Has the appeal of Dry January dried up?
Harry Craig discusses the pros and cons of Dry January, why the trend might be on its way out, and some potential alternatives.
Two words that strike fear into the hearts of university students across the country: Dry January. You’ve just endured the stress of exam period and the chaos of Christmas, only to be told that you should abstain from drinking alcohol for a whole month. January is a pretty bleak month as it is – the dark nights, cold days and the post-festive blues. It is no surprise, therefore, that the idea of dry January has seemingly lost traction.
The campaign turns ten this year, having been founded in 2013 by charity Alcohol Change UK, and still racks up significant numbers of participants, with over 130,000 signing up in 2022 and thousands more also partaking without registering. There are, of course, significant physical health benefits: research in 2016 indicated improvements among participants in concentration and sleep patterns, and positive effects on blood sugar levels, blood pressure and the liver.
However, abstaining from alcohol for a whole month is not everyone’s idea of a fun January, and consequently it is constantly being qualified. A growing alternative trend is a ‘damp January’, whereby participants reduce alcohol consumption, rather than stop it altogether. This allows for some flexibility – perhaps if you or a close friend has a birthday in January, and you want to celebrate in the traditional manner.
A growing alternative trend is a ‘damp January’, whereby participants reduce alcohol consumption, rather than stop it altogether.
‘Damp January’ puts more onus on individuals to determine the extent to which they want to limit their drinking. This holds both advantages and disadvantages – it can help individuals develop a healthier long-term relationship with alcohol, focused on making better choices about when and how much to drink. However, many people’s willpower with alcohol can be weak, and all it may take is a friend to offer to buy a few rounds for the idea of ‘damp January’ to go out the window.
Personally, I choose not to participate in either dry or damp January, as I fear these are temporary, short-term solutions, rather than helping me to foster a healthier long-term relationship with alcohol. I don’t drink excessively, but do enjoy a social drink at the pub with some friends a couple of times a week.
Too often I hear stories of people doing dry January, and then seeing it as an excuse to go wild with their alcohol use in the following months. The campaign can have benefits for those who use it as a way of developing better long-term strategies – taking a week or month off from alcohol to be healthier, or reducing overall consumption. However, it is not a sticking plaster for more problematic alcohol issues, and does not justify increasing consumption after January is done and dusted.
However, it is not a sticking plaster for more problematic alcohol issues, and does not justify increasing consumption after January is done and dusted.
Alcohol is a very real issue for many people, and my concern is that campaigns like dry or damp January can trivialise it into something that can be solved within a month. I would encourage people to learn how to strike a better long-term balance; at university, for example, I try to work in a regular number of alcohol-free days into each week, and stick to the guidelines on units. This means I don’t stop myself from enjoying a pint of cider with a friend at the Impy, but maintain healthy limits.
If you do choose to participate in dry January, I wish you the best of luck, but don’t be afraid to rid the strict rules and adopt a more flexible ‘damp January’ approach. With any luck, it might help to foster a better long-term relationship with alcohol instead.