Dry January : Thoughts, Tips & Tricks

This year is an ideal time to do Dry January. With little to no pubs open, there is no guilt factor involved in potentially reducing the time and money spent in your local establishment.

Of course, if the landlords deigned to stock a modest range of lo/no/AF options outside of lemonade or squash, perhaps they would find the usual patronage in January is mitigated somewhat, but that's an argument that's already been done to death.

Similarly any breweries who have not at least considered producing a lo/no/AF beer are potentially missing out on a growing, potentially lucrative, generationally-defined sector of the marketplace.

The merits of a dry month are questionable at best. Short-term abstinence does not magically reset or even re-focus your relationship with alcohol if you are, to use horribly basic terms, a "normal" drinker, and even less so if you have a dependency. 

The charities who run the official campaigns promoting Dryanuary and Stoptober are laudable and to be praised for the work they do with problem drinkers, however their razor-sharp focus on targeting those of us lucky enough to apparently not have a problem is misguided at best and does their ethos more harm than good. 

It leads to all-too-easy, lazy accusations from the usual suspects of there being an undercover temperance movement afoot designed to do to alcohol what anti-smoking campaigns have done to tobacco. This stupid equivalence of course ignores the zero risk of my getting lung cancer by sitting next to a drinker in a pub.

Dry January promoters make big of the numbers involved. We've already had the customary press release from the bigwigs, claiming nearly 6.5million people will do Dry January. This figure is nakedly and patently misleading. 6.5million people have said they might do it. Many won't start. Those that do start won't see it through. Many will have "cheat days" rendering the endeavour meaningless. The fact we never get a similarly triumphant press release declaring how many actually made it through to February speaks volumes.

So why bother? Well one of the major proponents of the effort, Hilary Sheinbaum, says: "There are so many benefits to doing a Dry January — or any other dry month — including better sleep, improved digestion, increased energy, clearer skin and an overall sense of accomplishment". This is all true-ish, but these are all very temporary benefits that assume a common baseline amongst the sample.

There are plenty of folk who drink alcohol who already have great digestion, clear skin and get gratification from other forms of accomplishment, if the latter is important. Being an imbiber is not automatically to be unhealthy. In fact, many drinkers mitigate their input by being especially healthy and active at other times, to offset any damage that may be caused by the odd fermented beverage. The amount of runners and joggers on Beer Twitter is testament to that.

However three benefits that I personally have found are as follows:

1) it does relieve pressure on your wallet. The cold fact is that beer is costing more and more, especially good quality, independently produced, craft beer from independent stores. This is not a bad thing per se, but it can be very easy to get carried away on online ordering sites when presented with such a smorgasbord of superlatives, especially during this pandemic when procurement of booze has become as wonderfully easy as ordering a pizza. 

2) You won't get any hangovers or other negative effects that come with a decent session. I had a horrible hangover on Xmas Day this year that nearly ruined my enjoyment of Junior Choice. It was a stark reminder that the pleasure-pain principle is real and that, as I get older, my tolerance levels shrink quicker than my hairline.

3) It genuinely can be an aide to weight loss as you are a) consuming less carbs; b) less likely to order a takeaway while sober, and c) less likely to pop to the shop for a Mars Bar while sober.

I am a veteran of several Dry Januaries and Stoptobers (and the occasional NayPril and Lo/NoVember as well) so I feel well versed in sharing my approach and tactics. Nothing you are about to read is new, or revolutionary, nor do I mean any of this to sound condescending or proselytising, but there may be things in there that you may not have considered or been aware of.

Don't force-suppress your base needs
You can't just turn your animal beer brain off. You will still want something to have in hand for a Saturday afternoon watching the football, or for an evening spinning a record, or for drowning your frustrations after that last minute Zoom meeting with the boss where he changes everything at the last minute. You will need something that relaxes you and sends your endorphins flying. You are denying yourself beer, not pleasure.

You'll get used to it
The first two weeks are the hardest, but the second two weeks will go by in a breeze, so much so that it will seem a shame to have to "stop" when January stops. Of course you don't have to, there's no hard and fast rules here.

Don't give into pressure
Whether it's from mates, pub landlords, the media, your family or anyone else, don't let anyone force you into doing Dry January, or indeed *not* doing Dry January. You are master of your own fate, you are captain of your own soul.

Stay connected and share your experience
If you're a social media user, keep on social media, don't lock yourself away from other folks who are continuing to drink. Let their (relative) pleasure be your motivation. Know that what they are having as a "norm" will take on new meaning for you. Maybe let others know if you feel any benefits, be an evangelist.

Work out what your best replacement beverage is
Avoid additional amounts of caffeine to your normal intake. Avoid carbonated sugary pop. You ideally need something unusual as a temporary substitute that you wouldn't "normally" drink. For me that is a fruit-based sparkling water - there are plenty of options in the supermarket - ideally one with a low sugar content. Choose Appletiser, or Schloer, or any of the own-brand imitations. Another option is ordinary squash plus tonic water which, I find, gives a unique, bitter tangy flavour.

Lo/no options
The arguments over lo/no have been done to death but the one truth is that the range, and quality of that range, is growing. In 2016 all I had was Becks Blue and Kopparberg Non Alcoholic Cider. Now there is an absolute plethora of options and styles from brands such as Hammerton, Brooklyn, Budweiser, Birra Moretti, Peroni, Drop Bear, Pistonhead, Guinness Open Gate, Big Drop, St Peters, Adnams, Sharps, Tiny Rebel, Northern Monk, Br*wD*g.... the list goes on and on. I recommend the excellent Steady Drinker https://steadydrinker.com/articles/best-non-alcoholic-beers/ as a starting point to decide on what suits you. I've listed a few that I tried in November 2019 here : https://bringotbeer.blogspot.com/2019/11/lonovember-rankings.html

Choose a beer for February 1st
Dry January 2021 ends on a Sunday night, so choose yourself a beer for that Monday evening, February 1st, that will be your treat / reward for successfully navigating the month. Choose something special, or an old friend, that you know will give you the most pleasure.

"Wet" Dry January options
If you don't want to abstain from alcohol completely, then maybe choose a different alcoholic beverage to try, perhaps one that is served in smaller quantities or that can be mixed to produce a "long" drink. I didn't have a beer in July 2020 but I did have plenty of whisky-and-diet-lemonades instead. Had the same effect as having 5 beers but quicker, in lower quantities which led to less bloating and discomfort.

It's only temporary
Remember, it's temporary. You haven't changed, you haven't done anything revolutionary, you are still the same wonderful person you were before and will be after. You've just done something different, something unusual, something you may want to do again if you've found it rewarding, or something you never want to do again if you found it difficult. However you won't know unless you try.

Choose another month
January may not be convenient for you. The calendar after all is a Roman invention which means nothing really in the grand scheme of things. You may find it a bad time of year to lose one of your pleasures, one of your coping mechanisms, especially if you suffer from SAD or similar. So maybe wait until April? Or high summer? Who says you have to do it now?

So that's pretty much it. I'll be starting my four weeks off on Monday, as it's unlikely I'll be boozing straight away on Feb 1st so I can make up for the three days I missed out on this weekend. Do what you want to do, what you need to do, in your own way, and good luck.

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