So you knocked back one too many spiked eggnogs and mulled apple ciders during all the merrymaking (AKA holidays), and when January 1 rolled around, you committed to Dry January—a popular yearly tradition alongside the common resolutions to work out more or lose weight—and swore you wouldn’t touch alcohol for the next 31 days. Sure, going cold turkey may sound like a good idea in theory, but when those post-holiday blues set in, taking a whole month off from drinking alcohol can feel unrealistic. And, IMO, any restrictive, quick-fix trend—be it a diet, detox, or cleanse—raises a red flag and sets off the alarms in my head.
If you’ve decided to say “no” to jumping on the Dry January train and holding the booze for the entire month, you’ve come to the right place. Give these healthy approaches to drinking a shot (pun intended) this January and beyond. Whether you’re sober curious, wanting to cut back on imbibing for good, or considering taking a mindful break, read on for simple and sustainable alternatives to Dry January.
1. Try Damp January
Consider Damp January Dry January’s more moderate, laid-back cousin. Rather than nixing alcohol completely, the idea behind Damp January is to drink in moderation and find a healthy balance throughout the month. It takes away the pressure, not to mention the feeling of being deprived, and allows you to enjoy the occasional Taco Tuesday margarita while making you less likely to engage in mindless drinking. Instead, you’re able to take a step back, reflect on what role alcohol plays in your life, and reevaluate your relationship with it. Translation: If you want a glass of wine, have it because you’re making choices based on what makes you feel good now (and later), rather than out of habit. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
If Damp January is much more up your alley, the best part is you set the ground rules. That may look like keeping your daily count to one, recruiting an accountability partner, finding resources to help you reduce your alcohol intake, like a podcast or app, or changing up the way you socialize (more to come on that). However you partake in Damp January, it can help you hit “reset” on your drinking habits.
2. Set boundaries before drinking
Sometimes we just need to create some boundaries around a habit we want to change in order to see it through, and drinking alcohol is no exception. Before the week begins, determine the days you’ll imbibe. Perhaps you’ve decided Winesday Wednesday and Saturday-night mocktails it is. Will you set a drinking limit? No more than two nightcaps per night? Like with setting any goal, start small and be realistic, and once you achieve it, you can reach higher. And whatever you decide, commit to drinking one glass of water per alcoholic bevvie to offset its dehydrating effects.
You may notice only having drinks on the designated days will bring more awareness to your drinking patterns. Do you look to that cocktail to help you get through uncomfortable social engagements or that glass of Pinot to unwind after a long, stressful work day? Are you ordering that next round of drinks or topping off your glass of wine out of enjoyment or simply because it’s the thing to do? Also take note of how you feel mentally and physically after the days you drink versus when you abstain from drinking. Do you find yourself tossing and turning after a night of drinking and more clear-headed and energetic the morning after skipping the wine? Bottom line: Being more mindful when you drink and recognizing your inclination to drink will give you the upper hand in making healthier choices for you. And when you have guidelines to follow, you’ll set yourself up for success.
3. Stick to certain types of alcohol
It goes without saying that not all alcohol is created equal. There are less-than-healthy libations, and then there are the notoriously mixed drinks high in sugar that leave you with much to be desired (hello, sugar-induced coma, crappy sleep, and hangover). Instead, reach for a single, clear alcohol, like vodka and tequila, as opposed to dark liquor (think: rum, whiskey, and rye), which has a higher sugar content and will likely lead to more dehydration and worst hangover symptoms. Mix with kombucha for its probiotics perks or sparkling water upgraded with fruits and herbs in a nice glass (because everything seems to taste better and feel fancier in one).
Another tried-and-true alternative to sugar-laden cocktails? Opt for organic red wine that’s free of preservatives, added sugars, and pesticides. Not only does it promote moderate drinking because you’re more likely to take your time enjoying it, but it also contains heart-healthy antioxidants. You can also try DIYing wine spritzers (mixing wine with sparkling water) and mulled wines. Wine spritzers deliver a one-two punch by lowering the alcohol content while adding the hydration factor, and mulled wines serve up additional health benefits with its spices.
4. Occasionally switch to non-alcoholic alternatives
Thanks to a major shift in drinking culture in which booze-free refreshments reign supreme and can be found at practically any food or beverage establishment, there’s a non-alcoholic substitute for whatever your drink of choice may be. From bubbly and spirits to beer and wine, take your pick of alcohol-free drinks that pack in flavor sans the dreaded hangover, not to mention the other undesirable side effects of alcohol, added sugars, and artificial flavors (you know, sleep disruption, mood swings, hangxiety…). If you still want some alcohol, but only care to keep drinking for the taste or experience, try one alcoholic drink and then switch to a booze-free alternative.
Mixed drinks meant to mimic the presentation and taste of craft cocktails without the alcohol are having a moment, and for good reason. They’re as sophisticated and tasty as the next adult bevvie with endless recipes that you can enjoy at home (time to restock the bar cart!) or in any social setting. Trust me—you won’t even miss the alcohol. Going dry doesn’t stop there. If you’re into superfoods and supplements, you might want to check out functional beverages that infuse non-alcoholic alternatives with ingredients like adaptogens, amino acids, plants, and CBD. The main takeaway? Saying “Bottoms up!” with booze-less varieties has never felt or tasted better.
5. Plan more alcohol-free activities
It goes without saying that there are certain pastimes that are centered around booze and where you’re more likely to let your hair down than others. Case in point: happy hour, sporting events, parties. So when your BFFs want to hit up The Tipsy Cow or have a GNO, try suggesting an alternative activity that doesn’t involve drinking alcohol, such as a spa day, going for a hike, or acting like tourists and checking out the local attractions.
Additionally, remember that glass of wine you lean on to relax after a rough day? Find other ways to take a breather. Whether that looks like sweating it out in a Pilates class, picking up a new hobby, or finally diving into that book you’ve been meaning to get to, choose a form of recreation that’ll occupy your time and take your mind off of sipping on an alcoholic beverage. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to stick with your new healthy drinking habits when you swap out the vino for another activity you consider a treat. Bonus points? You may end up saving some cash while you’re at it.
While this article addresses emotional dependencies and behaviors related to alcohol, it is not meant to help treat addiction. If you are struggling with substance abuse, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for assistance.