Dry January is exactly what it sounds like: a month-long exercise in complete alcohol abstinence. It was first dreamt up in the UK in 2012 by the charity Alcohol Change UK. It has since gained traction internationally — you’ve already read about it in The Wall Street Journal, Good Housekeeping, Bon Appétit, or even on CNBC — and you probably know at least one person who has decided to swear off the sauce this year, at least until February 1 rolls around. Like moths to a flame, resolution-makers and armchair wellness experts flock to such a simple, seemingly rational idea. And now it is time for all those people to stop droning on about it.
It is not difficult to see the appeal of drinking less. In 2016, a national survey found 65.3 million Americans aged 12 and up who “reported binge alcohol use in the past month and 16.3 million who reported heavy alcohol use in the past month,” although it’s also worth mentioning that the case has been made that if you feel the need to dedicate a month to avoiding alcohol, you may want to reevaluate your relationship to drinking in general. Dry January as a corrective to serious alcohol abuse is one thing; the problem here is Dry January as a casual social phenomenon.
For many of the people who swear off booze this month, Dry January isn’t about lifestyle change; it’s just something to do. After all, the science is clear that it won’t actually offer any long-term benefits if you just go back to drinking again in February. Instead, it’s a (minor) test of willpower that helps demonstrate to the world that you are a person who can live a life that is at least moderately healthy for four weeks at a time. For these people, Dry January isn’t about real behavioral correction; it’s about optics. (Just witness the 122,000 posts tagged with #DryJanuary on Instagram, and the hundreds of people tweeting about it right now. These people want the world to know: They can quit any time they want … as long as they know they can drink again in a month.)
And, look: If you want to give yourself a little test to see if you can make it through 31 days without a drink, that’s great! Grub Street really wishes you the best of luck! But please do not act as if this is some amazing feat of moral superiority. You are doing something that the roughly one-third of American adults who choose to never drink already do every single day. You are doing something that pregnant women have to do for at least nine months, while also growing humans inside their own bodies. Bragging about 31 days of teetotaling is like boasting about four weeks of guitar lessons: It’s just a start!
At least Movember — another month-long exercise in performative behavior change — has a charitable aspect. (And also lots of mustaches, if you’re into that.) The only person you help when you don’t drink is yourself, which, again, is great, but also not a big deal. So go ahead and don’t have a drink this January; just don’t expect a pat on the back for it.