Dry January is no cake walk—but Dry-ish January? Now we’re listening.
If the start of a new year always finds you on a half-hearted quest to drink less, doing Dry January has probably crossed your mind. But cutting out alcohol for 30 days, though certainly beneficial to both mind and body, can be a daunting endeavor—even for social drinkers with a relatively healthy relationship to booze. It requires discipline, even in the face of excruciating FOMO and moments of weakness (read: stress). Generally, the more daunting the goal, the more difficult it can be to stick with—or start in the first place. Wouldn’t it be nice to work toward a more realistic resolution, one with gradual improvements and a bit more wiggle room?
The semi-dry lifestyle—or “damp” lifestyle as TikTok-ers have coined it—has steadily been gaining popularity over the past few years. Not that everyone was so sober before Covid, but alcohol consumption notably skyrocketed during the pandemic. The impact of that period of excess—which, sadly, in many cases, led to more severe dependency and alcohol use disorder—has been a big wakeup call for drinkers of all types in the last year or two. As the social stigma around sobriety slackens, the focus on personal health increases, and regular reflection on our drinking habits becomes the norm, more people are starting to see the benefits of approaching alcohol a little differently: with intention, awareness, and moderation.
A recent survey by Sunnyside, an app focused on mindful and moderate drinking versus cold-turkey sobriety, found that “85 percent of its members were likely to start 2023 off with some sort of challenge around alcohol, but 73 percent wanted an option other than complete sobriety,” according to a press release. “Respondents expressed interest in a challenge focused on improving overall health and building better drinking habits rather than giving up alcohol completely. They were interested in more of a ‘Dryish’ January.”
If you want to challenge yourself to drink less, but hate the all-or-nothing rigidity of a full-on Dry January, it’s not too late to partake in Semi-Dry January. “A Semi-Dry January (or Damp January) is a less extreme, and potentially much more sustainable version of the challenge, focused on reducing alcohol intake during the month of January,” says Vedant Pradeep, co-founder and CEO of the neuroscience-based app Reframe. “It’s for pretty much anyone who wants to make positive adjustments and experience all the health and emotional benefits of drinking less, while not eliminating alcohol completely from their lives.”
It’s about finding balance and taking a step back to reassess your relationship to alcohol, to figure out what type of drinker you are, and to find ways to drink less (but enjoy it more) in a way that makes sense for you. It’s about partaking (with a little more self-awareness), but not overusing.
The good news is that Semi-Dry January (and beyond!) is completely customizable, with countless ways for the sober-curious individual to slice and dice their approach. Think of Semi-Dry January as a month of mindful drinking, slower consumption, alternating days of sobriety, falling in love with mocktails—or whatever strategy strikes your fancy (and works for your lifestyle and health goals).
And since sometimes too many options—and not enough structure—can cause paralysis and dampen motivation, we’re here to offer some different ways to challenge yourself during Semi-Dry January, plus some behavioral tips to help you out.
Semi-Dry January Tips
Think about what drinking means to you.
“This is less about the alcohol itself and more about the reasons why we reach for a drink in the first place,” Pradeep says. Do you drink when you’re stressed and frustrated after a long day? Do you drink to make social gatherings less nerve-wracking? Do you drink because you’re kind of just on autopilot? Do you simply love the ritual of happy hour drinks with coworkers? “Start by making a list of these potential reasons, and add to it when you find new ones, and you’ll find some unexpected times when you want to reach for another drink. Once you know [your] reasons, you can begin to replace alcohol with better coping strategies that will be a net positive in our life.”
Think about how alcohol affects you.
This is about the alcohol itself. “Alcohol affects your brain chemistry, and understanding why it makes you do the things you do, can be empowering,” Pradeep says. “It’s also important to educate yourself about how alcohol can impact all aspects of your life.” This isn’t about shaming or freaking yourself out, but more about improving personal body and health literacy. Learn about how your body processes and metabolizes alcohol; why you feel great while buzzed, but awful the morning after; how alcohol makes you feel sleepy, but actually disrupts good sleep during the night. Having a bit more information will be an eye-opener to all the ways your drinking habits may be holding you back from feeling your best, as well as some of the perks of saying “no” to that second refill.
Pinpoint your prime motivator(s).
This will be your motivational North Star when discipline or determination starts to wane. “Any journey, even if temporary, to change your relationship to alcohol isn’t going to be without its difficulties,” Pradeep says. “It can be key to start out by identifying the reason(s) why you want to make this change. Whatever it is, think about it, write it down, and revisit it often when you get an urge to reach for another drink.”
Focus on what you’ll gain.
