Addiction & Recovery

Dry January—A Useful Trend or a Wake-Up Call?


Over the past few years, “dry January” has become a popular way to recognize the beginning of a new year. We talked to Amy Schultz, Sheppard Pratt addictions specialist and community liaison, about the benefits of participating and how to pivot from a trend to a lifestyle change.

Relieving social stigma

Trends like dry January and “sober curiosity” introduce the idea of being sober in popular culture. Early on in their sobriety, a lot of people experience social pressure to drink. Putting a trendy title to it can take away the judgement people may otherwise feel for choosing to abstain, Amy says.

Ask yourself why

If you feel compelled to take part in dry January, do it! But also, consider why you’re interested in a “clean slate” in the first place. Perhaps you have noticed some negative circumstances or consequences of your drinking. Dry January can be a great opportunity to see if your life—your health, your productivity, your habits, or relationships—improve when you get sober. Reflecting on a month of not drinking, Amy says, gives you an opportunity to see what ways alcohol is affecting your life.

Reflection is key!

While dry January is a ready-made opportunity to reflect—you can reflect on your drinking any time. What does alcohol bring to your life? At Sheppard Pratt, we take a harm reduction approach to substance use. This means that rather than preaching abstinence only when it comes to substance use, we try to help you reach a place where your substance use has no negative consequences on your life. For some people, that means total sobriety. For others, it may not. 

Dry January, like any harm reduction technique, provides you with an opportunity to think more clearly. Perhaps you have more energy, get more done, or avoid behaviors you later regret. Evaluate the positive effects you’ve experienced this month. Make a pro/con list. Self-reflection can help you take lessons learned from a trend and convert them into healthier long-term habits.

Reduce the risk of relapse

Making a sacrifice can sometimes present us with a feeling like we’ve “earned” a reward on the other side. Will dry January provoke binge drinking come February 1? The “reward” mentality can be a slippery slope, Amy says. If you can use what you’ve learned to create new, moderated habits, more power to you. But if giving yourself permission to drink again leads to overindulgence, it might be time to consider whether you have a problem with substance use. Take this screening quiz for alcohol use disorder. Seek support from a local AA group or other group within the recovery community. Identify whether you are drinking to avoid a deeper problem. If you think that is a possibility, seek mental health support as well. 

In short, if you want to cut down, make a plan—whether it’s January or July. If you can’t stick to that plan, or you quickly return to your old habits, revisit your why, and get external support.

Resolving to change

“Sober curious;” “no-drink November;” there are a number of popular ways to talk about changing your substance use habits. And participating in these trends can be a positive experience. They can all provide us with a valuable chance to reflect on the benefits and consequences of the way we live our lives. But if you've struggled with addiction, you may need more than a temporary pause. Be vigilant and be open to the observations of loved ones. Clinical therapy can also be an important part of getting to the root of your usage.