge deciding factor for people considering taking part in the trend. 

“Going out for a drink after class once or twice a week, a night out, a pub quiz, even a glass of wine with dinner… it all adds up quite fast before you even notice”

Health benefits were not the only reason I opted to have a Dry January this year. As well as negative health effects of alcohol on the human body, alcohol is not cheap. As a college student the extra money in my pocket was as much a motivator as the potential health benefits. Additionally, I have had frustrations with alcohol for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a drink, and even after a successful Dry January it never was and has not become about giving up alcohol entirely. What I had worried about was the amount that I was drinking in college. Going out for a drink after class once or twice a week, a night out, a pub quiz, even a glass of wine with dinner… it all adds up quite fast before you even notice. A lot of college activities, nights out, social life overall, tends to be quite drink centric. It is very easy to agree to go for just the one, and end up drinking more than we had planned or originally wanted because we were having fun. I felt it was an important part of Dry January for me to actually know for myself that I could go out, not drink, and still have fun. That nightlife socialising did not have to lean on any crutch. That I could decide not to drink on a night out, and stick to my guns regardless of how much everyone else was drinking and how much internal pressure it put me under.

“The month had really caused me to reflect on how much I drank just for the sake of it”

And I was pleasantly surprised. I went out, didn’t drink, and still had a great time. I went out for dinner with a friend, and while a drink would have been nice to sip on, I opted for a mocktail instead, realising that it was less the actual alcohol I was craving and more the experience of sitting, relaxing, and sipping from a fancy glass. The month had really caused me to reflect on how much I drank just for the sake of it. A glass of wine after work on a Sunday, just because it was free was a drink I never really felt in the mood for, but also never said no to because it was the thing to do. Keeping up with rounds when out with friends may be the thing to do, but shouldn’t be when I’m drinking faster than I’m comfortable with. 

This month didn’t just instill a better relationship with alcohol and my body but showed me that it was okay to do that, even if others had different habits. One of the main benefits of Dry January, I found, was in the power of an excuse that everyone seemed to accept quicker than simply not feeling like it. Are you not having a drink? It was less that Dry January was a concept that people were familiar with and were okay with, but for myself it was like a shield against anyone thinking I was weird for not having a drink. Doing Dry January felt like a socially acceptable reason to skip the alcohol. As the month went on, I realised just how silly this fear had been before. No one really cares if you are having a drink or not. Or if you are drinking less than everyone else. While I now think differently (or just less) about how other people perceive me based on what I drink or how much I drink, I did initially appreciate how Dry January felt like a good excuse to say. How in saying I was doing Dry January, I worried a lot less about people just thinking that I was being dry.

“There are so many night out ideas that do not have to include drinking to be a great time”

I also got to try some new things that I would not have otherwise. Board is a new, non-alcoholic venue where you can go with your friends, play some of the multitude of board games they have on offer, and enjoy a soft drink, a coffee, or a selection of alcohol free beers and mocktails. There are also a variety of tea rooms to visit in Dublin, a cool idea if you want to sit and hang out with friends without the pressure to drink in sight. For example, The Tea Garden has over 40 teas to choose from, and is a cosy, unique experience to try out with your friends. It also just opened my mind to activities to do with friends that are not just going out for a drink. Playing pool at The Hideout, or going to one of the many cheap ticketed small venue gigs around Dublin are great options. There are so many night out ideas that do not have to include drinking to be a great time.

From the health and wellness benefits, to the healthier relationship I formed with my own drinking habits, I would absolutely encourage everyone to give their version of Dry January a go. Sober curiosity should not just be okay during the months of Dry January and Sober October, but it should be normal year round for people to take a break from alcohol and reap the benefits of alcohol omission or minimisation. While I still see myself enjoying a drink when I want, my feelings on how much, when, and most importantly why, has certainly changed. And trust me, waking up after a night out without a hangover is the best reward for putting yourself out there and giving it a go.

Abby Cleaver

Abby Cleaver is the current life editor at Trinity News, having previously served as comment editor, and is a final year English literature and philosophy student.