It’s January, which means there will be quite a few names you won’t be seeing in bold this month: Jack Daniels. Rob Roy. And my Friday-night friend, Martin I.
Not drinking for 30 days at the start of the year — better known as Dry January — is an annual resolution/tradition I picked up several years ago from my friend Kerri Harrop.
I’ll still go out to happy hours and dinners and spend time with friends. But instead of wine with my meal, I’ll be drinking soda and bitters or ginger ale. Instead of raising a glass of Champagne at a wedding later this month, I will lift a lemon soda to the happy couple.
My head will be clear, my slumber uninterrupted. I will be the designated driver who will see a lower number when the check arrives — not to mention when I get on the scale after a month.
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Though it’s somewhat popular stateside, Dry January is a bigger deal in the U.K., where the Alcohol Concern — a national charity aimed at changing the alcohol culture there — founded www.dryjanuary.org.uk, and started a Dry January Facebook page loaded with everything from calorie and savings calculators to things to do when you’re not warming a bar stool. (“A long walk in the park, fresh air will definitely help you relax”).
Dry January is also a good time to freshen up your knowledge of alcohol’s effects — the physical ones, anyway.
Booze fiddles with your immune system’s cytokines, which are chemical messengers that trigger inflammation in your head and elsewhere.
Darker hard liquors and wines contain more congeners, which are chemicals that exacerbate hangovers. Smoking makes it even worse.
Your liver can only detox one drink per hour.
Alcohol disturbs the brain’s normal sleep cycles, so whatever sleep you get after imbibing isn’t going to be restful. And no hangover cure has ever been proved — not greasy food or Bloody Marys or even Paseo sandwiches. The best thing to do is dim the lights and drink some water.
But while I’m thinking about all the ibuprofen I’m not taking, I’ll also be pondering the responses I have gotten over the years from readers who have shared their own drinking stories.
A man named Kevin wrote me last January to tell me that my 2010 column on Dry January “enticed” him to give up drinking — something he continued through February.
“That resolve morphed into three months, six months and then a year,” Kevin wrote. “This is not meant to be an AA sermon, but thanks to your column, I have now gone three years without alcohol.
“I just decided I could live without it,” he said. He also lost 20 pounds.
A man named John wrote to say that he likes to abstain, and when he does, “It’s easy to drop a few pounds and the restaurant bill is magically halved.”
But other readers have suggested I look deeper into my own relationship with alcohol. Is Dry January just a tradition? Or does it point to a bigger issue?
“If you really need a ‘dry’ January and you find it a challenge to achieve then you seriously need help,” wrote a commenter who goes by LittleLordFauntleroy. “The idea that you need to step away for a month to prove you don’t have a drinking problem is a pretty good indicator that you have a drinking problem.”
A man named Richard wrote: “Maybe you should consider giving it up entirely!”
A woman named Lisa — who I took to be sober, based on her email — didn’t pull any punches.
“It takes one to know one,” she wrote. (Though she did sign off, “Cheers.”)
And someone named Harpur — sober for 20 years now — made a similar point:
“It would never occur to those who don’t have a problem with alcohol or other drugs to stop for a period of time, to sleep free of mental sloshing and wake free of that dull ache, nor do they even know the adage ‘hair of the dog.’ ”
Harpur suggested that at the end of my 31 days, “You sit quietly and reflect on how you feel, and do a little cost-benefit analysis as to whether drinking is costing more than the benefit.”
I’ve done that every year, folks. And every year I feel fresh, fit, clearheaded and grateful — and ready for a vodka martini that I savor, while pondering the year ahead.
That’s just my tradition, but thanks for asking.
Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.