Huh? Give up booze for January? Are you doing this?

on 09/01/14 at 11:12 am

Booze News

images“Drynuary” is a very stupid name for a very smart tradition: abstaining from alcohol for the month of January. Though the practice of periodically abstaining from alcohol is probably as old as alcohol itself, the term “Drynuary” was coined in 2007 by John Ore, who has written about the practice (often collaboratively with fellow writer Jolie Kerr) for the Awl, the Hairpin and this year Deadspin.

Over the years, Drynuary has attracted devotees and, inevitably, spurred a backlash. This week, the New York Post published an essay by Tim Donnelly called “Here’s why that no-drink January trend is totally pointless.” Donnelly’s argument boils down to two main points: First, that January is the most depressing time of the year, and therefore the time when drinkers most need the soothing effects of alcohol. Second, that abstaining from alcohol in January leads to binge drinking in February. (This point has been made previously by medical professionals in a couple of British tabloids.)

Both of these arguments are flawed. Before I explain why, I should divulge that I am doing Drynuary this year for the second time. (I decided to do it last year because I was trying to be as healthy as possible in preparation for a medical procedure — and I liked it so much last year that I decided to do it again this year.)

The claim that Drynuary is pointless because January is depressing obviously depends on one’s own experience with the month in question. Some wackos don’t find January depressing at all! I personally tend to get super-depressed in January. But I’ve found that abstaining from drinking — along with doing stuff like light therapy — helps stabilize my mood. If Donnelly finds that alcohol helps him get through January, that’s great, but his experience is hardly universal. (I should mention that clinical depression often coincides with alcohol abuse, but the causational mechanism isn’t clear.)

The idea that Drynuary leads to subsequent binging or that it exacerbates extant drinking problems is more pernicious. Donnelly writes that Drynuary “leads to bingeing as soon as the calendar hits Feb. 1, say experts.” One such “expert,” a British TV doctor named Christian Jessen, wrote last year in the Daily Mail, “most people are giving up alcohol in January just so they can go back to boozing with a vengeance in February“.