'Drynuary' Is the Worst (but I'm Doing It Anyway)

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Dry January, or Drynuary (or #drynuary, if you're parading it on Twitter), is pretty much the worst. And yet? Year after year after year, people willingly -- even gleefully! -- participate in the ritualized abstention from alcohol for the first month of the calendar year.

I'm one of them. And I love it. Here's why, along with answers to the questions that everyone asks to help you along the way, should you decide that this is the year you're going to participate in this folly.

WHY would you do this to yourself?!

The most important thing to know about Drynuary is that it's a choice. No one is making anyone do anything; it's an entirely opt-in venture. Given that, why would anyone choose not to drink, especially during the first month of the year, which is long, and (depending on where you live) cold, and distinctly lacking in daylight, and offers a lot of televised sporting events to enjoy while drinking many beers?

The reasons are different for everyone, but some common threads are that it's a challenge, and successfully completing a challenge is a good way to start a new year off on the right foot. There's a bit of spirituality to it for some people, akin to a Lenten fast. For many people, a month without booze has a clarifying effect that can help to offset some of the emotional haze that can occur during the holidays.

Don't forget about the Smug Factor

In my case, much of the above drives my love of Drynuary, but the biggest thing I get out of it is the feeling of a post-holiday cleanse. I don't love the holidays! I endure the holidays -- I find them stressful and tiring and incredibly overwhelming, and far too often my instinct is to reach for a homemade cookie someone has offered, or to have that extra glass of wine. By the time New Year's Eve rolls around I feel sick, groggy, and bloated, and desperately crave a carrot that hasn't been drowned in butter and sugar. Drynuary reverses all of that.

There's one more thing, and at the risk of sounding overly virtuous I have to tell you that it's not really my thing, but it is a BIG thing for many, many people: the Smug Factor. It's exactly what it sounds like, and hey, if feeling superior to your pals is a thing you get off on, consider Drynuary, because hoo boy, can people ever get smug about not drinking for a few weeks.

Flickr/Office of Public Affairs

Why January? Why not February, since it's shorter?

By all means, if you'd like to take a stab at a dry month and February (or July, or March) is a better choice for you, go for it. But that's not Drynuary. It's Drybruary (or Dry July, or Parch).

Can I drink O'Doul's? Can I cook with booze? Can I smoke weed?

No. Yes. It depends.

I've been doing Drynuary for years now, and in what I believe was my third year I put the question of O'Doul's to a committee vote. Even the noted alcoholic in the bunch vetoed it, so them's the rules: no non-alcoholic beer. If you want something bottled, go for an old-timey Coke bottle, or one of those fancy root beers that come in those fancy bottles. Skip the O'Doul's.

Cooking with booze is fine, provided that it's actually being cooked off. So, adding red wine to red sauce is cool, soaking a chocolate cake in whiskey is not. And you definitely can't have a beer while making chili, come on, that's a whole other kind of cooking with booze! I know your tricks. I've tried them all myself at one point or another.

The question of whether or not weed, or other mind-altering substances, is allowed is a trickier one and should be one you answer for yourself. Generally speaking, you don't want to replace drinking with smoking if that's not a thing you regularly do. But if you have a regular habit and don't want to ditch it along with the drink, that's A-OK.

Flickr/Soon Koon

Tell me more about these tricks

We already talked about tricks to avoid -- don't sneak booze, skip O'Doul's. But there are some things you should do to help make your dry month less, well, dry. The first is to embrace mocktails! Mocktails are a great way to get in touch with your inner mixologist, and you're likely to find some new ingredients or techniques that you can incorporate into your cocktail-making repertoire come February. It's also fine to drink ginger ale out of a Champagne flute! Just, you know, don't go around saying the word "mocktail" too frequently, for everyone's sake. 

You're also likely to find yourself with a lot of extra time on your hands, time that otherwise would have been spent in a bar with friends or sleeping off a wicked hangover. That extra time sounds great, but in reality can often translate to boredom. You should be prepared for that by coming up with a list of activities you enjoy, but maybe don't make enough time for. You can also use the time to take care of things you don't enjoy, like regrouting the bathtub, but know you need to do. Why not? What else do you have to do?

But truly, the best trick I can tell you is to have a pal, or a group of pals, who are in it with you. This year, I have a backchannel of fellow abstainers and it's been a ton of fun to laugh and commiserate. 

If it's so hard that you need someone to commiserate with, doesn't that mean you have a problem? 

Not necessarily, but possibly. The majority of people who partake in not partaking will find it challenging at some point -- a bad day can make us want to reach for a glass of wine, meeting friends at a bar and sticking to soda can feel like a drag, and skipping the post-wiffleball beers seems wrong, somehow. That doesn't mean you have a problem, it means you have a habit that you're curbing, and curbing any habit can be tough. 

With that said, if you find yourself truly struggling to just say no, it's a good idea to seek some help. Speak with a trusted friend or family member, seek out a counselor, or consider talking to your doctor. It's not overly common for people to discover a deeper problem with drinking during a month off, but it does happen and you should be aware of that going in.

Flickr/Terry Chay

Speaking of the doctor, is this medically sound?

It sure is! In November 2013, a group of 10 New Scientist staffers volunteered their bodies to science, agreeing to submit to a battery of tests before and after abstaining from alcohol consumption for a month. While long-term studies on the effects of skipping booze are few and far between, the results from short-term abstinence were clearly positive. Here's a sampling of the results:

  • "Liver fat fell on average by 15 percent, and by almost 20 percent in some individuals."
  • "The blood glucose levels of the abstainers dropped by 16 percent on average."
  • "Total blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease, dropped by almost 5 percent."
  • "Ratings of sleep quality on a scale from 1 to 5 rose by just over 10 percent, improving from 3.9 to 4.3."
  • "Ratings of how well we could concentrate soared 18 percent from 3.8 to 4.5."

The only drawback? "The only negative was that people reported less social contact." But hey, that might be welcome news to the introverts among us!

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Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist who has lost count of how many years she's observed Drynuary. Follow her: @joliekerr.