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caption: The "Lightning Bug" at Herb & Bitter - A non-alcoholic beverage, made with spiritless tequila and Sanbitter soda, rather than Mezcal and Campari
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The "Lightning Bug" at Herb & Bitter - A non-alcoholic beverage, made with spiritless tequila and Sanbitter soda, rather than Mezcal and Campari
Credit: Jason M Burrows for KUOW

Starting 2023 off alcohol-free with 'Dry January'

By
With Special Guests
  • Dr. Katherine Walukevich-Dienst, Ph.D.
  • Mitchell Taylor

We're in the second week of a new year, and it's time to check in on all those New Year's resolutions. For many people, giving up alcohol is at the top of the list.

Soundside producer Jason Burrows is one of the folks opting for a "Dry January."

It’s a tradition that has grown in popularity over the past 10 years. In January 2022, it was estimated that nearly 35% of drinking age Americans chose to abstain from alcohol. This year, those numbers are expected to grow even higher.

"My roommate and I started talking about doing Dry January in early December," Burrows explained. "Like so many others in the United States, our drinking really increased during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, so when she mentioned going dry for the month I decided to join, both as a way to support her and to help myself reset a little."

In researching Dry January, we discovered a 2010 article in the Seattle Times by Nicole Brodeur, in which she talks about a friend who had been participating in "Dry January" for six or seven years. Brodeur also referenced a single "Dry January" Facebook group with 39 members. Today, there are over 80 such groups, each with anywhere from a dozen to a few thousand members seeking support.

In the United Kingdom, the movement really took off in 2013, when Alcohol Change UK launched a nationwide program. In 2022, over 8 million adults participated in Dry January in the United Kingdom, and even more here in the United States.

Soundside reached out to the University of Washington's Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors, and talked to Dr. Katherine Walukevich-Dienst. She’s a clinical psychologist and second year postdoctoral fellow at UW, where she researches adult alcohol and cannabis use.

She said the benefits of abstaining from alcohol for a month include everything from sleeping better to saving money.

"They can help you have more energy. People reported noticing that their concentration improved. And so even in the short-term, just going alcohol free for a month can really have some profound benefits on your health and well being," Walukevich-Dienst explained. "And these benefits are even noticed among people who don't meet the full 30 days."

But even when you know something is good for you, it can be really hard to stick to it. There is also a lot of societal pressure to drink, since it has become a bit of a ritual in many walks of life. Walukevich-Dienst said the stigma behind choosing not to drink is also a big factor to keep in mind.

"Especially in the United States, it's always a question of why," she said. "Which is why I find programs like Dry January really wonderful, because it gives people an option to try that out — potentially with less of the stigma that comes from choosing not to drink in general."

Walukevich-Dienst added that if you slip up, that's OK.

"You can always try again the next day. In the substance use field more broadly, we say, 'A lapse doesn't have to be a Relapse.' It's always an option to try again."

Having a support system is also important. That could be a friend joining you in abstaining from alcohol for the month, or a more official form of support, like WARecoveryHelpline.org, which offers assistance with alcohol, tobacco, drinking, or other general mental health issues.

Walukevich-Dienst also pointed to CheckInWA.org — an anonymous program developed by the University of Washington to help people check in on how they are doing with many aspects of mental health.

In addition to the clinical organizations supporting people through an alcohol-free January, bars and restaurants around the country are jumping in, too.

Many establishments have introduced Dry January specials, as well as non-alcoholic staples to serve customers year-round who have chosen long-term sobriety.

caption: The "Spirited Away" at Herb & Bitter- A non-alcoholic version of a "Mai Tai," made with Pathfinder NA Amaro.
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The "Spirited Away" at Herb & Bitter- A non-alcoholic version of a "Mai Tai," made with Pathfinder NA Amaro.
Credit: Jason M. Burrows / KUOW Photo


One of those places is Herb and Bitter Public House on Capitol Hill. Bar manager Mitchell Taylor talked to Soundside about their philosophy behind spirit-free drinks.

"I think for a number of different reasons, the main one just being like inclusivity, and everything," Taylor said. "Also, sobriety is definitely a growing thing — not [only] amongst patrons, but even amongst bartenders and servers."

Taylor said staff is trying to make their spirit-less drinks as "authentic" looking as possible, so customers don’t feel like they’re missing out.

"We put them in the same type of glassware, we give them the same intentionality with garnishing and balance," he explained. "Set side-by-side with a normal alcoholic cocktail, you wouldn't know the difference visually."

Taylor also noted that since Herb and Bitter launched their non-alcoholic menu in April 2022, those drinks have been well-received and are served every day.

Editor Julianne Bell at The Stranger compiled a list of other places in the Seattle area participating in Dry January, and you can check that out here.

Here at Soundside, we’d like to know if you are participating in Dry January.

Have you experienced any pushback from your friends? Are you enjoying the financial benefits of forgoing cocktails when you go out? What is your experience like? Let us know by emailing a voice memo to soundside@kuow.org, or you can leave us a voicemail at 206-221-3213.

You can listen to the entire conversation by clicking the audio above.

We would love to hear your feedback on our reporting