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  • Writer's pictureChristine Coulson

Dry January: is it always a good thing?

Glasses with water and lemon

The term "Dry January" has been around for decades, but it was ten years ago that Alcohol Change UK registered it as a trademark and has been using it to promote giving your body a month off booze after a heavy festive period ever since.

It was estimated that over 9 million Brits would be having a break from booze in January 2023[i]; which can only do a massive amount of collective good for the livers and the bank balances of the nation. 

But is this always the case?  To be totally honest with you, my thoughts on Dry January are mixed.  I have four friends currently doing Dry January.  Friend One, I believe, has a totally ‘take it or leave it’ attitude to alcohol (and I’ve just checked with him – so does he).  He and his wife are flying through the month, initially substituting gin for the 0% alternative on a weekend. They forget about that alcohol alternative completely after discovering the “joys” of biscuit tea.  They’re obsessed with it, and the fact they're not drinking alcohol is barely registering.  As a couple, they are the epitome of a healthy relationship with alcohol; to them Dry January is a sensible healthy month after the relative indulgences of the festive period.

On the other end of the scale, another friend has previously talked to me about their relationship with alcohol and they’re toying with the idea of quitting for good.  They decided to give Dry January a go – when I checked in between Christmas and New Year to see if they were ready, they weren’t.  They weren’t sure they could do it.  This reminded me of my own relationship with Dry January.

Back in 2005, when I was just 25 years old and working in my previous career, I started a new job in The City.  I was taking a month off the booze after a heavy summer, just because it felt like a sensible thing to do for my body.  I remember embracing the month, and my first social with my new colleagues – in one of those Japanese Karaoke venues with a load of rooms - was a totally sober night without a blink of an eye.  Back then, I was in the ‘biscuit tea’ camp.

15 years later, in my late 30’s / early 40’s, I was still able to do a month off booze – always February because I wasn’t the sort of fool that would go sober for a month with more than 28 days in it – but it was a very different experience.  By this stage I would be counting down the days to the next bottle of wine; and I would hate every minute of it.  I wouldn’t appreciate the better sleep, or the clearer skin – it was just an endurance challenge to the end and I would white knuckle it to the end.  I would make it to the 1st of March without alcohol and – significantly – use the experience for the next 11 months as proof that I didn’t have a problem with alcohol.

Which begs the question – who is Dry January for?

Is it to encourage the ‘take it or leave it’ drinkers to have a month off, or is it to encourage the ‘white knucklers’ to address their relationship with alcohol.  Because if it’s the later, I’m not sure it works.  At no point in that month did I think about the wider picture; look at the reasons I was privately worried I drank too much or appreciate the benefits I was feeling. 

Instead, I used the month as ‘Exhibit A’ in the case for the defence if I or anyone else questioned my relationship with booze.  If anything, being able to quit for a month without experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms (which, thanks to Jim McDonald in Coronation Street in the early 1990’s I incorrectly believed was the main symptom of a ‘drinking problem’) just prolonged the time it took me to actually seriously at my relationship with alcohol.

Dry January, in my opinion, is not the Grey Area Drinker’s friend.  It can lull you into a false sense of security, and make you delay your need to seriously look at your relationship with alcohol.  I know people who started Dry January years ago and have not drank since but they didn’t white knuckle it, they did ‘the work’.  They went into it with a view that something needed to change, and they looked at their break holistically, instead of just having blinkers on the calendar.

This year I contributed to a brilliant book ‘Sobriety Rocks – Tips For Dry January’ with a group of Sober Coaches led by The Sober Club’s Janey Lee Grace; and it was popular – reaching number 1 in the Health & Recovery ebooks on Amazon at one point.  Hopefully the people who downloaded it and scrolled through it in the month found some real benefit from it – having downloaded it thinking that this could be the start of something longer. 

Because if you're struggling to get through to February … then you maybe need to take a more serious look at your relationship with alcohol overall.

You can see how I can help you with looking at your relationship with alcohol here.

Photo by Chris Ralston on Unsplash


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