By Kristen Troy
Across today’s media outlets and platforms, we are exposed to so much content about alcohol. TV shows and movies are set in bars or include characters constantly with a drink in hand. Song lyrics go on about beer or drinking to feel better. Friends, family, or co-workers tell us, “I could use a drink” after a stressful interaction. Staff at restaurants even ask if you’d like anything from the drink menu in addition to your non-alcoholic choice. Alcoholic beverages like beer or wine are portrayed as the go-to drinks for adults at home or at the bar. But, while it is acceptable to drink in moderation with a meal or when you are out with friends, it isn’t something we need to be doing all the time. In fact, many people are finding that they are happy to go alcohol-free.
In 2013, Alcohol Change UK kicked off the first Dry January campaign to challenge the UK community to a single alcohol-free month. The challenge was started by the non-profit to raise money for alcohol abuse and treatment and has grown into an annual campaign that challenges millions of individuals in Europe and the United States! The Alcohol Change UK Dry January challenge added an app in 2016 for users to help motivate themselves to stick to the feat. In 2019, the Try Dry app was updated, allowing users to track their drinking and stay motivated all year!
Your drink-free month doesn’t have to fall in Dry January (or Dry July, or Sober October, or No Drink November), and you may choose to do an alcohol-free month for any number of reasons beyond your relationship with alcohol. For example, you might be trying to save money to make a big purchase or grow your savings. Here are a few other reasons you may want to try dry.
The American Cancer Association for alcohol consumption recommends no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men. A standard drink is classified as, “12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.”
1. Health Benefits
Consuming alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of cancers of the head, neck, esophagus, liver, breasts, colon, and rectum. Decreasing or completely eliminating your alcohol intake can decrease your risk of cancer, liver issues, and cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and reduce cholesterol. In addition to reducing the risk of major health issues, you’ll also be consuming fewer empty calories. The number of unhealthy snacks that you would normally indulge in during or after drinking will likely decrease, too.
2. Fitness Benefits
Many people go into the new year with significant goals to lose weight, train for an event, set physique goals, or beat a personal best lift. These goals are all possible, and you could get to them sooner by kicking off the year alcohol-free or taking part in an alcohol-free month during the year. Alcoholic drinks are filled with empty calories that aren’t helping you meet your nutrition goals. By replacing these empty calories with nutrient-rich choices, your body will thank you! Because alcohol acts as a diuretic, removing it will also help you stay more hydrated, which will help you perform better in your workouts and as you recover.
3. Sleep Benefits
Often we think we will sleep easier after having a few drinks because they tend to make us tired. However, we don’t account for the number of times we may get up during the night (remember, alcohol makes for more bathroom trips). Even if you can sleep through the night after having a drink or two, you are less likely to wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested. The journal of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research states that moderate to high amounts of alcohol have been shown to decrease restorative REM sleep. By giving up drinking for a month or more, you could improve your sleep quality and feel more energized in your day-to-day activities.
4. Skin Benefits
Removing alcohol intake can benefit your skin’s appearance. For example, alcohol can cause your skin to look puffy and red, so cutting it could reduce puffiness and give you a more even skin tone. Your skin may also appear more hydrated, brighter, and have fewer breakouts.
5. Financial Benefits
Did you know that, on average, 1% of yearly income is spent on alcohol? Just think about a weekly or monthly trip to the liquor/wine store. One bottle of wine ranges from $10 to $40, or more than $40 if you are looking for a specific year or vintage bottle. So let’s say one bottle lasts you a week, at an average of $25 per bottle, that could be $100 each month going towards just your wine intake and around $1,300 a year!
Maybe you enjoy cocktails when you are out with friends. You’ll likely pay between $10-15 for each glass you get, and that can add up! If you go out once a week and get two drinks, that’s around $30 a week, $120 a month, and up to $1,560 a year! That doesn’t even include what you would likely spend on meals or snacks to accompany your drinks.
6. Long-Term Benefits
Eliminating alcohol for a month is a great challenge to take on, and doing so could even lead to long-term benefits. The University of Sussex found that more than 70% of people who took part in the Alcohol Change UK’s challenge are still drinking more healthily six months after Dry January. This means taking 31 days off could help you have a healthier long-term relationship with alcohol. You may find other beverages to enjoy, experience improved functioning of your body and mind, and learn to navigate social situations without leaning on liquid courage. And when those 31 days are up, you may find that you want to keep feeling those effects. This is not to say you can’t ever have a drink again; it just means you may choose not to drink as much or as frequently.
Will You Take the Challenge?
With all the benefits you could have from trying a dry month, why not try? It may seem daunting because you won’t have your go-to evening drink, or you’ll have to think about what you’ll do at a wedding or party. Still, there are always alternatives to alcoholic beverages! You can always get a mocktail or have a flavored club soda or seltzer. Many bars even carry alcohol-free beers!
It also helps to track each day that you’ve gone alcohol-free. This can be done on a paper calendar, calendar app, or an app specifically made to track the number of days without a drink. In addition, journaling or recording how you feel each day can help you reflect on and change your relationship with alcohol. Write down moments you are thinking about drinking and why that may be, whether you are feeling more rested and meeting your other goals, and what new, beautiful mocktails and drinks you are trying. By documenting your thoughts and feelings about why you wanted to take on this challenge, you’ll better gauge how it can be beneficial long term. Good luck on your journey to think outside the bottle!
by Gina Luck
I think there are three keys to making a mocktail versus serving juice without alcohol. A flavored and spiced simple syrup, a beautiful glass, and the garnish. Tonic and lime is ok, but when you splash in some fresh rosemary syrup, drop in one beautiful flower of star anise, and serve in an etched highball glass, you are on a whole different level.
Just because you are abstaining from alcohol does not mean you want to be left out of the fun. The mocktails you serve should have just as much time and attention as anything else you are serving. My family has a mix of drinkers and non-drinkers so all my cocktails can do double duty. This Thanksgiving, I served a Spiced Pear Fizz. I put a big pitcher of spiced pear juice in the center surrounded by crystal flute glasses. On the left, a bottle of champagne, on the right, sparkling water. Then let everyone choose their own fizz before garnishing with slivers of fresh pear dusted with sparkling sugar.