A Companion Guide to Dry January

At the turn of the year, you may have seen posts on your social media feeds about “Dry January.” In some cases, I saw the term “Dry(ish) January” which made me chuckle. It’s not a new concept. It’s one that I tried in my late stages of alcoholism. I think I made it to about January 9th back in 2014.

The idea is simply that for the month of January you refrain from all alcohol. In doing so, you separate yourself from the copious amounts of drinking you did back in November and December at all the holiday festivities. It allows your body to return to its base settings. Allowing your mind to recalibrate and center again for the new year ahead.

There is a more practical and more important purpose for it though. It is a chance to see if you have a bigger problem. As you stop drinking, do you still have urges to drink? Do you have withdrawal symptoms like shaking or sweating? Are your thoughts dominated by the hope of going out on February 1st? Dry January has always had an element of alcoholic assessment. Unfortunately, many people won’t make it long enough to see the signs of alcoholism within them.

As we approach the mid-point of the month, I’ve seen dozens of people on social media reporting that they’ve “broken” as they post a picture of themselves holding their favorite drink at a bar or at home. In some ways it’s no different than any other New Years Resolution. I’m sure the mid-point of January is a regular stopping point for any number of activities or fastings. My January 9th break back in 2014 was purely because there was a party happening and well, you have to drink at a party.

There will be so many reasons why you could decide to stop the experiment like a wedding, a funeral, or a party. It could be as simple as being pressured to join happy hour with your co-workers. The reason to drink will always seem low stakes enough for your health and profitable enough for your social life or mental health. Hence why so many will be raising a glass by this weekend.

But this year, there are more people trying Dry January than ever before and it’s no wonder why. According to a recent survey, there has been a predictable increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic. More people are drinking greater amounts of alcohol. What this pandemic drinking tells us is that it’s not just social events, peer pressure, or societal expectation that inspires drinking. But drinking, even more than before, can take place in isolation.

So naturally, more people are turning to Dry January. But many are doing so without fully interrogating the deeper issues. They are recognizing their increased drinking and joining a cultural fad that seems rejuvenating but there aren’t follow up questions, surveys, or assessments at the end of the journey and certainly not at the midpoint. It’s simply a personal milestone and then returning to life as usual. 

Drinking alcohol is not a bad thing for all people. For me, as an alcoholic, it is a matter of life and death but for someone else, it is just another beverage choice. But what the pandemic is showing us, is that alcoholic tendencies are even more common than we previously recognized but they were often covered up by social or societal norms.

I don’t think Dry January is a bad idea. In fact, with many people that come to me to ask about their drinking habits, I often advise them to start assessing by taking some time (2-4 weeks) to abstain from alcohol. But there are many alcoholics who can stay dry for that amount of time, so what then? What is equally as important as the dry time, is asking assessing questions to understand the effects of alcohol in your life and how its absence changes things.

Along with movements like Dry January, individuals and society need to ask ourselves these questions in relation to alcohol.

  • When I drink, how does alcohol make me feel?
    • If the answer is, “Incredible,” “Invincible,” “Better than who I am normally,” “Like fireworks are going off in my soul,” that might be a red flag.
  • When I attend social gatherings, is my primary activity drinking alcohol?
    • If yes, this can develop into a social dependency that leads to physical addiction.
  • When I drink, is it in isolation? If yes, what are you feeling during these times?
    • If it’s when you’re bored, depressed, lonely, anxious, or homesick, this may be a sign of a deeper longing that can lead to severe addictive tendencies.
  • How often are you drinking?
    • If you are drinking daily or more than a few times a week, there could be physical consequences and dependencies that arise.
  • Have friends or family mentioned your drinking in the last year?
  • Have you struggled to remember parts of the day on days when you’ve been drinking?

These are just a few questions that could get the conversation started for you. Your answers to these questions may not necessarily mean that you are an alcoholic, but it may indicate alcoholic tendencies that could lead to greater dependency or health issues in the future. **If you would like to take a more extensive inventory, there are a couple links at the bottom of this article.

January, February, and March are often some of the most challenging times of the year for mental health and emotional wellbeing. With increased isolation from the pandemic, we again are going to be in for a long few months. With easier access to alcohol (like alcohol delivery services) and more potent premade mixed drinks found in cans and cases, the ability to drink heavily is more accessible than ever before.

If you find yourself drinking more than you have in the past, now may be the time to ask yourself about these habits. Now might be the time to assess your relationship with alcohol. It’s never too late to stop drinking and it’s never too late to seek guidance or help.

As always, I am here if you need to talk.



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