I'm a Dietitian & Here's Why I Recommend 'Damp' Instead of Dry January
During the holiday season, many of us tend to overindulge in sweets, treats, and booze. And once a new year rolls around, the diets and resolutions start rolling in. One increasingly popular resolution trend is Dry January—aka, abstaining from alcoholic beverages for the first 31 days of the year.
The aim of Dry January is to start a new conversation about alcohol, to encourage people to consider and discuss their alcohol consumption, and ultimately, to inspire behavior change that includes continuing these sober habits throughout the year.
Yet, while it is true that abstaining from alcohol for a month has many benefits, the positive outcomes may be short-lived if a person falls back into their old habits on February 1. In fact, one study found that increased Dry January participation in the UK between 2015–2018 resulted in people feeling at greater liberty to drink to excess at other times of the year. And according to the CDC, binge drinking is linked to an increased risk of experiencing injuries, acquiring a sexually transmitted disease, and developing certain chronic diseases like high blood pressure and liver disease. (Yikes, right?)
While not all studies suggest that participating in Dry January is linked to binge drinking, for some, the "all-or-nothing" approach to alcohol consumption may not be a long-term solution for their own needs. And because of this, as a dietitian, I'd like to explore the concept of Damp January instead of Dry January starting every January 1.
What is Damp January?
If Dry January means that you avoid alcohol, having a drink every once in a while can make your January "damp." For some, this may mean limiting your alcohol consumption to one drink a week. For others, it may mean having three drinks a week—the weekly limit really depends on how much you are currently drinking and what your goals are.
Practicing Damp January instead of Dry January allows people to continue to enjoy a celebratory glass of champagne if a person's best friend becomes engaged or a cold pint of beer while watching a football game. But instead of mindlessly agreeing to a cocktail refill or grabbing that extra spiked seltzer just "because," Damp January participation forces a person to pay attention to how many drinks they're having and find ways to limit their drinking without feeling deprived. Ultimately, a person may be able to break drinking habits and only have a drink once in a while.
What are the benefits of Damp January vs. Dry January?
If you have ever gone on a restrictive diet that prohibits you from eating your favorite treat or snack, you already know what happens once your diet is over. Dieting or restrained eating generally increase the likelihood of food craving, which can lead to overeating of that particular food. Even though there aren't well conducted studies on alcohol deprivation and cravings, a similar concept may hold true for people who are not allowing themselves to enjoy a spicy margarita on taco Tuesday or a bold glass of red wine on date night.
Sure, Dry January may help some people limit their alcohol consumption over the long-run. For example, among Dry January participants in Australia, 51% reported drinking less frequently four months after participation, which is fantastic news! But of this study population, the other 49% of participants went back to their old drinking habits once January was over, highlighting that Dry January does not work for everyone. And other data published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that increased participation in Dry January was not linked with significant changes in how much people drank in the months that followed.
For some, moderation may be a more realistic goal to stick to over the long-term than complete avoidance of alcohol. And moderation is associated with lower alcohol dependence in some cases. While it is true that alcohol abstinence is the best way to avoid the toxic effects of consuming it—including an increased risk of certain cancers and increased risk of certain communicable disease according to the World Health Organization, it is clear that many people are not keen on living without their boozy beverages. The good news is that there are some benefits to be reaped by simply reducing alcohol intake, including weight reduction and lower blood pressure.
For these reasons, Damp January may be a good fit for those who do not have long-term success with Damp January.
The bottom line
Dry January is a healthy concept to explore, as alcohol consumption is linked to a slew of negative health outcomes. And if practicing Dry January results in you becoming more mindful of your alcohol consumption and creating healthier drinking habits that includes consuming less alcohol (or avoiding alcohol altogether), then you should absolutely stick with what works for you.
But if you have participated in Dry January year after year, and you find yourself back with your old boozy habits once January is over, this challenge is clearly not accomplishing its ultimate goal for you.
Perhaps, instead of participating in Dry January for one more year, Damp January may be a better match for you to possibly help you develop a habit of drinking less over the long-term. Trying Damp January may show you that you can do without that daily glass of wine that you sip on after work or that third cocktail that you typically order when you have a night out on the town. It allows you to not feel deprived, but it also helps you not overindulge.
Just keep in mind that for those with a true alcohol dependency, Damp January may not be the best option, and professional guidance should be explored. But for those who want to commit to drinking more moderately without giving up alcohol altogether, adopting Damp January may be the way to go. And who knows? You may end up enjoying your new habits so much that Damp February and Damp March may be in your future too.