Dry January Too Restrictive? Damp January Might Be The Answer!
“The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake — you can't learn anything from being perfect.” — Adam Osborne
When the new year rolls around, the media is abuzz with discussions about Dry January — and this year was no exception. Social norms around alcohol are beginning to shift; many people are questioning cultural pressures to drink, and whether alcohol is truly serving them.
Karen Martell was one of these individuals. She never considered herself an excessive drinker, but she knew by the way alcohol had turned into a habit that she had to make a change. “I think our society sees struggles with alcohol use as such a black-and-white issue,” Martell, the Vice President, Commercial at Alto Pharmacy and mom of two said. “But in reality, it’s such a spectrum.”
Sentiments like Martell’s are why we started Reframe in the first place. We kicked off our Dry and Damp January challenges on New Year’s Day, with 20,982 users signing up for Dry January and 118,486 signing up for Damp January.
While most sobriety challenges — Dry January or otherwise — focus on eliminating alcohol completely, we found that this left out a significant group. There are many, like Martell, who aren’t quite ready to adopt a sober lifestyle, or they simply want to focus on cultivating more mindful drinking habits. This is why we rolled out Damp January alongside Dry January. We wanted to shift the focus of the challenge to making progress towards a healthier relationship with alcohol, one that is sustainable and individualized.
Dry/Damp January: A Backstory
So, how did this whole Dry January concept come about? Alcohol Change UK, a British charity that works to reduce alcohol-related harm, kicked off the first challenge in January 2013. In the years since, Dry January has become a global phenomenon — a time for many to do a reset after holiday overindulgence, and to examine their overall relationship with alcohol.
At Reframe, we saw immense value in this challenge. However, we wanted to make it inclusive for everyone, including those who weren’t yet ready to — or didn’t want to — quit alcohol altogether. As of this writing, 695,000 of our users — about 68.6% — are on the app to cut back, not to abstain. So we wondered, “How can we bring the principles of Dry January and make it attainable for those who don’t want to remove alcohol from their lives entirely?”
And thus, Damp January was born.
Our overarching goal behind the Dry/Damp January challenge was, of course, to help people improve their overall well-being by building a healthier relationship with alcohol. We did this by fostering a sense of accountability, connection, and empowerment. Here’s how:
We gave users a chance to log whether they stayed dry or stuck to their limits each day.
We allowed users to form groups to work toward a shared goal with the support of other Reframers.
We presented users with daily readings to give them the science-backed knowledge they need to make lasting changes.
On top of this, we also included motivational quotes and journal prompts, insightful statistics, and digital tokens to reward users’ progress.
Why Did People Participate in Dry/Damp January?
We’re passionate about seeking user feedback, and using that feedback to continuously improve. We surveyed our Dry/Damp January participants to get a concrete idea of their biggest reasons for signing up for these challenges. Here’s what they had to say.
Among the participants we surveyed, here were the top reasons users participated in Dry January:
To start the year off healthier
To improve existing mental health issues like depression and anxiety
To reset alcohol consumption after the holidays
We ask our users to consider their overarching “why” behind sobriety, which can often include their loved ones. Andrew Forsstrom, a chef from Monroe, New York, said his daughter played a big role in why he chose to take part in Dry January. “I have a toddler, so a big motivation to not drink at all is to be more present for her,” Forsstrom said.
According to our survey results, here were the top reasons why people took part in Damp January:
To kickstart their journeys of addressing alcohol’s role in their lives
To continue their cutback journey
To start the year off healthier
Martell said the previous year had been difficult for her. She lost a friend to cancer, dealt with a lot of work-related stress, and juggled the duties of parenting a one-year-old and three-year-old. “I just wanted to make space for a new experience this year,” she said.
How Effective Was Dry/Damp January?
We know how many people signed up for a challenge, and why they did so, but that leaves the question: How effective was Dry/Damp January? We can let the data speak for itself.
According to our survey results, 74.02% of Dry January participants stayed dry. And 75.9% of Damp January participants considered their challenge successful. What success means to the latter group was entirely up to them.
