Alcohol is having a hard time hanging onto its crown as humanity’s favourite social lubricant. Data from the US shows that more people participated in Dry January 2024 than in 2023, while a British Beer and Pub Association survey found that 1 in 5 Brits gave up booze for the month this year. As the trend of moderation and general awareness of the negative effects of alcohol increases even practices such as Damp January (reducing alcohol consumption) and Mindful Drinking (drinking with awareness of the consequences) are becoming commonplace.
It’s no surprise that people are choosing to cut back on drinking, last year the World Health Organisation announced that there was no safe level of alcohol. A far cry from the once common public health advice to err towards moderation.
As a result, more people are extending their Dry spell beyond January and changing their relationship with alcohol for the long term. Once alcohol loses its appeal, it can mean a whole new approach to socialising and hanging out with friends. While many of the actions we can take are personal, society too has a part to play in normalising a decision not to drink alcohol.
Regardless of your reason or intention for taking part in Dry January, time away from drinking alcohol allows you to reappraise your relationship with it. A very rough gauge would be the easier we find it, the less dependent we are on it, while this isn’t always the case there can be a strong correlation between how hard abstinence is and how big the challenge is to give up full time.
Alcohol leaves the body after four days of not drinking. This is when we might get a little grumpy as our system starts to miss the dopamine hit, and we re-adjust to not having alcohol – this is also the time when we are most susceptible to a slip-up. In reality, once someone hits 10 days, alcohol is totally out of the system and all that remains is the mental, societal and habitual nature of our relationship with alcohol. Unfortunately, that is often the most challenging part.
Society for years has dictated that in order to have fun we must drink. Alcohol is the only drug in the world, legal or otherwise, where society assumes that if you aren’t consuming you must have a problem. Many of us can not imagine a wedding, stag do, festival, holiday, Christmas, or birthday without drinking alcohol – you are more likely to receive peer pressure to drink than not, and here lies the challenge. Those who choose not to drink are up against some deeply ingrained beliefs.
Giving up, or gaining?
When we give up something, we instinctively think of what we lose – even the term ‘non-alcoholic beer’- points to the fact something is missing, giving it a negative connotation. However, as many people who have opted for sobriety will contest, not drinking alcohol is more about the things you gain, recover and add into your life.
Time – Add up the hangover time over the course of your life. Half a day a week for 80 years is nearly 6 years. Give up when you’re 40 and you get at least 3 years of your life back.
Money – Drinking alcohol in pubs, bars and clubs isn’t cheap in the UK. While no and lo alcohol alternatives can still cost more than a soft drink, ditching booze on social occasions and at the supermarket is going to have a big impact on your weekly outgoings. Alcohol Change UK said those users of its Dry Jan app saved on average £118.
Health – The improvements in health from dropping alcohol, both mental and physical – are a game changer. Ditching booze reduces low-level anxiety and your general recovery rate from physical activity increases by 10-20%
Work – Opting to reduce alcohol intake means your personal efficiency can go through through the roof. Don’t like your job – do more in less time. Love your job, do more with the time you work. Either way, you gain not lose.
Joy – The compound effect of great things happening in your life is not to be underestimated – you may be bucking a trend in your friendship group, but you won’t be the last.
Patience is key
The reality is that these benefits do not always come into effect until 30-90 days. It’s important to embrace your newfound sobriety one day at a time, Embrace social situations rather than avoiding them – once you’ve proven to yourself you can enjoy a meal with friends or a Friday in the pub without alcohol you can look forward to the next social situation, relish in the fact you no longer drink and know there is no genuine benefit to a hangover!
The No and Low landscape has never been more exciting, so if you are making a choice to say goodbye to alcohol now is a great time to embrace this lifestyle. Being able to go into a pub and have a pint of Guinness 0 or Lucky Saint is a game changer, chipping away at the stigma that might come with a half of lemonade. For those who enjoy non-traditional beers, there is plenty of choice too: LOAH, Mashgang and NON all make alcohol alternatives that would have the geekiest craft beer enthusiast watering at the mouth. If you’re feeling the benefits of a booze-free month, why not see how you feel in another week, or another month? Before you know it, you forget just how big a role alcohol plays in your day-to-day life.