Dry January Is A Popular International Phenomenon. Are You On Board?

Starting the year alcohol-free is gaining popularity. We find out if the glass is really empty or half full.

Published On Jan 16, 2024 | Updated On Feb 21, 2024


December excesses often lead to penitent Januaries. For a lot of people, cutting off or cutting down on alcohol consumption in the new year seems to be the easiest first step on the path towards a healthier lifestyle. I too have been feeling the effects of alcohol edging out the blood in my circulatory system! So, going dry, that is choosing not to drink beer, wine, or spirits for one month, seems like a good decision, although for a lifestyle writer like me, it’s a professional hazard.

Even as I’m rethinking drinking, the concept of Dry January pops up with increasing regularity on my social media feeds. This year, awareness of this campaign appears to be going through the roof, with related reels trending and water-cooler discussions rivalling that of Intermittent Fasting and Animal. A little research shows that Dry January began in 2012 as a public health initiative from Alcohol Change UK, a British charity, with millions taking part in this health challenge every year now.

Dry January started back in 2011 when a woman named Emily Robinson was preparing for her first half marathon and decided to give up alcohol during her training.

I get in touch with Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of the British charity Alcohol Change UK, to find out how the concept of Dry January originated. He narrates, “Dry January started back in 2011 when a woman named Emily Robinson was preparing for her first half marathon and decided to give up alcohol during her training. As a result, she lost weight, slept better, and felt like she has more energy to do the run. She found that her friends and colleagues were intrigued and, before she knew it, everyone wanted to speak to her about what it’s like to give up drinking for a bit. A year later, Emily joined us (Alcohol Change UK) and pitched the idea of supporting others to go dry for a month too. She talked about the benefits of a clear head, more energy and, importantly, starting a new conversation about alcohol. And so Dry January was born.” 

He says that first year, 4,000 people signed up and Dry January has grown in popularity since with 1,75,000 people signing up to take part last year. “Dry January offers the opportunity for a total reset and a chance to see some amazing benefits like better sleep, a fuller wallet, more energy, and a calmer mind. There is a huge amount of positivity around taking a month off alcohol which grows every year. Participants see it as a great opportunity to take a break from drinking and give their body a rest, and as a good way to cut down longer term. More generally, there has been a shift in the way people view alcohol across many Western societies. In particular, there is an acceptance that alcohol is optional, and never essential, despite some of our cultures and marketing telling us otherwise,” explains Dr Piper.  

Ajit Balgi, founder, The Happy High Beverage Consultancy, observes, “I have seen seasoned drinkers weaning themselves off alcohol during different times of the year due to various reasons and January fasting is common. January is usually about a rough December gone by and the need to detox rather than it being about a healthy new year. Damp drinking (reducing consumption rather than completely eschewing alcohol) is getting common these days too, but usually among the seasoned drinkers from the upper classes.”  Not sure if that’s me, but, well, if the shoe fits…  

Dry January has grown in popularity since its inception with 1,75,000 people signing up to take part in 2023

I talk to Vikram Achanta, co-founder of 30BestBarsIndia, an initiative by Tulleeho and MW magazine to rank and celebrate the country’s best bars and bartenders. He agrees, “Dry January is a movement that is slowly gaining traction, more so among a percentage of consumers in very evolved markets. That being said, we are seeing many consumers choose to take similar breaks during the year or shift to zero-ABV drinks that suit their lifestyle, instead of restricting themselves to a specific month.”

Dr Piper feels that the alcohol-free drinks market has played a role in supporting this change. He says, “The quality and range of these drinks is now extremely good and for many thousands of people, these drinks are fundamental in their shift from being a heavy, habitual drinker to a light drinker or a non-drinker.” Balgi, meanwhile, has a different take on this, “In my opinion, the zero-ABV drinks like the ready-to-drink zero-proof cocktails are more adopted by drinkers who love to spike those with the spirits. It is about an easy cocktail! Non-alcoholic beers haven’t taken off and the zero-proof spirits are still in their infancy in India.” So much for sober being the new sexy! 

According to Sonal Holland, wine consultant, India’s only Master of Wine, and founder of the India Wine Awards, late October to early March are the best months for wine and alcoholic beverage sales in India.

Even so, the reset is real, and many are attempting it. Siddhesh Bhosale, 29, a beverage manager from Mumbai, says, “I had a good start. My motivation was all the new year energy that comes with new resolutions… fitness being one of them. But now it’s not going very well as I had to attend friend’s birthday party. It all went downhill from there!” Social drinking does put a dampener on Dry or Damp January. Sonal Holland, wine consultant, India’s only Master of Wine, and founder of the India Wine Awards, opines, “The concept, I don’t believe, applies to the Indian markets. In fact, late October to early March are the best months for wine and alcoholic beverage sales in India across all cities. Not only are people hosting more often during these months, but this time of the year also happen to coincide with the prime wedding season in India. And as you already know, wine is now a staple at Indian weddings and other cultural soirées.

Not just birthdays and weddings, but a slew of high-energy and high-profile events are taking Mumbai by storm this month. From the Mumbai Gallery Weekend showcasing the best of Mumbai’s art scene, posh polo parties at the Seleqtions Marquee Cup at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse, the Ajio Luxe Wkend at Jio World Garden, the Mumbai Sanskriti Festival by the Indian Heritage Society, and all manner of celebrations from LitFests to food festivals taking advantage of the relatively good weather, staying sober does seem a bit counter intuitive.

Ah well, I can always try to go dry in the wet months of the monsoon. 

Go dry this Jan 

If the spirit is willing and you’re determined to stay off spirits, here are some handy tips to get you started and keeping you on that teetering teetotal wagon… 

SAY NO: It can be as simple as that. Be it to a single drink, an event, or an invitation to a binge, the best way to resist temptation is to say no at the outset. 

SELECT: Okay so that didn’t quite work and now you’re in the room with a selection of bottles and beverages within easy reach. Don’t go for the usual suspects. Choose tonic minus the gin, cola minus the rum, orange juice minus the vodka… you get the drift. Best yet? Water is the way to go. 

SUBSTITUTE: An even better ploy would be to try something new. Pick a zero-proof spirit or beer. Enjoy the high a clear head and hydration give you. Better yet, take up a new hobby, meet new sober people, try a new way of life. 

ESCAPE: Take a sabbatical, put some distance between you and the bars and the bar-hopping brigade. Come back rejuvenated and recharged.

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