Are You Sober Curious? Dry January Is on the Rise and Here’s Why You Might Want to Try It

Thousands of Americans are opting to drink less or simply reset after the holidays by cutting alcohol from their diets for January of 2024. Dry January is not a new trend, but rather one that began in the U.K. in 2013 by a nonprofit called Alcohol Change UK, and one that will include about 1 in 5 Americans, as it’s a popular time to be “sober curious” and set health goals.

In 2022, 35% of Americans participated in Dry January, according to the CGA, a food and beverage research firm. That’s an increase from the prior record of 21% of those who completed Dry January in 2019. According to Google Search Trends, with nearly three-quarters of millennials cutting back on alcohol and more than 40% of Gen Z skipping it completely, both retailers and consumers seek options to suit a variety of occasions.

Interest in Dry January has jumped by 259% from January 2022 to January 2023, according to an analysis by Pantry and Larder. The most common reasons for participating in Dry January include a desire to be healthier (79%) and to reduce overall alcohol consumption (72%), according to a 2021 survey from Morning Consult. Over 50% of respondents also said it has become an annual tradition.

While non-alcoholic products account for less than 1% of the alcoholic beverage category, retail sales of booze-free beverages drove $510 million during the 52 weeks ending July 29, 2023. That’s a 31% increase over the same period one year ago, according to Nielsen IQ, which tracks retail sales, including supermarkets and convenience stores. Revenue in the non-alcoholic beverage market in the United States is projected to reach $496.5B in 2023, and it’s estimated that the market will experience an annual growth rate of 3.90% (CAGR 2023-2027).

2023 was the year of the mocktail, making Dry January easier to take on as a challenge than in the past. Searches for “mocktails” hit an all-time high this past year, and more restaurants and bartenders are offering up tempting mocktails such as a “Nogroni” using artful zero-proof spirits such as those from Seedlip or one of my favorites, Ritual Zero Proof. We also see full-service curated non-alcoholic bar services for events such as Southern California’s Good + Bar, which embraces functional ingredients and holistic wellness.

I covered non-alcoholic adaptogen options earlier this year, and since then, I’ve enjoyed others such as Hiyo, botanicals-based Aplos, and plant and mushroom-based Little SaintsAthletic Brewing Co, makers of the #1 selling craft beer brand that is now valued at $500 million, is challenging consumers to “Give Dry a Try” in January by offering a 50% discount and bonus gifts. Music artist Katy Perry is also offering a 32-can bundle of her new non-alcoholic apéritif, De Soi. You can find an extensive list of booze-free options on Zero Proof Nation, founded by Laura Silverman. Sober since 2007, Silverman didn’t feel that hospitality was inclusive of sobriety, and she created her website out of a desire to build an authentic community around the zero-proof lifestyle and to elevate the stories behind the beverages.

So why should you give Dry January a shot? According to the University of California Davis Health and the CDC, the health benefits can include weight loss, improved liver function, reduced blood sugar, better sleep, and improved mood and energy levels. While I enjoy an occasional celebratory alcoholic beverage, I’m partaking in going dry for January as I feel more energized and sleep better without alcohol. Plus, I thoroughly enjoy craft and adaptogenic mocktails, especially with a Tajin or salted rim.

If you’re tempted to take on the challenge, there are excellent apps that can help support tracking your Dry January. Reframe utilizes neuroscience to help drive behavioral change. At the same time, Drinkers Helper kicks off with a short quiz to help users cut back on drinking (note, you don’t have to quit) and utilizes a multi-pronged approach of tracking, insights into your drinking, support groups and motivational exercises.

The most appealing app to me is Sunnyside, as it incorporates mindfulness and encourages you to explore your relationship with alcohol, including helping you better understand your triggers to help you minimize drinking without the pressure to quit. Sunnyside promotes that 146 million U.S. adults drink alcohol, and 47% want to cut back. They offer tools to help and say that they will “never judge you.” On average, Sunnyside members cut back on their drinking by 30% in their first 30 days of using the app.

Below are some tips for taking on Dry January successfully:

  1. Shift your mindset about how you think about alcohol. Rather than focusing on what you’re giving up, focus on what you’re gaining from the challenge, from health benefits to personal accomplishment. Celebrate those wins and note or journal about how you feel with better sleep, how much money you saved or weight you’ve lost.
  2. Enlist a sober buddy or community. Accountability is helpful for motivation. You can have a friend or circle of friends that you plan other activities with, rely on each other and if you want to get really competitive, throw a wager into it. Losing money is highly motivational. The Forfeit app, backed by Habit Contracts from James Clear’s Atomic Habits is hardcore and has a 94% success rate.
  3. Find a mocktail or alternative you love. Dry January is a perfect time to explore drinks. You might surprise yourself kicking back with an Athletic Brewing Co. “Run Wild IPA” beer or a low-sugar Kombucha at dinner and feel good about it because you wake up hangover-free and health-optimized.
  4. Replace the time you would typically reach for a drink with another mood-boosting activity. If you have a go-to five o’clock wine habit, opt for a workout with a friend (you’ll never regret a workout), try a new recipe or pick up a new hobby such as art, music or a new skill.
  5. Practice an assertive “no thank you” when offered a drink and feel confident when doing so. If someone asks if you’d like a drink, and they question your “no thank you,” expand it to, “I’m actually not drinking right now — I’m doing Dry January.” And if they continue to question you or tell you it’s “lame,” respond with “Why are you drinking?” That’ll get them to leave you alone.
  6. No need to give up if you slip up. Just like veering off a diet, a timeline or a commitment, don’t beat yourself up over it and start over the next day. This is why some Dry January apps are helpful, as they offer encouragement and support mindful drinking.

At the end of January, it’s critical to have a plan. Evaluate how you felt during the month and celebrate your achievement with something not alcohol — a nice meal, a gift you’ve been eyeing or a massage. Surprisingly, most people will continue to abstain or drink on a much lower frequency. Plan to have an agenda for February. For example, only drink on weekends and limit to a certain number per week or only on vacations and special occasions. Almost anyone can benefit from a sober month, and ultimately, it’s about taking on a challenge that will help you kick off the New Year with healthier habits and, most importantly, teach you mindfulness about your relationship with alcohol.

Originally published on on Jan. 2, 2024