Dry January—Why?

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

This is the third in a series of articles this month about alcohol and addiction that are part of the American Humanist Association’s Dry January Challenge.

New Year’s resolutions have been a thing as far back as the late 17th century. Not only were we making resolutions to become better versions of ourselves 200 years ago, we were also using resolutions as excuses to indulge in our favorite vices before the new year began. Dry January is a much newer phenomenon, starting in the U.K. around 2012. And in just over a decade, it’s become an international phenomenon that now accompanies new year mass migrations to gyms, diet programs, cosmetic procedures, motivational speakers, and anything else that promises us a “New You.”

According to CBS and others reporting on Dry January, roughly fifty-five percent of Americans say they want to reduce their alcohol consumption. About thirty-five percent say they re-evaluated their relationship with alcohol by participating in Dry January in 2022, which is an increase from past years. So why are Americans struggling to limit our alcohol consumption? And what are the benefits of living a sober life?

One reason folks are trying to reassess their adult beverage habits may be that many of us increased our alcohol consumption during the years of the pandemic. Alcohol sales in the U.S. increased by 20 percent in just the first three quarters of 2020. But maybe the scariest statistic, reported by the Washington Post last spring, is: “A new study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) finds that alcohol-related deaths in 2020 were so high that, for 16- to 64-year-olds, they exceeded the number of deaths from covid-19.”

That’s pretty crazy. Most of us know that habitually drinking too much alcohol is not the healthiest choice. The CDC reports that over time, over-indulging can lead to the development of chronic health issues including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, cancer, memory problems, poor school or work performance, depression, anxiety, etc., etc.

But drinking is fun, right? Going to the pub with friends, after work happy hours, bottomless brunches with your besties. Drinking relaxes us. It’s how we unwind after a stressful day. And even moreso, drinking is part of our cultures, family traditions, and social expectations. Which means trying to complete a Dry January (or dry any month) can be more challenging than we expect. And choosing to be sober when you don’t have a “drinking problem” can be incredibly perplexing to folks in your social circles. How do I know? I have been sober for 980 days, or about two-and-a-half years.

As a Gen Xer, my relationship with alcohol started early and intensely. We were inseparable friends for decades—from underage high school parties to drunken graduate school deliberations on Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, to happy hours, brunches, and vineyard vacations. I was not an alcoholic, but as I got older, I began to notice that the habit of alcohol was becoming an unwanted obstacle in my life. I wasn’t as fit as I used to be. I was exhausted in the mornings. My skin was beginning to look older, drier. I generally felt more anxious than usual. I didn’t feel healthy or honestly very happy. So I decided to see what life was like on the sober side of the coin.

My choice was more of an experiment than anything, one aimed toward optimizing my experiences, my abilities, and my quality of life. Would I be a better human, wife, mother, co-worker without regularly drinking alcohol? Would I feel/look younger, run better, think quicker? Turns out, the answer to these questions is yes.

The quality of my life improved exponentially with the removal of alcohol. Since beginning this new journey, I have hiked almost 200 miles across our national parks and seen more sunrises than sunsets. My mind is sharper, clearer, and calmer. I am more productive both professionally and personally. I am present in my life and my community in a much more authentic way. My bloodwork and sleep are great, and the savings from abstaining have afforded many new adventures.

Is it easy to change your relationship with alcohol? No. Is it worth it? That’s a question for each of us to decide for ourselves. Sobriety is definitely the road less traveled, and for me it has made all the difference.