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Tampa Bay, we drank more booze in the pandemic. Dry January, anyone?

It’s the annual tradition of monthlong alcohol abstinence, and this year, trendy nonalcoholic beverages are all the rage.
Some Americans plan to forgo this in the name of Dry January.
Some Americans plan to forgo this in the name of Dry January. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Dec. 31, 2021

In a pandemic that has Americans drinking alcohol with greater gusto, here comes Dry January, the annual tradition of becoming temporary teetotalers for the first month of the year.

How the coronavirus crisis might affect participation in this year’s sobering ritual remains to be seen. But it will probably surprise no one that the pandemic — with its stress, isolation and disruption — saw a 14 percent boost in alcohol intake across America, where in most states, liquor stores were considered essential businesses.

University of Georgia sociology professor Paul Roman recently observed via email that “there seem to be fewer restraints on drinking than usual, and of course alcohol continues to have its time-honored properties of offering temporary escapes from bad feelings for many people.”

As for the Dry January tradition? “Anything that stops people from drinking too much for any period of time is a good idea,” he said.

Michael Levy, psychologist and author of Take Control of Your Drinking: A Practical Guide to Alcohol Moderation, Sobriety and When To Get Professional Help, said for many, a break might not be a bad idea.

“It’s a great opportunity for a person to see what role alcohol plays in their life,” he said.

The pandemic — with its stress, isolation and disruption — saw a 14 percent boost in alcohol intake across America.
The pandemic — with its stress, isolation and disruption — saw a 14 percent boost in alcohol intake across America. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The annual event, aimed at starting the new year clear-eyed, reset and refreshed, has a history. An effort called “Sober January” was launched in 1942 by the Finnish government to bolster the war effort. The modern term is said to have gained traction in the U.S. in the 2000s. A Dry January campaign was kicked off in the United Kingdom in 2013, and by 2018, more than 4 million people said they planned to try to give up alcohol for the month.

Here at home, a poll in January 2021 found 13 percent of respondents said they were abstaining. Their reasons included trying to be healthier and drinking too much during the coronavirus crisis. That percentage of participants was up from 11 percent pre-pandemic.

This year in particular, interest in taking that break may get a boost from the current buzz over mocktails — think Safe Sex on the Beach, Virgin Marys and Nohitos. Nonalcoholic beer, wine and even spirits are hot, with the boozeless beverage market expected to be worth $1.6 trillion by 2025.

Mindful drinking” and “sober curious” are of-the-moment buzzwords. Support websites, blogs and personalized apps for what’s been called “Drynuary” are available through a simple internet search that includes the term “Dry January.” Some are free, some not.

And for those on the fence, there’s always Sober October to consider.

Some advice for anyone planning to take the Dry January challenge:

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  • Set goals and be clear with yourself on your reasons for doing it.
  • Try to break the routine or the particular times, places and situations when you would typically have a drink.
  • Know that social support helps. “Maintaining a Dry January is likely more successful when people do it together,” said Roman. Levy agreed: “If you can get a couple friends or a spouse to do it with you, wonderful.”

Levy also advises that if a participant slips up during the month, “don’t beat yourself up. OK, I drank one day. I won’t drink tomorrow.”

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