Jan 4, 2024 - Health

How to make "Damp January" meaningful for you

Illustration of a hand holding a tiny martini with a regular sized olive

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Going sober for Dry January has been popular for years — but if you're intentionally drinking less (but not nothing) this month, there's another term for that: Damp January.

Why it matters: Limiting alcohol can have a number of physical and mental health benefits, but Damp January isn't a fit for everyone.

What they're saying: Damp January — also known as "Soberish" or "Dryish" January — has gained popularity, "maybe because people have done some Dry Januarys and it hasn't been successful," says Amanda White, licensed counselor and author of "Not Drinking Tonight."

  • Although someone with an alcohol use disorder may need to completely cut out drinking, someone who doesn't like how alcohol affects them and doesn't have a drinking "problem," per se, could hugely benefit from moderating their intake, White says.

Between the lines: You don't need to be a binge drinker to benefit from addressing your relationship with alcohol.

  • If you want to use the month to reset the way you think about alcohol and mindfully drink less, White recommends asking yourself some questions:

Can I drink without getting drunk?

  • If you have a history of problematic drinking behavior or feel like you "need" alcohol, "moderation is probably not a fit for you," says White.
  • Factors to consider when determining whether you want to do Damp January (or cut out alcohol altogether): Family history of drinking behaviors and whether you have a co-occurring mental health disorder — those could make alcohol abuse more likely for you.

Why do I drink?

  • If the answer is about coping with stress or maintaining relationships, those could be signs that drinking is too "ingrained," which is something to pay attention to, White says.

What part of my drinking is a habit?

  • If you drink in a specific context — maybe you have a few drinks at special occasions or one glass of wine regularly with dinner — that can inform you about how you might try adjusting your drinking this month.
  • For example: You might want to avoid drinking or only have one drink at parties, or skip the dinner drinks for now.

Is it the drinking ritual I'm into, or actually the alcohol?

  • You might find you enjoy the ritual of drinking, and enjoy it even more without a hangover, she says.

Is there a connection between alcohol and my mental or physical health?

  • For example, since it's a depressant, alcohol can make someone with anxiety feel temporarily less anxious, White says — but it doesn't address the root cause of anxiety and can lead to tough feelings of "hangxiety" the next day.
  • She says it's worth considering whether there's a mental or physical component connected with your drinking, and whether you want to modify your habits going forward.

How will I answer the "Why aren't you drinking?" question?

  • You can just say something like "I'm trying to cut back." White says you don't owe anyone a longer answer than that.

Is drinking providing enough value in my life to keep doing it?

  • White recommends thinking about drinking the same way you consider the cost of things like streaming TV subscriptions.
  • As you review the way drinking less affects you this month, consider if drinking more again is worth the cost.

The bottom line: You can use this time to get curious about your relationship with alcohol, and consider implementing positive changes around drinking long term.

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