An Annual Dry Spell

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 10 2015 @ 5:29pm

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John Ore explains Drynuary, the tradition of giving up alcohol for the month following New Year’s:

Make no mistake: If you like drinking, Drynuary is hard, and it’s supposed to be. I’m not particularly religious, but I appreciate the Lenten aspect of giving up something I enjoy for an extended period of time just to say I can. (My birthday falls during Lent, so no way am I giving up drinking then.)

Drynuary forces us to consider the the role alcohol plays in our everyday lives, especially when its absence is the most obvious or stark. My wife and I don’t hibernate for a month, sipping herbal teas and avoiding glances at the stemware and the three neglected beers left in the fridge. There are still the NFL playoffs, and the college football championship, and concerts and recreational beer-league ice hockey. Our first Drynuary we met friends at a sports bar to watch football, and the amount of club soda we downed led to plenty of speculation that we were expecting. Ive been the designated driver for post-snowboarding pub crawls and I’ve had to explain to business associates why I’m not having wine with dinner while traveling for work. Half of the point of Drynuary is to live your life as you normally do, just without drinking.

For last year’s Drynuary, Jolie Kerr created a guide for the uninitiated:

If it’s so hard, doesn’t that mean you have a problem?

Yes and no. But more no than yes. Think of it this way: If you decided to give up chocolate for a month—or sourdough bread, or Irish butter, or picking at ingrown hairs, or whatever it is that you love most in this world—it would probably suck. You would probably say, “Gosh, this is hard!” Would that mean you had a problem with chocolate or sourdough bread or Irish butter or picking at ingrown hairs? Maybe. But probably not.

And what about the health effects of a month on the wagon? Amy Guttman looks at what happened when staffers at New Scientist experimented with foregoing drinking for five weeks:

Dr. Rajiv Jalan, a liver specialist at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, analyzed the findings. They revealed that among those in the study who gave up drinking, liver fat, a precursor to liver damage, fell by at least 15 percent. For some, it fell almost 20 percent.

Abstainers also saw their blood glucose levels — a key factor in determining diabetes risk — fall by an average of 16 percent. It was the first study to show such an immediate drop from going dry, Dr. James Ferguson, a liver specialist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in England, told us last year.

Update from a reader:

I really enjoyed your post on Dryanuary. As it happens, I do the same thing – go 30 days or more without consuming any alcohol – but I do it in August, instead of January. I like to joke that I am “giving my liver a break” before football season starts, but it’s become a tradition that I’ve maintained for over a dozen years now.

I originally gave it the boring name of “abstinence month,” but several years ago a friend of mine my friend started calling it “Tomadan,” a portmanteau of my first name and the Islamic holy month of fasting. And the name has since stuck so that now all my friends understand “Thomas can’t drink with us tonight because he’s on Tomadan.”

It’s not always easy. There are times when the Texas heat is such that there is nothing more I want than an ice cold beer. But I’ve always managed to resist, and at the end of the month I come away with a feeling of satisfaction that makes that first beer of football season taste so much better.

Plus, I’m a little thinner and my wallet is a little fatter.

(Photo by Flickr user Apionid)