All My Friends Are Doing Dry January. Should I?

After a low key New Year’s Eve in which I drank probably more than I should have, but not a wildly excessive amount (we all have standards), it was time for me to catch up with all the friends I’d missed over a long winter break. What does one do with friends in the bitter cold Northeast winter, when outdoor activities are out of the question and the whole point of seeing other people is to get out of the apartment you’ve been holed up in for what feels like decades?

You drink.

So, I invited my friends out to the bar. One by one, I was met with a variation on the same response:

“Sorry, not drinking this month — being lame and doing dry January.”

This didn’t stop me from seeing my friends. Though I do enjoy drinking, I do not have a one-track mind and can even be creative at coming up with drinking alternatives (like eating dinner, watching I, Tonya, or even going to the museum when it’s “pay what you want” day — as you can tell, I am extremely cultured). But with every additional friend who told me they were doing dry January, I felt a twinge of guilt.

Should I be doing dry January, too?

I drank plenty between my last working day of 2017 and the first day of 2018. In fact, I drank plenty in 2017, period. There were often times when I thought, Maybe I should drink less. And yet, somehow, not drinking in January never seriously occurred to me.

The prospect came up again when I got a news alert to my phone on January 4. “‘Mindful Drinking’ Is the Latest Health Craze,” declared TIME. With a title photo awash in millennial pink, I was certain TIME had meant this article for readers like me, goading me into changing my mind about pursuing an alcohol-free month. “Other men and women, but especially women, your age are doing this,” the article’s picture taunted, showcasing a feminine looking hand reaching for a beer. “Do you hate your body or something?”

No, I don’t hate my body, I love my body! I thought. But then why do I keep poisoning it? Perhaps I would find the answer, or some kind of clarity, in the “Mindful Drinking” piece.

According to the story, while “binge drinking and alcohol dependency rates” soar, the number of people consciously choosing to drink less is also increasing. The latter can be classified as “off-and-on drinkers,” who basically try to engage in as many sober activities as possible and, when drinking, attempt to “live in the moment.” Instead of automatically saying “yes” to another drink, they consider how inebriated they feel at the time before choosing whether to drink more or to just nurse one for a while.

This strikes me as positive in more ways than one. First of all, you’re saving money and preventing yourself from getting dangerously drunk, sick, and hungover. Secondly, you’re actually allowing yourself to enjoy the feeling of being tipsy.          This feeling is fun and, to be honest, is what got me through high school. Sure, I got sick drinking in high school more than once (I’m no hero), but I didn’t get the kind of dangerous wasted (besides maybe that one time…) that would have prevented me from silently tip-toeing through the back door of my parents house and waking up the next morning looking like the sweet, innocent angel my parents still thought I was. I was — rightfully — scared of drinking in excess because, being new to the activity, I couldn’t predict the consequences and assumed the worst. Plus, like I said, I needed to pretend I hadn’t been drinking so as to avoid parental wrath.

I stopped drinking like this because I eventually grew too comfortable with drinking’s effect. Feeling buzzed or tipsy or whatever you want to call it was no longer novel — in fact, it was something to push past so as to enter the truly desired state of drunkenness, where anything could happen. You could act outrageously and dance all night and actually make friends in college.

This attitude has, for worse, carried over well past college — for me and many in the working world. The woman quoted at the start of the TIME story characterized her “foggy” post-drinking Saturday mornings as a result of working too hard during the week. She had to make up for all that work-related exhaustion by letting loose come Friday night. The “work hard, play hard” mentality has indeed infiltrated many a millennial-populated industry, where major tech companies tout it as their mantra and many co-working spaces offer free beers on tap to make up for the fact that freelancers and startup employees work extra long hours.

So I’d more or less pinpointed what went wrong with my drinking and why my habits left me dissatisfied. But was the answer committing to dry January? I would be late to the game, but I could always extend my dry month into February.

“Annually, it is the worst month of the year,” said my friend and former colleague, Cade, of dry January. Now in his second year as a January teetotaler, he hopes it will prove better than his first in 2017.

“I didn’t notice a difference at all last year, felt like it was kind of a waste of time,” Cade, who is in his late 20s, admitted of his sober month. “I wasn’t going to do it again, but here I am. I’m also trying to cut out some carbs and exercise, because I figure if I’m going to be miserable in January, why not fully embrace it?”

Meanwhile, a female friend of mine in her mid-20s, who works as a reporter, gave the commitment a more positive review. Having decided to try dry January “to get a better understanding of my relationship with alcohol, which is so easily construed to be an integral part of being a ‘young 20-something,’” she found that the blogs touting dry January’s advantages were right. “My skin already looks much better due to lack of dehydration and just drinking more water all around,” she told me. “It’s also more entertaining than I thought it would be to be the sober friend watching your drunk friends be lovable idiots.”

Furthermore, only eight days into the month-long experiment, she began to change her view of recreational time with friends overall. “I’m starting to realize that not *every* social outing constitutes copious amounts of beer and that I can still enjoy myself (and yes, even carry conversations with strangers!) without wine as a social lubricant.”

After listening to others’ reviews and thinking deeply about my own drinking habits, I ultimately decided to compromise. I’m not doing dry January, but I am practicing so-called “mindful drinking.” I’m going to thrive on the buzz and stop trying to push past it, and I’m going to stop having a beer with dinner “just because.” So far, I’ve been largely confining my drinking to the weekends, and in doing so, it’s become a fun activity again — not a habit. The aim is to keep it that way.

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