Dry January invites folks to ditch the booze in favor of non-alcoholic alternatives

Breaking a habit is hard and whether you’re looking to switch to a teetotaler lifestyle or are just sober-curious, the Dry January movement is when many people jump onto the wagon, even if only as a temporary measure. Given the plethora of alcohol-free options today, there hasn’t been a better time to go dry.

Dry January started as a public campaign in 2014 and has gained momentum globally with people eager to start off the new year by abstaining from alcohol for a month at least, if not longer. Reportedly, some 69 million Americans (20 percent) went “dry” during January in 2019.

The December holidays are generally a time of increased drinking but given the rise in alcohol sales to combat the COVID-19 isolation throughout the year — some conservative estimates peg it at at least a 14% surge in liquor sales in the United States in 2020 — the health effects of drinking alcohol should be sobering enough to prompt one to consider going dry.

According to the American Liver Foundation, the health risks cannot be ignored. Alcohol-related liver disease is common but preventable and caused by heavy consumption of alcohol. The exact definition of heavy consumption can vary but most agree that it’s at least eight drinks a week for women and 15 for men. So, even one nightly glass of wine puts one close to the level where liver damage can occur. The good news is this damage can be reversed through abstinence, if caught early.

Dr. Charles Herrick, Nuvance Health network chair of psychiatry, acknowledges that breaking deeply-ingrained habits, including abstaining from alcohol, can be hard. He recommends not going it alone but by embracing a circle of people who will support you in this goal. “Giving up any kind of habit, whether it’s alcohol or anything else, is always a challenge,” he said. “Our habits are so embedded in the environment in which we operate, they just become second nature and I think COVID is a particular environment that is very supportive of drinking, unfortunately.”

For Bill Shufelt, co-founder of Athletic Brewing Company in Stratford, Connecticut’s only non-alcoholic brewery, the a-ha moment to embrace a dry lifestyle came a few years ago as he was set about making positive life and health changes in advance of marriage. He found alcohol use incompatible with his goals. Cutting alcohol out of his life proved challenging, however, as the dry alternatives available at bars were none too enjoyable. He traded the corporate lifestyle in 2018 to become a craft brewer, making alcohol-free beer that doesn’t compromise taste. He is now part of a booming non-alcoholic craft beer market that despite the pandemic has seen growth of nearly 300 percent year-to-date.

For Dry January, the company has a Dry January Survival Pack featuring five six-packs of some of its signature brews. “What is building momentum for ‘Dry January’ and the movement toward healthier living is that to participate, drinkers don’t have to sacrifice things like great taste or the social aspects associated with drinking,” Shufelt said.

Lauren Timmerman, clinical nutrition manager at Norwalk Hospital, said healthy mocktails instead of alcohol are also trending, especially those using superfoods. “I’m seeing mixers for antioxidants, adaptogens for stress and especially using organic fruit juices,” she said.

She also noted that reducing one’s alcohol intake for a short period can improve an individual’s health.

“Giving up or limiting alcohol even for a month can be beneficial to your health. Alcoholic drinks can easily add extra calories to your daily intake and can also be high in sugar. In addition, alcohol is inflammatory and can negatively affect your body’s sleep cycle, lessening your quality of a good night’s rest,” Timmerman added. “A healthy alternative can be mocktails made with seltzer, fresh fruit, and anti-inflammatory herbs!”

The Academy for Culinary Education recently published an online guide for 20 healthy mocktails that use whole ingredients from natural sweeteners to fermented foods that are said to be so delicious that one won’t miss the alcohol in your fauxito.

Once mocked, non-alcoholic beer and mocktails have come a long way. Today, they not only won’t damage the liver but many boast fresh and natural ingredients that are good for you

“We are taking nonalcoholic beers out of the penalty box, creating new occasions for beer and more importantly opening the eyes of drinkers looking to maximize their performance in every facet of life,” Shufelt said.

Andrea Valluzzo is a freelance writer.