You could look at a semi-sober month as a loss, sure, but that’s why they invented the phrase “addition by subtraction”: Less alcohol means better sleep, freedom from hangovers, improved focus and clarity, lower inflammation, more savings, a sense of accomplishment—the list is endless. The abundance mindset—acknowledgment of what you have or will gain, rather than regret for what you lack or have lost—is a game-changer when cutting back on something as tempting as cocktails.
Think about progress, never perfection.
“Chances are you’ve built up some habits surrounding alcohol that’ll take some time to unwind or even realize are there,” Pradeep explains, adding that caving to a craving or slipping up somehow doesn’t make you weak. Each episode is a learning opportunity, so go easy on yourself, he says. “Treat this as an exercise of self-improvement and learning healthier coping strategies. And remember that you didn’t build these habits in a month, so it’ll take more than a month to work through them. Make a commitment to yourself to show up and keep following the plan even if you slip up: progress not perfection.”
Reflect for five minutes at the end of each day.
How did you feel today? What did you drink today? Did you reach for the wine opener and then consciously stop yourself? Did you crave a martini at dinner? Was it hard to say no to a second margarita? “Take 5 minutes each night to reflect on what went right and went wrong,” Pradeep says. (And remember, no judgment, just curiosity!)
Pay attention to those between-drink moments.
“I really emphasize thinking about the time between drinks,” says Sunnyside cofounder and CEO, Nick Allen. “That space between finishing a drink and starting the next one is one of the most important moments. If you can start to unpack the automatic habit [of going] from finishing this drink to going to the next drink, and insert some intentionality between, it goes a long way in cutting out those [drinks] you end up not being super-happy about the next day.”
Make a plan and be specific.
This one is key. “The more specific the plan, the better,” Pradeep says (and this wisdom holds for pretty much any goal you set). If you tell yourself you’re just going to try to drink less—that’s great, but what does that mean? How are you actually going to measure it, plan for it, and do it? Pradeep suggests setting a weekly goal and breaking it down into days. “First, determine where you’re starting from: What is the typical number of drinks you would have in a week? Have a reasonable plan for reducing your intake: [For example], a 10 percent reduction, but not more than 25 percent, per week can be a good place to start.”
Allen suggests a similar approach, for which his app is a very handy guide. “Every Sunday [Sunnyside users] sit down and plan for the week ahead and identify on a day-to-day basis which days they’re going to drink, which days they’re not going to drink, and set themselves limits to stay within on the days when they do drink,” he says. This way, “you’re consolidating decisions into a single point in time, so every day you don’t need to make the choice after a hard day at work—you’ve already made that decision and got a set accountability plan.”
More Semi-Dry January Strategies
Set a drink maximum. Commit to having no more than X number of drinks on the days you’re drinking—and make it less than you’d typically consume.
Choose one or two days per week to be dry days—no matter what. Be realistic and stick to it! For more of a challenge, try the inverse: Pick one or two days per week for drinks.
Stay dry during the week. Work nights, school nights, weeknights—whatever your schedule, save beer, wine, and liquor for the weekend.
Don’t drink after a certain time. Don’t say “yes” to another round just because it’s there! If it’s after 10 p.m., for example, (or maybe 8 p.m. on weekdays) switch over to seltzer, ice water, soda, or juice.
Replace some super-boozy cocktails with something lighter or alcohol-free. Spend the month experimenting with lower-ABV drinks, zero-proof spirits, less-alcoholic aperitifs, and fun mocktail recipes. Try a simple Campari with soda, order a refreshing spritz (or wine spritzer—they’re cool again!), pick up some dry sparkling cider, or shake up a couple of dark and stormy mocktails.
Order a new mocktail or try a new mocktail recipe every weekend. Are Friday and Saturday nights your alcohol Achilles’ heel? Don’t deprive yourself of making (or ordering) and enjoying something fun and delicious. Most bar and restaurant menus now offer some pretty great non-alcoholic drinks that feel just as special and tasty as your favorite cocktail. Whatever you do, whether it’s seltzer with lemon or a fancy mocktail-kit creation, serve that sip in a fun glass (trust, it makes a difference!).
Save alcohol for special occasions only. Weddings, birthdays, a big promotion—decide ahead of time what counts as “special” to you, then give yourself the OK to enjoy a celebratory sip or two.
Download a mindful drinking app.
No need to go it alone. If you don’t have friends who want to join your Semi-Dry challenge, but like the idea of external accountability, download an app for encouragement, advice, progress tracking, and supportive community members. Reframe and Sunnyside are top picks, along with these five other mobile programs for cutting back.
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