For Martell, this meant becoming more aware of the triggers that led to alcohol cravings — in her case, feeling tired or overwhelmed. It also gave her the ability to enjoy an evening without alcohol. “I was on a date with my husband and he got a drink and was like, ‘Well, don’t you want to get one?’” she recalls. “But I was like, ‘No, I don’t. This is already wonderful.’ I didn’t want to detract from my ability to be present.”
Which Factors Led to Success in the Dry/Damp January Challenge?
Among the Dry January participants, these three factors played the biggest role in their success:
Using the Reframe app program (activities not including the Dry January challenge)
The Reframe app Dry January challenge
Among the Damp January participants, users mentioned the following factors when reflecting on what allowed them to succeed:
Using the Reframe app program
Having alcohol-free alternatives at the ready
For many, having daily activities and real-time feedback about their progress kept them on track to meet their goals. We’re big on making goals as measurable as possible, and research demonstrates that goal-setting is more effective with clear parameters in place. It’s one thing to say you plan to cut back on alcohol, but without a roadmap, it’s much harder to do.
Furthermore, self-motivation is a big part of staying true to this path. We debunk the idea of willpower when it comes to sobriety/cutting back — specific brain changes suggest otherwise — and instead give users the tools they need to understand important factors like habit formation, triggers, and social pressure. So much of the journey is focused on mindset, and we emphasize that just as we previously taught our brains to rely on alcohol, we can unlearn these tendencies and chart a healthier path forward.
In addition to self-motivation, the Dry January app challenge allowed users to kick the year off in a nonjudgmental and empowering space. Within the app, users could see their progress at the end of each day. With each day completed, they’d receive digital tokens (and plenty of community support to cheer them on!).
Finally, cravings and triggers will be inevitable for most, especially in the early days of alcohol-free/alcohol-conscious living. Having alcohol-free beverages on hand can alleviate this urge to drink with zero-proof (yet delicious!) options.
Which Factors Led People To Believe the Dry/Damp January Challenge Was Unsuccessful?
Among survey respondents for both the Dry and Damp January challenges, the biggest reason why participants deemed their challenge unsuccessful was that they still have a lot of work to do in their relationship with alcohol.
To figure out what factors might be at play here, we turned to the experts.
Amy Morin, LCSW, the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, said that many underlying reasons can make alcohol avoidance difficult during Dry January. Peer pressure can add many layers of complexity. “Someone whose social life revolves around alcohol may struggle to avoid drinking. They may feel uncomfortable suddenly ordering non-alcoholic drinks if all their friends are drinking,” she says. Furthermore, according to Morin, alcohol can also show up in our professional lives (i.e., workplace happy hours) or personal lives (i.e., on a date). Alcohol is such a pervasive part of our culture that we often don’t realize the hold it has over us until we try to reduce our consumption (or end it altogether).
Dr. Raffaello Antonino, a counseling psychologist and senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, said that Dry January challenges can also be difficult if individuals haven’t found healthier coping mechanisms for social anxiety or other difficult emotions. Dr. Antonino also points out that “for someone who drinks alcohol in moderation and doesn't have any underlying issues related to alcohol use, Dry January may be a relatively straightforward challenge. For those who are struggling with their alcohol use, Dry January may actually represent a very difficult challenge.” He suggests that in these instances, seeking further support from a licensed mental health professional or a support group can be helpful. This can help an individual examine and work on the underlying issues that may be contributing to their alcohol use.
Here at Reframe, we encourage constant self-reflection, and we highlight the fact that a journey toward alcohol reduction or sobriety often can’t be confined to a single month. Each individual’s relationship with alcohol is unique, and it can require a lot of deep inner work to uncover long-standing dependencies. Even if somebody’s challenge wasn’t successful according to their own standards, we encourage them to acknowledge their overall growth and assess whether they’re moving in the right direction.
Where Do Dry/Damp January Participants Plan To Go From Here?
Among Dry January participants, 65.6% plan to stay dry moving forward, while 32.9% plan to transition to a more “damp” lifestyle, and 1.5% just used the one-month challenge as a way to reset.
