Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
No booze for a month could be agony for some folks, but for others, taking a break from alcohol each January is a relief from the wretched excess of the holidays.
That's how my husband Bob and I look at taking a month off from alcohol. We've been doing Dryanuary for the last four years, mostly as an exercise in self-discipline, and to see if we can. We don't always make it the entire 30 days without a sip of wine, but I can state emphatically that I sleep better, remember my dreams, lose a few pounds, and overall feel better and more clearheaded when we abstain from drinking for the month.
“Dry January,” or "Dryanuary," was pioneered in Great Britain in 2012 when a nonprofit there called Alcohol Change launched the effort as a nationwide health initiative. By 2018, four million Brits took part in Dry January, giving up alcohol for the month. The campaign continues as folks around the world join the Dryanuary ranks. Alcohol Change has a Dry January Facebook page with more than 50,000 likes and even launched an app that allows participants to track their alcohol intake. Participants can also find support on the Alcohol Change blog, which shares stories of Dry Janners' escapades.
While the idea has not seized the masses here in San Antonio, which leads the state in driving under the influence car accidents, some folks are jumping on board.
Former Spurs forward and sports commentator Sean Elliott and his wife, Claudia Zapata, a TV personality for Simply San Antonio, are joining Dryanuary this year.
"It's a great reset," said Zapata by phone from Mexico, where she was vacationing. "To me, there's no better way to reset than with no alcohol and home cooking, especially after the indulgent holidays."
The first three to four days are the toughest, she added. "But once you hit day five, it's not that hard. ... You wake up feeling great – no wine hangover. We have Topo Chico and lime – that's our cocktail."
Studies suggest even a temporary “liver vacation,” as it's sometimes called, can lower blood-sugar levels and set the stage for resetting the relationship with alcohol, which can turn unhealthy during the holidays.
According to Texas Alcohol Commission reports, sales of spirits, beer, wine, and ale jumped almost 20 percent in the last two months of 2017 – from more than 60 million gallons of booze in November to almost 72 million in December. It's likely that 2018 will be no different.
Other Dryanuary benefits: people usually lose a few pounds and report feeling more clear-headed and energetic. According to one study, people who take on Dryanuary end up drinking less alcohol for the following six months.
The social pressure of a Dry January can be challenging, though.
Zapata said she and Elliott generally avoid socializing during Dryanuary, opting to stay in. "It's really hard to go to a nice restaurant and not drink wine," she said.
Upon learning of my sobriety month, my Girls Night Out chums accuse me of being “no fun.” An after-work happy hour presents an awkward moment as the waitperson moves around the table: "And what are you having?” “Oh, just club soda, please."
Getting past those moments can be the toughest part of the Dryanuary challenge, given alcohol's status as our favorite social lubricant.
Consider how many outings, gatherings, and festivities focus on booze. Our tourism economy in San Antonio depends on it, contributing its fair share of the more than $20 million in sales taxes for our state – just in December 2017. We even have a conference devoted to cocktails in San Antonio.
"The abstinent person may feel left out or be labeled as the oddball," said John D. Roache, chief of the Psychiatry Department's Division of Alcohol and Drug Addiction at the UT Health San Antonio. "In a sober state of mind, you also may not enjoy the same activities or silly humor that a slightly inebriated person would enjoy, so you will not engage in those activities." Roache had not heard of Dry January.
Nor had Colleen Bridger, director of the City of San Antonio's Metropolitan Health District, but she likes the idea.
"Telling your peers that you're taking a break from alcohol can influence their decision to stop or cut down as well," she said via email. "It might get you some funny looks or some ribbing, but when they see you're serious, they'll give it some thought, too. Just like the flu, behavior is contagious."
Bridger lists the well-known health hazards of alcohol. It contributes to heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, damage to unborn children, stroke, and boosts the risk of several cancers. As Rajiv Jalan, a liver specialist at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, told NPR last year, alcohol is toxic. "If it was invented in 2018, it would not pass the FDA to be on the market. ... But, of course, it is an essential evil," he said.
Essential, indeed. But we can definitely handle 30 days without it. Who's in for the detox? Happy Dryanuary 2019.