For several years now, January has been earmarked as a time to forego alcohol and counter the excesses of the holiday season. The idea of an alcohol-free month, known as Dry January, originated in the United Kingdom and has become increasingly popular, garnering millions of followers largely thanks to social media. 

The whys and wherefores of an alcohol-free month

Dry January means not having a single drop of alcohol from the moment you wake up on New Year’s Day until February 1st. The idea started with Emily Robinson, a young Englishwoman, who decided to give up alcohol for the entire month of January in order to prepare for her first half-marathon.  In May 2012, Alcohol Concern, a British organisation established in 1984, launched a Dry January campaign across the UK, encouraging people to forego alcohol for one month and experience the benefits of staying dry. The organisation points out that alcohol is an integral part of people’s lives. “We use it for celebration, for comfort, to socialise, to wind down, to cope. We treat it differently to other drugs; it’s legal, socially acceptable, even encouraged”[1]. While Alcohol Concern is not against alcohol, it advocates changing our relationship with alcohol by becoming more aware of its negative impacts.

The benefits of Dry January

A new year, a new you! That’s the idea behind Dry January, which encourages people to change their habits after a season known for its excesses as well as its traditions. There are several benefits to giving up alcohol for a month, including feeling healthier. The first benefit (and not the least!) is avoiding the awful hangover that follows a night of excessive drinking. Giving up alcohol will help you sleep better and lose weight, and will improve your skin. It will also save you money: in 2014, Canadians spent $20,5 billion on alcohol![1] Finally, staying dry will foster a sense of accomplishment that may get you thinking about how often you drink and what you get out of it.

The no-alcohol movement

Alcohol isn’t as popular with youth as it used to be. While some engage in binge drinking, regular alcohol consumption among youth is decreasing significantly in many countries, partly because of a desire to reject the social codes set by their parents’ generation, for whom alcohol consumption is considered part of the Western way of life. Many youth view alcohol as their parents’ drug.

Several movements advocating an alcohol-free lifestyle have emerged since the beginning of the 21st century. In Australia, Chris Raine committed to a year without alcohol in 2009 and started writing about his experience, describing the challenges he faced and namely the social pressure to drink. In his blog entitled ‘Hello Sunday Morning’, Raine explains how abstaining from alcohol allows him to wake up Sunday mornings ready to enjoy the day instead of sleeping it away after a night of heavy drinking. Chris soon realized that people wanted to talk about his alcohol-free experiment with him online and cheer him on. That’s when he decided to launch the Daybreak application, a program that helps people change the way they relate to alcohol with the support of an online community.

In 2014, Laurence Cottet, a 57-year-old Frenchwoman, decided to break the taboo surrounding women who are addicted to alcohol. In her book “Non, j’ai arrêté” (No, I quit), she talks about her experience as a former alcoholic. She openly describes episodes of extreme intoxication and how addiction ruined her career. Ms. Cottet also draws attention to the widely-held idea in Western society that men who drink heavily are virile and strong, while women who drink heavily are shameful. In an interview with the Le Parisien newspaper, the former business woman, now an addiction specialist, said she was impressed by the popularity of the Dry January movement.

Several initiatives have emerged over the past few years to help people change their relationship to alcohol, including the Dry January movement, which has gone viral on social media. What about you, will you take up the Dry January challenge?




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