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When Dry January Becomes Permanent

Not drinking alcohol, or reducing the amount of alcohol normally consumed, in January has become popular. Becoming a teetotaler, however, is a whole different matter.

Entrenched in many cultures, alcohol has been consumed for thousands of years. A good example of enculturation is a recent Irish study that found that alcohol was a key part of Ireland’s national identity. And yet some people are adopting a no-alcohol strategy.

Alcohol Is Unsafe in Any Amount

The changes these individuals are making might be responsive, at least in part, to public health reports that alcohol—beer, wine, or spirits—is unsafe to consume in any amount.

The World Health Organization (WHO), in its January 2023 news release, stated unequivocally that “there is no safe amount that does not affect health.” Alcohol’s toxicity places it in Group 1 of carcinogens, right along with asbestos, radiation, and tobacco.

Inviting cancer-causing alcoholic drinks (Photo by Kobby Mendez on Unsplash)

Of course, it’s too soon to measure the impact of the WHO report on ingrained habits of alcohol consumption, but some governments are responding.

Canada Advises Citizens to Become Teetotalers

The Canadian government dramatically revised its guidelines on alcohol consumption. Its recommendation: “It should be Dry January all year round . . . zero alcohol is the only risk-free approach.”

This is a titanic change in policy. The magnitude of the shift cannot be overstated. The former guidelines allowed ten drinks per week for women and fifteen for men. The new guidelines are zero alcoholic drinks for both. My guess is that new guidelines will be unpopular and not widely adopted, at least not immediately.

In addition, both the Canadian government and WHO recommend that alcohol bottles and cans include a warning similar to tobacco products.

In France, where I live, the only reaction I’ve heard to WHO’s recommendations is disdain. Wine is France’s most valuable agricultural product and accounts for 15 percent of agricultural revenue. And the industry generates 300,000 jobs. In terms of national identity, wine is to France what whiskey is to Ireland.

Wine—the heart of France’s farming industry (Photo by Benjamin Deyoung on Unsplash)

Sober Spirituality

A surprising nondrinking US spokesperson is an Episcopalian pastor, the Reverend Erin Jean Warde. She jokes that wherever three or four Episcopalians meet, there’s usually a fifth.

A whiskey drink (Photo by Ash Edmonds on Unsplash)

Reverend Warde’s decision to promote sobriety is remarkable because alcohol, especially wine, is an important part of the Christian tradition. 

The first miracle Jesus performed was turning water into wine during a wedding. Moreover, one of the most sacred of Christian rituals—Holy Communion—involves eating a piece of bread, which symbolizes Jesus’s flesh, and drinking wine, which symbolizes his blood.

In Sober Spirituality, her popular book, Reverend Warde shares her own journey to sobriety and offers help to others who want to “reexamine their relationship with alcohol.”

My Strategy

Partly because of my age (eighty-one), partly because of the medications I take, and partly because alcohol makes me feel nauseated, I’ve joined the sobriety society. Instead of a glass of wine, I bring some sparkling water or a fruit smoothie to the neighborhood apero party on Friday night. No one cares!

Berry smoothies (Photo by Rirri on Unsplash)

Emotional Sobriety—a Challenge

The only time I’m tempted to have a cocktail is when I’m stressed and want to escape my feelings. Without alcohol, I’ve learned I can cope, even if it means being uncomfortable in my skin until I recover my equilibrium.

Incidentally, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous coined the term emotional sobriety, which describes the ability to regulate one’s emotions without the crutch of alcohol.

Gen Z and Millennials Lead the Sobriety Revolution

Gen Z and millennials are drinking less than their elders. As one of the results, nonalcoholic bars have opened up to meet their needs to socialize without alcohol.

The alcohol industry is scrambling to adapt and is producing alcohol-free wine, beer, and spirits. The National Public Health Information Coalition reports that “sales for alcohol-free beers and spirits are through the roof, with the numbers continuing to healthily rise, meaning there’s a sobriety revolution occurring and brands are taking note.”

Ahead of Their Time

In 1913, a thousand women from the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and a thousand men from the Anti-Saloon League marched on Washington, DC, to promote sobriety. Apparently, they were a century ahead of their time.

(Cover photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash)