I’m a Dietitian Who Practices Damp January Instead of Dry January. Here’s Why

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As a dietitian, I am well aware of the downsides of consuming too much alcohol. From potentially increasing my risk of heart health concerns1 to possibly making me more likely to develop certain cancers (including liver, breast, and colorectal) to simply running the risk of dancing on a tabletop in public because of lost inhibitions, it is clear that living without alcohol has its benefits. Oh yeah, no hangover is appealing too.

But the reality is that I enjoy an occasional cocktail. I live a healthy lifestyle that checks all of the important boxes, like eating my veggies, exercising regularly, and prioritizing quality sleep. I don’t have a sweet tooth, and I don’t do any drugs. So, if I order an occasional dirty martini (extra dirty, please) or a cozy glass of cab, I don’t think that practice is going to make or break my overall health. It’s all about balance, right?

Over the holiday season, though, my occasional cocktail becomes more frequent, and once January comes around, I find that it is a good time to get back to my old drinking habits (which equates to around three drinks a week). And that is where Damp January comes into play.

Damp January vs. Dry January

Essentially, Dry January (or Dry Jan as the cool kids call it) is a commitment to avoid all alcohol during the first month of the year. This trend was started in 2013 in the UK, to encourage people to consider and discuss their alcohol consumption, and ultimately, to inspire behavior change that includes continuing these sober habits throughout the year. Since the launch, an impressive amount of Americans have jumped on this trend every year—in 2023 about 15 percent of U.S. adults surveyed said they'd start the year sober, according to the American Association of Cancer Research.

Going “damp” helps me find a healthy balance when drinking without going overboard.

Given that alcohol is classified as a toxin by the World Health Organization and also categorized as a group one carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, practicing Dry January can be a positive step for certain people’s health journeys, especially if you find that you regularly consume more than the recommended amount of alcohol, which is generally a maximum of one daily drink for females and as many as two drinks for men, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But for me, Dry January wasn’t a fit. I tried it one year and was unsuccessful after a week when I was out to a sushi dinner with my girlfriends and wanted to enjoy some warm saki with my spicy tuna roll. Once I had that one drink, I was off the Dry January train for the rest of the month. While I wasn’t drinking excessively, I could have benefitted from at least limiting my booze and taking steps to be more mindful about my consumption instead of automatically saying “yes” to a glass of wine when offered. And that is where Damp January can be beneficial.

If “dry” means consuming zero alcohol, then “damp” means having some alcohol, typically less than what a person would usually enjoy. Ideally, that limit would, at the very least, comply with the recommended daily servings of alcoholic drinks.

In January, I give myself a three-drink-per-week limit. That forces me to not get into a habit of having an evening drink every day, but it allows me to have a beer when watching a football game. Going “damp” helps me find a healthy balance when drinking without going overboard. And I find that once January ends, my newfound habit carries over into February, March, and beyond, which isn't always the case for those who practice Dry January.

Study findings published in The Lancet concluded that increased Dry January participation in the UK between 2015–2018 resulted in people having a greater desire to drink even more at other times of the year. Perhaps the total deprivation made the alcohol cravings stronger, just as is the case for some when they declare that they will never eat ice cream again and then they find themselves in front of a tub of Cookies and Creme with little self-control. It’s the “all-or-nothing” approach that comes with Dry January that may not result in long-term positive effects for some people.

Meanwhile, other data published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that practicing Dry January was not associated with significant positive changes2 in drinking habits for the rest of the year.

How I practice Damp January

Damp January extends well into the greater part of the year for me, since the habits I pick up when practicing this trend are so easy to adopt that I keep it going. While there are many ways to practice Damp January, here is how I choose to do it. (For people with a history of disordered eating, it is best to speak with a health-care provider to determine the best way to practice Damp January that meets their unique needs if they choose to explore this practice.) This method won’t work for everyone, but it works for me.

  • I set a limit on how many alcoholic drinks I allow myself to enjoy every week, which tends to be a maximum of three. I note any events on my calendar where I would likely want to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine (like a birthday celebration or a wedding) so I can consider those days as the week progresses.
  • When I feel like I “need” a drink because I'm feeling stressed, I pour 100-percent pomegranate juice into a wine glass and sip it. If I still want a glass of real wine after my juice, I have it. But, nine times out of 10, my wine craving is satisfied. On chillier evenings, I make myself a cup of chamomile tea in my fancy East Fork mug, which gives me a calming effect too.
  • I proactively share that I practice Damp January with my friends so they can respect my boundaries and not peer pressure me into overdrinking.
  • I give myself grace if I happen to have four drinks in one week instead of three. Practicing Damp January isn’t an exact science. In my eyes, any reduction in alcohol consumption is a good thing.

Dry January has its obvious benefits. Any time a person limits their alcohol exposure can be linked to some impressive effects, especially over the long term like better sleep (and skin), improved mental health, reduced risk of cancer, and you'll also likely find that you save money too. But if you are one of the many people who are not interested in an all-or-nothing approach to drinking, Damp January can be a viable solution. Of course, this only refers to people who do not have an alcohol dependency. Those who have alcoholism should follow their health-care provider’s recommendations.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Minzer, Simona et al. “The Effect of Alcohol on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Is There New Information?.” Nutrients vol. 12,4 912. 27 Mar. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12040912
  2. Case, Philippa et al. “Has the increased participation in the national campaign ‘Dry January’ been associated with cutting down alcohol consumption in England?.” Drug and alcohol dependence vol. 227 (2021): 108938. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2021.108938

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