Before the pandemic, the holiday season abounded with many merry reasons to drink: office parties, gatherings with friends, big family festivities. Over the past two years, a number of people have been imbibing in smaller gatherings, or even alone, where no one can keep tabs on their consumption. Regardless of the circumstances, when January arrives, you often hear people say, “I’m ready for a break.”
Since 2012, there’s been an organized effort to support them. Alcohol Change UK, a British charity, founded Dry January 10 years ago to help people “get your fun back. Get your energy back. Get your calm back.”
This is my third Dry January in a row, and then some. I went alcohol free after Thanksgiving in 2019, making a personal health choice not to drink anymore.
In truth, I was never a big drinker, more of a one-and-done kind of imbiber. I often wouldn’t even finish the craft cocktail or beer that I ordered. I mainly drank to keep my friends company and used the excuse that my drink had gotten diluted or warm to avoid finishing it.
Before I committed to zero alcohol, however, I gave the idea a test drive by giving up alcohol for Lent. Between Ash Wednesday and Easter, I learned that you need to approach a dry spell with some strategies, both at home and away. Even if you’re a few days late getting started, these tips ought to help.
Start Dry January by clearing away the bottles and cans
For some, drinking is a matter of habit. They finish work, get home, or shut down their computers if they are working at home. The next stop is the fridge or the home bar, where beer and bottles are sitting right where you can find them.
In the days before you go dry, make your alcohol harder to find. Don’t replenish what you’ve drunk over the holidays. Stash cans in a cupboard; put bottles in the closet.
Swap in substitutes for alcohol
Especially the first few days, you might feel irritated when your craft brew isn’t handy or a chilled bottle of wine isn’t waiting in the fridge door. Put something in its place, like trendy sodas that you’ve been wanting to try, or a large bottle of fizzy water.
Make your sober drinks special
You may end up feeling blue if you’re swigging straight from a can of Bubly. Instead, turn your drink into an occasion. Use your grandmother’s crystal for ginger ale. Drink juice out of a rocks glass. Flavor your sparkling water with mint or lemon. Use a paper umbrella, if that will bring on a smile.
BYOB your favorite sober sippers
One year, I was invited to a dinner party and wasn’t close to a liquor store to pick up some wine. Instead, I nabbed a carton of Pellegrino. That was an inspired solution. My hosts were appreciative, I had unlimited amounts of sparkling water handy, and I notice that other people were cracking open the big green bottles, too.
Assure your friends it’s not personal
The biggest surprise I got when I quit drinking was my friends’ reaction. Some people seemed offended—visibly huffy—about my decision. Thinking it over, I realized these friends might have tried in the past to stop drinking and failed, and thus saw my decision as a criticism of them.
If a friend or family member gets upset, assure them that this is about you, not them, and that they’ll remain a loved one whether you’re drinking or not. Insist they can go on ordering whatever they want. Things can be tricky when people push you to join them in having “just one.” In that case, you need to kindly but firmly refuse.
Have some creative ideas in mind
It’s so much easier than even a few years ago to find alcohol-free cocktails and beer (and even wine) on restaurant menus. Multiple places offer amaro-style sodas, like the savory ones produced in Detroit by Casamara Club.
But you might encounter places where the only alternatives are soft drinks and bottled water. In that case, make a suggestion. I once asked a bartender in DC what he could do with lime juice, mint, and fizzy water. He got creative, reaching for his cocktail shaker, dropping in a little powdered sugar and some rosemary as well as the mint I requested, and giving it a dramatic mix. It was so refreshing that my friends ordered a round, too.
Try avoiding bars completely
Many cities have alcohol-free environments that are just as comfortable and maybe more enticing than bars. Indie coffee bars offer numerous choices and pleasant atmospheres. Tea rooms can be an elegant experience. Boba cafes have lengthy menus, with lots of fresh fruit choices that can boost your immune system in the dead of winter.
Remember that January is only one month
The craft brews and cocktails and Prosecco will still be there on February 1. I’m actually considering whether to have a glass of champagne when my book about Zingerman’s is published next month. Then again, I could keep my streak going and celebrate with Topo Chico instead.