Dry January is not for wimps
Beer? No thanks!
It’s January 1, just after midnight. While my friends drink a few more glasses of champagne, I put the leftover beers I brought back into my bag. I won’t be opening them for a month. This is my New Year’s resolution: to stay sober for a month.
New year, new me, right? Dry January, a trend that blew over from the UK a few years ago, appears to be gaining popularity among students in Groningen. I decided to try it out and participate, together with my sister Lara.
The website IkPas promises that after a month without alcohol you’ll be more alert, sleep better, and lose weight. ‘A few weeks of not drinking will do a lot to undo the health risks of alcohol’, confirms Arie Dijkstra, professor of social psychology and an expert in addiction and behavioural modification.
During a coffee break in the library, we’re talking to a group of boys about our plans. ‘I’m doing moist January,’ one of them jokes, ‘I’ll drink less, but I won’t quit altogether.’ ‘Yeah’, says another, ‘I’m fine with not drinking for a month, but only if I can spread it out over the whole year.’
It looks like there are students who won’t even consider not drinking. Dijkstra has an explanation: ‘The effects of alcohol are positive: it inhibits fear’, he says. ‘It gets rid of your inhibitions and makes you feel euphoric.’ Seeing other people drink also doesn’t help. ‘It normalises it. A lot of people think that if someone else is drinking as well, it can’t be that bad.’
People worry that they won’t have a nice night if they don’t drink
People also associate drinking with having fun. ‘People believe they’ll have a nice night if they drink. And because of that, they also think that they won’t have a nice night if they don’t drink.’ That’s why people keep drinking beer on a night out.
A lot of my friends tend to take a day off from their resolutions when they go out. It’s easier to go with the flow.
I noticed this myself during a recent night out. The pub was filled to the brim with students, who were all drinking. Dry January has no power here. ‘There’s five of us, right?’ a friend asks. ‘Five beers, please!’ ‘Wait, not for me’, I say, just in time.
A few days later, I’m at the Pintelier with some co-workers. I ask the bartender for a coke light, while everyone else orders fancy beers. He looks at me with pity. ‘Ah, Dry January. You haven’t broken down yet. But you will.’
He, just like many other people, think it’s a stupid concept. ‘You could also decide to drink less, rather than just quit abruptly’, a friend says. The bartender agrees. ‘Stop because you want to, not because it’s hip’, he says.
When I ask if I can use his name for this article, he says: ‘Only if you have a beer.’ But I have a spine, so he’ll remain anonymous. It turns out the bartender is quite convincing, though; he manages to make people forget their resolutions and order alcohol about twice every shift. ‘That’s not because I’ve got the magic touch or anything. If people really don’t want to drink, there’s nothing I can say to convince them.’
Bartender Lex, who works in a pub in the Poelestraat, does agree with the concept of Dry January. In fact, he’s participating himself. ‘I’ve been doing it for years. I like it’, he says. He’s often faced with people screaming at him to ‘join them for a shot’, but this month, he’ll be turning them down. ‘If it were up to the customers, I’d be drunk seven days a week.’
Alcohol-free beer is swill: stop teasing yourself and just have a beer
He’s noticed people ordering alcohol-free beer more often in the past month. ‘It’s more popular than last year. I guess it makes them feel like they’re still part of the group’, says Lex. He thinks it’s a shame, and the Pintelier bartender agrees. ‘It’s swill. Stop teasing yourself and just have a beer, man.’
My sister and I won’t drink alcohol-free beer, either. We’d rather drink soda; it’s cheaper and tastes better.
Because they all have exams, people don’t go out as much in the first two weeks of January, which makes our challenge a little easier. Now that the month is ending, however, more and more friends are hitting me up to go out. ‘We’re celebrating the end of exams’, Lara messages me. ‘I’m afraid I’m going to buckle.’ I also go out a few times. Nevertheless, we both stay strong and don’t drink a drop of alcohol.
Has it had the promised positive effect on our well-being, though? Getting up at seven in the morning to find a spot at the library still isn’t fun. But we both do feel a little less tired during the day. ‘It’s classic’, says professor Dijkstra. ‘Alcohol helps you fall asleep, but it is detrimental to the quality of your sleep. That’s why you’re all fuzzy the next day.’
‘Even if you only drink a ‘few’ glasses of alcohol a week? ‘One glass is often more than a unit of alcohol’, says Dijkstra. ‘A glass of wine is often as much as two or three units. It adds up quickly.’
Before you know it, you’re experiencing a different kind of Dry January, one where you wake up dehydrated and achy. I’ll be participating again next year.
Translation by Sarah van Steenderen