4 Jan 2023

How to do Dry January

This is the month of new resolutions and many people’s minds turn to their relationship with alcohol. After the over-indulgence, hangovers, regrets and recriminations of the Christmas season, it is not surprising that opting for a dry month, and possibly using new year abstinence as a stepping-stone to giving up drink altogether, is an obvious choice for many people.

But this simple decision can lead to many manners conundrums and should be approached with tact and sensitivity.

If you are the abstainer, it is quite tempting to make a song and dance about the decision. By proclaiming it to all and sundry you are making yourself a hostage to fortune, who will be reproached for falling off the wagon and dismissed as a lightweight whenever there is a lapse. For some people, creating witnesses to an alcohol-free journey is an effective way of monitoring and managing progress. But beware: trumpeting your decision from the rooftops can look very much like virtue-signalling, and people around you who have no intention of giving up drink may feel guilty and self-indulgent whenever you’re around. This may well lead them to avoid your company and you may find dry January turns into a period of enforced self-isolation, which might make it all the harder to stick to your resolution.

It is preferable, if possible, to be circumspect about your resolution to abstain. Don’t make a fuss when you’re offered alcohol, just discreetly ask for water or a soft drink. If you are challenged, make light of your decision to abstain, don’t turn it into a big production number. That way, you will not become a social pariah, whose sobriety is a living reproach to drinkers everywhere. Don’t take it upon yourself to lecture other people about the benefits of an alcohol-free existence or point out that they’re drinking too much and could benefit from a break. That is their business, not yours.

If you do decide to go for a dry January, you may well be doing it with your spouse or partner. Of course, this will make day to day life much easier, but it may give you a distorted idea about what’s acceptable. While some temporary non-drinkers may eschew hosting social occasions altogether, others embark on a folie à deux, convinced that it is acceptable to invite guests to their house and only offer them soft drinks. While not serving alcohol on cultural or religious grounds must be accepted, in general it is the social norm to look after your guests, anticipate their needs and desires, and make provision to ensure they are met. This means offering, at the minimum, a choice of red or white wine or beer, and not inflicting your own abstinence on other people. If you are unable to do this, you should hold back on hosting social occasions until you are either drinking again or have learnt to tolerate the sight of other people drinking.

Those of us who continue to drink and have no intention of giving up alcohol in January, should stick to our guns, and try not to let other people’s self-discipline undermine our resolve. But we must remember that choosing to drink is entirely our own decision and has no bearing on anybody else. It is all too common for the drinker, when confronted by the abstainer, to become stridently insistent on plying them with unwanted drinks, urging them on with remarks like “a little glass of wine won’t do you any harm”, or accusing them of being party poopers who are spoiling a celebration or big occasion.

It is always inappropriate to question the decision to abstain. On the contrary, you must respect it without interrogating it, and ensure that you are doing your best to facilitate the abstinence. If you are hosting, you must take refusals of alcohol at face value, and offer a range of alcohol-free alternatives to your guest. Ideally, you will have thought about this beforehand and laid in supplies of sparkling mineral water or delicious soft drinks, such as elderflower cordial, as well as providing carafes of tap water. This will mean that you can smoothly make the transition from dispensing alcohol to pouring a soft drink on demand, without having to get water from the tap, or scrutinising the fridge for alternatives. The best you can do is to seamlessly cater for the teetotaller with the minimum of fuss.


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