Kicking off the new year by taking a monthlong break from alcohol – otherwise known as “Dry January” – is becoming a more popular choice every year, both in the U.S. and around the world.
According to a late December poll by market research company YouGov, 23% of American drinkers were planning to participate in Dry January in 2021. Millennials (27%) and members of Generation X (23%) were slightly more likely than Baby Boomers (17%) to say they planned to abstain from alcohol this month.
Even Budweiser, whose success depends on drinkers, has jumped on the Dry January bandwagon. The company recently launched a campaign called “Team Zero,” which features a group of coaches and athletes who provide motivation to help people stay committed to their alcohol-free resolution. (Not coincidentally, Anheuser-Busch has also introduced a new alcohol-free beer, Budweiser Zero.)
The nation’s collective need to reign in its drinking would seem to be greater than ever, too, due to spiking alcohol use caused by unprecedented levels of stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID. A survey released last September by the RAND Corporation, for example, showed that American adults increased their alcohol consumption by an overall average of nearly 20% during pandemic-related shutdowns.
This was especially true among women, who may be the group most affected by new stressors including working from home, the sudden switch to online schooling requiring them to be teachers as well as parents, and many other challenges. They reported a sharp increase in their frequency of heavy drinking – defined as having four or more drinks within about two hours – of 41%, the survey showed.
Health experts agree that giving up drinking, even for just a month, may begin to reverse some of the negative effects of regular alcohol use. In addition to physical and psychological dependence on alcohol, these can include conditions like fatty liver disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar, along with increased risks of certain cancers. Those who stop drinking may also benefit from better sleep quality, improved energy levels and weight loss.
Dry January may also have bigger-picture benefits, helping people take a hard look at their alcohol use over the long term.
A 2018 study at the University of Sussex in the UK, where the trend officially began, showed that taking part in Dry January enabled many participants to reevaluate when, why and how much they were drinking. Most were still drinking less eight months later, and the vast majority reported better control over their alcohol use along with generally improved health.