In terms of Damp January participants, 78.8% plan to continue working on staying “damp” or moderate after the challenge. And 21.2% plan on trying out a “dry” or alcohol-free period in the future.
Forsstrom said the Dry January challenge made it clear for him that alcohol isn’t required for social interactions or many of the typical occasions we associate it with. “I honestly feel better without it and I'm meeting health goals quicker,” he said. “It’s probably something I'll just avoid in the future.”
Martell’s Damp January challenge gave her new insight into her own relationship with alcohol, and it allowed her to reflect on the way alcohol-related struggles had shown up in her family. “I’ve always had this fear of ‘What if this happens to me?’” she says. The challenge allowed her to develop much better boundaries on how alcohol will show up in her life moving forward.
Why Are Sobriety/Alcohol Reduction Challenges Beneficial?
Improvements in physical health
Most survey respondents mentioned an improvement in physical health as one of the biggest benefits of this challenge. Forsstrom echoed this. “My resting heart rate is at around 58 beats per minute now. My blood pressure’s perfect. Basically all the biomarkers for stress are gone.”
And the research backs this up. A 2018 study that had participants abstain from alcohol for a month found that these individuals had improvements in insulin resistance, blood pressure, weight, and cancer-related growth factors when compared to a control group. Furthermore, a 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry observed that those with alcohol use disorders who significantly reduced their alcohol intake had a reduced mortality risk.
For Martell, the biggest physical benefit she noticed was improved sleep. “I’d wake up at the drop of a hat before and typically blame it on motherhood,” she said. Cutting back helped her sleep much deeper, which also improved her running performance.
Better mental health
The second most mentioned benefit from this challenge was improved mental health.
Alcohol use can trigger anxiety and/or depression in those who drink heavily. However, when individuals reduce or remove alcohol, they can quickly begin to see benefits in their mental health.
This can look like an improvement in mood, sleep quality, and anxiety levels. According to Dr. Antonino, this is because alcohol “can have a depressive effect on the brain, disrupt sleep patterns, and [serve as] a way of coping with anxiety or other mental health issues.” Dr. Antonino also says alcohol use can make it more difficult to stay productive, so cutting back or quitting for a month can also boost motivation.
Finally, these challenges also serve as a resilience-building tool. When participants find that they can stay dry (or damp) for 31 days, they often realize their own ability to overcome cravings and incorporate healthier habits.
Dry/Damp January also gave users a sense of camaraderie and connection with like-minded people. Martell participated in the challenge with her mom and her aunt, and she also found the Reframe Forum incredibly helpful. “I saw all the community come in with so much support, love, and encouragement,” she says. “It was so beautiful.”
According to Morin, group challenges come with a host of other benefits. “They might be able to hold each other accountable,” she says. “And it’s easier to do a challenge if you're spending time together doing things where no one else is drinking.”
Morin also emphasizes that it’s helpful to be a part of a group because it allows individuals a safe space in which to share their struggles. Fellow group members can help with problem-solving, for example, by offering solutions on how to navigate specific events that involve alcohol, or how to turn down a drink.
“The group might also help you rebound if you make a mistake,” Morin adds. “A little compassion from others might go a long way toward helping you try again, as opposed to giving up.”
A Final Word
Martell says the Damp January challenge allowed for a mindset expansion. “I imagine this dream life and what it looks like for me,” she says. “I just turned 40, and I want to be a good role model for my girls, be a good wife, start my own company one day… and I don’t want to do anything that will impede that.”
Making progress toward a changed relationship with alcohol is more important than achieving perfection. It’s about building a healthy and sustainable relationship with alcohol — and Damp January is more attainable for many people.
“Here at Reframe, we meet users where they’re at and offer an empirical, compassionate approach,” says Co-Founder and CEO Vedant Pradeep. “And we always remind users that the journey toward a healthy lifestyle is 100% worth taking.”
We’re grateful to be a part of the alcohol-free/alcohol conscious community, and look forward to helping our users continue to thrive — however that looks for them.