The lessons I learnt from doing Dry January
January, as the old adage goes, is the worst month in the year to give up drinking. The hours of daylight are few, the rain is freezing and horizontal, joy is at an annual low and so why wouldn’t you want to get together for warming dinners and cosy parties, sharing a bottle with your favourite people to eke some happiness out of bleak midwinter?
But Dry January is increasingly becoming entrenched as a bona fide event in the calendar; 31 days of abstinence, straight after the indulgences of Christmas and New Year, to see if you have the discipline, stamina and self-possession to fight the cravings and reset your body and mind for the year ahead.
But every change of habit throws up new revelations and the process can demand some uncomfortable questions. We talked to three Dry January partakers to see what the past few weeks have taught them.
“I lost 13lbs in weight”
Matt Writtle, 49, photographer
I try to do Dry January every year but this year, the main driver for me was weight loss – simply because if I don’t drink, I’ll eat more sensibly. If you’ve had a few, the next day you always want something for breakfast that’s a bit unhealthy. So I’ve stayed off the booze and by Jan 25 I’d already lost 13lbs in weight.
I wanted to start 2023 with a positive mental attitude. I wanted to feel good as well as lose weight. So I’ve been exercising more and I don’t feel sluggish, I don’t feel lazy, I’ve got more energy. And I feel naturally tired.
I don’t feel that false tired when you’ve had a drink the night before. I’ve been sleeping really well: proper unbroken sleep. I’ve also been feeling upbeat and enthusiastic about the goals I want to achieve this year.
I haven’t craved it at all. I’ve been in four to five situations this January where everyone is drinking apart from me. And I don’t mind it. From a psychological perspective, it’s actually quite interesting to see how people’s personalities change once they’ve got a few drinks down them.
On a deeper level, I do think Britain has got this fascination with drinking and socialising; they go hand in hand. And if you go to an event when you’re not drinking, people tend to look at you like you’re a bit odd.
So I turned down an invitation to a 50th birthday party last weekend, and my wife went out alone and I put the kids to bed. Once they were asleep, I just sat at home thinking, “This is a bit dull really”.
Dry January is a thing, so people respect your choices. But if it was July and you’re at a BBQ and after you were offered a drink, you were to say, “No, I’m off the booze at the moment”, then the immediate response would be, “What? Why?”
I always try to stay off booze Monday to Thursday anyway but at the moment my mindset is that while I could have a drink on Feb 1, I’m going to wait until Saturday and try to keep my drinking to Saturdays only. We’ll see how that goes.
“I found it boring, but it’s boosted my fitness”
Anon, 41, teacher
I’ve attempted Dry January before and once I lasted one day, and once I lasted six days. So this year I wanted to prove I could do it. But it was also because I’d completely over indulged over December, and much of November. I just felt awful.
I needed a health kick and I needed to change my lifestyle. It was coming in after a long day, exhausted, and the natural thing is to pour a glass of wine. That’s a very easy habit to get into so I needed to hit a reset button.
Before January, my husband and I had to make a real concerted effort to say, “We’re not drinking this week” and it rarely lasted. We’ve spent years at home looking after young children so it’s become such a massive part of our domestic arrangement.
And while Dry January has been great for my health, it is really boring. Sitting down and having a few drinks together once the children have gone to bed is a really nice part of our domestic situation. Doing that with a glass of squash is not really the same thing.
And it’s the same when you go out with people, and you have really funny, engaging conversations and really get into something – so much of that revolves around alcohol. It’s a massive part of life, I enjoy it. I don’t want to not drink. I just think that I got to a point where it wasn’t great.
However, the really nice thing is that I’ve got my weekends back. And that doesn’t mean we’ve been going off and doing amazing things. It means that I’m not groggy getting up and taking the kids to football or dance. I can start early and go for a run. I’ve been running 5k three or four times a week.
As for my intentions? Well, I like drinking; I like the social aspect of it. We’re going out for dinner with friends on Friday and I wouldn’t want to do that without alcohol.
But at the same time I want to be able to say to myself, “You’ve done this for a month, you know how better this makes you feel”, and not drink in the week. That’s my hope. Whether I will or whether I won’t, I don’t know.
“Alcohol makes me miserable”
Joanna Morris, 57, production journalist
My attempts to complete Dry January were scuppered last year when I was made redundant on Jan 17, so I was determined to do it this year. I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with booze – love drinking it, hate the aftermath. This has grown worse in the past couple of years, which may be linked to the menopause.
Being “dry” over the past 31 days has given me the space to really analyse why I drink, and most of the time it is linked to my emotions. I drink when I’m happy and I drink when I’m sad, but the results are the same – it makes me miserable.
I’ve found going without the booze very easy. It hasn’t stopped me from socialising and my partner is still drinking so there is alcohol in the house, but I haven’t been tempted.
The thought of a bad night’s sleep and the subsequent low mood have been enough to put me off. Emotionally I have been on a completely even keel. So much so I’m going to continue into February and beyond. Watch this space!
My top tip is that I downloaded the NHS Drink Free Days app, which shows your progress as well as calories and money you’ve saved in the month.