With 6.5 million of us having launched Dry January in 2021, Sophie Tindal investigates a new trend of sober curiosity…
How to Keep Your January Momentum Dry
The new teetotal: how and why I opted for sobriety
It was my face that betrayed the game: dull complexion; dark circles under eyes ; an oft-tuned front on Zoom meetings trying to coax my confused brain into action. I knew a regular drip of lockdown wine was the culprit so in January 2021 when the New Years champagne had gone flat I reluctantly swore to take a month off in a bid to reclaim jurisdiction over my skin and my energy levels. What I hadn’t foreseen was that dry January would turn into dry February, dry February into dry March, and that after three months without a drop of chardonnay passing my lips, my point of view on alcohol would change so drastically. Since then, I drink (mostly) elderflower juice.
I’m not alone: The lockdown has seen 6% of the UK’s drinking population – the equivalent of around four million people – change their habits and stop drinking. Meanwhile, the Nolo market (non- and low-alcohol) saw a 30% increase in sales. According to a 2019 survey, more than one in two millennials (nicknamed “soberennials”) consider themselves “conscious drinkers.” With this evolved new terminology of abstinence in relation to alcohol consumption, such as “sober curiosity”, “mindful drinking”, and “sober-ish”. With an estimated 6.5 million of us embarking on Dry January last year, I turned to the experts to find out why rewiring your eating habits is the most effective health hack of 2022.
Dry January: the best non-alcoholic bars in London
SCIENCE versus ALCOHOL
Let’s get the science out of the way first – it won’t be surprising that alcohol isn’t an elixir of youth. As well as being in the same carcinogenic classification as cigarettes, it’s a known contributor to seven different types of cancer and a 2012 BMJ study showed that even moderate consumption can shrink the hippocampus region of your brain associated with memory and learning. Research in 2017 also suggests drinking prematurely ages your cells (sorry – that £80 retinol serum can’t save you here). The good news is that the body is wonderfully elastic, and most brain, liver, and skin damage caused by alcohol begins to reverse within weeks of abstinence.
Like me, it was at the age of 30 that the author and publisher Dean of Rosamund discovered that hangovers were taking their toll. “I looked and felt more lethargic,” she explains, “and wanted to cut back without giving up completely, because I enjoy the odd glass of wine or the celebratory bubbly.”
After changing her habits, she wrote her book Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life as a guide to reigniting your relationship with alcohol. In it, she recommends taking an initial 28-day break after drinking alcohol to cleanse the bridges. “Dry January is great because like being pregnant, it’s a very simple excuse.” From there, Rosamund says to identify the triggers that cause you to have a drink (social anxiety, lethargy, and stress are unsurprisingly common culprits) and come up with a plan to reenter the world of drinking according to your own terms.
“The thing to understand is that drinking less doesn’t just happen,” she explains, “because it’s so habitual that you can very easily fall back into your old habits. You have to make a decision consciously and back it up with a plan.
She now sticks to the ‘rule of three’ – no more than three nights a week drinking and no more than three drinks at a time – but she believes there are no hard and fast rules. “It’s something that’s totally unique to everyone, so the job is to find what works best for you.”
When it comes to the positive impact mindful drinking has had on his own life, Dean is adamant that creating boundaries has had a transformative effect on his own life. “Now I try to drink only when I’m in a good mood, and for positive reasons. If I drink, it’s never to get drunk or drown my sorrows.
“I’m curious (after trudging through many diet cokes in the pub) what non-alcoholic options she looks for when hanging out with friends or looking to scratch that 6 p.m. itch for a pinot grigio. “I love kombucha,” she suggests, “because it’s fermented, it’s also good for your gut.” Luckily, there are now plenty of fancy non-alcoholic options available. I also like shrubs [a non-alcoholic spirit made with cider vinegar and botanical syrup].’
ALCOHOL vs ENVIRONMENT
So: radiant feeling of well-being? To verify. Radiant complexion without an aesthetic doctor’s bill? To verify. But reducing alcohol consumption is also a surprising victory when it comes to sustainability. An average glass of wine once or twice a week for a year wastes 1,077 liters of water and enough energy to heat a UK home for three days. Beer is even worse: one or two bottles a week will create more than twice the greenhouse gases of wine, gobbling up the same energy as heating a house for eight days or driving a car 133 miles.
When Samantha Moyo quit drinking, thinking more mindfully about taking care of herself and the environment came naturally. “I have become much more aware of the planet,” she tells me. “I started taking better care of myself, I wanted to take action, I even started picking up litter on my street,” she adds. At the same time – seeing a gap in the market for a sober festival – she launched Morning Gloryville, the UK’s first sober rave which, since its inception in 2013, has grown to be present in 23 cities around the world , with 200,000 followers. . Through the Morning Gloryville community, Samantha has also begun to encourage random acts of kindness and credits this sense of collective purpose with giving her more energy of a global movement.
She went on to found a creative expansion coaching business, where she reflects that many of her clients wanted to change their relationship with alcohol (“Many were sobering up or quitting meds or going through a transition , it’s often the precursor to starting a project,’) and now runs a sex-positive brand called Roam.However, she thinks the pandemic has been a “very stressful time” (48% of Britons have reported drinking more during the lockdown in 2020 and there was a 19.6% increase in alcohol-related deaths.) An invaluable part of being centered for Samantha was reconnecting with nature by going for walks and tree climbing, as well as painting and poetry.
ALCOHOL vs. WELLNESS
Strangely, I found it easy to quit drinking during lockdown — no after-work drinks, no parties with swirling trays of champagne. As an introvert pretending to be an extrovert (meaning I look sociable, but exhale quickly with no time to recharge my batteries), I know I’m much more likely to slip when I’m at a party than alone at home with a book.
Behind a shiny Harley Street door, Malminder Gill teaches clients how to drink more mindfully through hypnotherapy. Interestingly, she tells me, the majority of her clients are women in their 30s and 50s who “control every other area of their lives.” They’ll wake up, go to the gym or a Pilates class and eat just fine – it’s just their mid-week drinking that’s not under control.
To avoid my usual knee-jerk reaction of grabbing a glass of champagne at a party, Malminder teaches me to “don’t forget to eat, and if you do drink, alternate each glass with a glass of water.” And when you’re home alone? “Make a real effort to find alternative activities in the evening,” she says — which can range from cooking to getting off the yoga mat.
It’s a sad reality though, that for many, mindful drinking just isn’t an option. Alcohol is phenomenally addictive, and if you’re having trouble getting your habits under control, Malminder says, it’s time to think about getting help. “Sometimes mindfulness just doesn’t stick,” she told herself, “in those cases, therapy can really help get to the root of the problem.”
All in all, if your reward at the end of a hard day is a glass of pinot noir, the bad news is there’s no shortcut. Breaking up with alcohol is hard work. But many more of us realize that reassessing our relationship with alcohol should be as much an essential part of our wellness routine as exercise, hydration, and healthy eating. And the market for Nolo drinks is intensifying – with so many other delicious non-alcoholic alternatives on offer, who needs a G&T anyway? Whatever dry January has in store for you, I hope I have given you food for thought. I’ll raise a glass (zero percent ABV prosecco from Oddbird) to that.