By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
January 6, 2023
Does your New Year’s resolution involve drinking less? Or perhaps you decided to dive into 2023 totally alcohol-free? You’re not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking part in Dry January, a public health push that started in the United Kingdom in 2013 and has since spread to the United States. The month-long sobriety challenge, which calls on personal discipline, complements the ongoing public policy work of the Christian Action League.
“The Christian Action League encourages abstinence. Our public policy position, however, is not a prohibitionist one. Instead, our objective is to work with lawmakers to prevent more alcohol-related harms,” explains the Rev. Mark Creech, the CAL’s executive director. “Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity. It is in scientific fact, a legal recreational drug, which does more damage than all of the illicit drugs combined.”
He says alcohol use and abuse are not purely matters of personal responsibility, but require a social response with public policies that employ controls and regulation, something Creech says the industry and other profiteers “typically disdain and feverishly oppose.”
Much to the chagrin of the alcohol industry, drinkers who sidestep the booze for the first month of the year reap a host of health benefits and are likely to drink less for the rest of the year.
A 2018 study performed at Royal Free Hospital and published in the British Medical Journal found that Dry January participants had lower blood pressure, improved insulin resistance, weight loss and fewer cancer growth factors in their blood, compared with people who continued drinking. Further, Alcohol Change UK reports that 70 percent of Dry January participants have better sleep and 66 percent report higher energy levels. And the more people cut back on drinking, the less likely they are to develop the many conditions that alcohol is linked with, from liver disease and depression to cancer.
Experts say a month of abstinence can give the body a reset and remind drinkers just how good they can feel when their bodies aren’t dealing with alcohol toxins.
Richard de Visser, a psychologist at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England who has studied Dry January effects, says abstaining for a month “becomes a reinforcing message instead of a punishing message.”
“Instead of public health people wagging their fingers and saying, ‘Don’t drink, it’s bad for you,’ people do it and say, ‘I didn’t realize how good I would feel.’ They often don’t realize how much stopping drinking will improve their sleep, or their concentration, or even just their levels of energy in the morning,” de Visser told the media.
And the benefits usually last longer than the month, as studies have shown that in general, people who take part in Dry January are still drinking considerably less the following August.
Richard Piper, the CEO of Alcohol Change UK, says that’s what it’s all about.
“The objective of Dry January is not long-term sobriety — it’s long-term control. It’s about understanding your subconscious triggers, overcoming those, and learning how good it is to not drink,” he says. “It gives you the power of choice for the rest of the year.”
Karen Farris, an op-ed contributor to The Christian Post, says Christians especially need to exercise that power.
“Making important decisions? Alcohol impairs that. Are you raising a family? Your kids are mimicking what you do,” Farris wrote in a column promoting Dry January. “Worse, if non-Christians see us using or abusing alcohol and acting in ways that are harmful, we are greatly hurting our witness for Christ. We are also neglecting our call to serve God.”
Perhaps pastor and author Max Lucado said it best with regards to the benefits of abstinence: “One thing for sure, I have never heard anyone say, ‘A beer makes me feel more Christlike…’ Fact of the matter is this: People don’t associate beer with Christian behavior.”
The Rev. Creech said believers should remember the importance of being an example to their families.
“All families — non-Christian and Christian — are vulnerable to addiction to alcohol,” he said. “And setting the right example is crucial, especially since teen alcohol use is once again on the rise.”
Results of the 2022 Monitoring the Future survey showed that alcohol use among teens, which had dipped during the worst of the Covid pandemic, has already rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, the percentage of high school seniors who said they used alcohol in the past year went up from 47% to 52%.
While teens are drinking more, the good news is that Millennials and Gen-Zers seem to be drinking less than Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers did at their age, and the “Sober Curious” movement, which takes its name from Ruby Warrington’s “bold guide to choosing to live hangover-free,” seems to be gaining momentum.
Also, abstainers have more beverage choices than ever before as sober bars and shops have opened, offering non-alcoholic beers, wines and more.
“There’s a revolution coming, and even if it only accounts for 20 or 30% of global drinks across beer, wine and spirits in the next two decades, that could be a half trillion-dollar market,” says Dan Gasper, founder of The Ardent Company in Los Angeles, in reference to non-alcoholic drinks.
The latest data from the IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record) Drinks Market Analysis forecasts 25.4% growth in non-alcoholic offerings in the U.S. through 2026 and 5.9% growth in the low-alcohol segment during the same period.
“With so many non-alcoholic drinks now on the market, going sober for the month (or just tonight, next week, or even for good) is no longer a struggle through deprivation—but rather an occasion for discovery,” says Oprah Magazine. “The latest zero-proof creations are thoughtful, complex, funky, herby, fruity, and thoroughly grown-up.”
Jaclyn London, a New York–based registered dietitian, told the magazine that the benefits of taking part in Dry January include “increased energy, more consistent sleep, better hydration, and clearer skin, thanks to improved wound healing and antioxidant metabolism.”
Experts say it can also shine a light on the need for change.
“Taking time away from drinking even for just a few weeks, gives you a fresh perspective and the opportunity to break bad habits you may have with alcohol,” says Dr. Keith Heinzerling, an addiction medicine specialist at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California.
Ready to join Dry January? Here are some tips from The Washington Post that might help.
- Sign up on the Alcohol Change UK website and download the free Try Dry app on your smartphone.
- Find a new favorite drink. Choosing a nonalcoholic one you enjoy can help you eliminate mindless drinking.
- Manage your triggers. Instead of meeting a friend at a bar after work, suggest a walk in the park or other alternate activity that you don’t associate with drinking.
- Track how much money you save. The Try Dry app can motivate you by tracking all the money you didn’t spend on drinks.
- Try the Dry(ish) January challenge. If you feel going completely sober for the month is out of reach, set a more attainable goal by using Sunnyside, a mindful drinking program.