Dry January has been steadily gaining popularity since it started. The concept is to participate in the challenge go free from alcohol use for the month of January or “dry”. Alcohol-free challenges are not a new trend. They have existed for a long time in different parts of the world. What makes Dry January unique is that it has become a cultural phenomenon, with more and more people taking through the years, spreading around the world, and becoming a “thing” on pop culture.
The Dry January challenge was launched in 2013 in the United Kingdom by Alcohol Change UK to support people and provide community and isnpiration for anyone taking on the challenge to spend the first month of the year alcohol-free.
Since then the challenge has spread to other countries around the world including the United States (U.S.), Switzerland, France, Norway, and Iceland. This year, the Scandinavian countries have also joined for the first time, led by heart-driven Movendi International member organizations.
Why is Dry January getting this popular?
A month free from alcohol is an eye opener for most people who take on such a challenge. It gives participants the time to evaluate the role alcohol plays in their lives, community and society and to reflect about alcohol’s place. Most people discover the benefits of going alcohol-free and continue to cut back or go sober for life.
The concept of Dry January fits into the wider trend of declining alcohol consumption in the Western world, mainly driven by young people. A study published in 2020 found that up to 30% of college-age Americans were choosing to abstain from alcohol. Movendi International has reported on how young people are undoing the alcohol norm the world over.
Dry January also aligns well with the culture shift towards better health and well-being. The increase in mental health awareness plays a big role, allowing people to think about the impact alcohol may have on their mental health.
Dry January is not just a challenge either, it has created supportive communities of people who are alcohol-free. These communities provide inclusive spaces for those choosing an alcohol-free way of life or are sober curious and sober positive – to meet peers, share ideas, support each other, and empower one another to spread sober vibes. One such community is Sober Girl Society launched by Millie Gooch. Another community is Hello Sunday Morning, an Australian nonprofit organization.
These initiatives have created online communities and smartphone apps for people to stay connected, track their sobriety journey and share their experiences with peers.
- The Try Dry app launched by Alcohol Change UK for Dry January helps people to track their alcohol-free journey including community support and tracking health goals and money saved.
- Hello Sunday Morning’s the Daybreak App gives access to a community of like-minded people who want to change their alcohol use habits.
The alcohol-free way of life is empowering people, mostly women according to Claire Davey, who researches gender and sobriety at Canterbury Christ Church University in England. Going sober is rallying against alcohol industry narratives which objectify women in marketing and then try to align with women empowerment to sell products to women.
Sobriety is also a way to undo past alcohol norms of heavy use and alcohol binges. Online communities like Sober Girl Society and resources like Tempest call out alcohol industry narratives and norms. They point to the truth that alcohol is a harmful, addictive, cancer-causing substance and that going alcohol-free is better for mental and physical health and overall well-being.
The fact that Dry January has become a “thing” of pop culture can be see in many celebrities increasingly also embracing the alcohol-free way of life. Thus, giving it more visibility.
Dry January: Long-term impact
Temporary alcohol-free months, like Dry January, are a way for people to experience all the benefits of being sober. Many continue to reduce their alcohol use or go permanently sober after the experience of the alcohol-free challenge.
A study analyzing the effect of Dry January looked at more than 850 British participants and found that most were still consuming less alcohol than they used to even six months after the challenge.
In another study, researchers from the Royal Free Hospital investigated the effects of Dry January by following up with 141 people who were consuming on average over twice the amount of alcohol as the UK weekly low risk guidelines (14 units a week) recommend. Of all participants, 94 went alcohol-free completely and the rest continued as usual. Blood samples taken at the end of the research found:
Compared with those who continued to consume alcohol in high-risk levels those who went sober for a month showed improvements in,
- blood pressure,
- cancer related growth factors and
- growth factors implicated in the development of skin cancer.
There is even impact beyond people’s health. The growing popularity of being sober or sober-curious is also changing the way that businesses think.
More companies that make alcohol-free products are thriving. Even major Big Alcohol companies have had to adapt and expand their NoLo alcohol product portfolios. Meanwhile sober bars, restaurants are becoming a booming business model across the world.