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How Dry January became the Wordle of the resolution world

As Dry January explodes in popularity, so do the tips and tricks to successfully make it through the month.Ally Rzesa/Globe Staff

Ten years ago, Dry January was a small, low-glamour public health initiative started by a UK charity trying to motivate people to take a month off from drinking. Today? It’s as if a new holiday (or anti-holiday, depending on your perspective) has been added to the calendar.

There are tips on how to travel during Dry January, how to date, and how to smoothly turn down a drink (pretend you’re a gym rat). There’s a Dry January app, a trademark, and, why not, an official nonalcoholic wine.

You can buy pro- or anti-Dry January T-shirts, do a Dry January GoFundMe, and watch Dry January influencers extoll their newly glowing skin and restful nights.


God help us, it’s weaker than even a mocktail, but there’s Dry January humor (sample joke: I’m doing Dry January: dry gin, dry cider, dry martini, dry white wine.)

In Scituate, Meghan Cotter, a real estate agent and mother of two, is part of a Dry January group chat. “Stay strong,” members text each other when temptation looms.

Dry January’s growing popularity comes in the wake of soaring alcohol use during the pandemic, and amid alarming headlines like “Even a Little Alcohol Can Harm Your Health” and a growing “new temperance movement.”

Dry January has been called “Lent for millennials,” and not unlike another British import, Prince Harry, it has become impossible to avoid.

As the month proceeds, Twitter is littered with Dry January dropouts — “I have broken dry January,” @Ry3Dunn tweeted on Jan. 13. “No further questions at this time” — and by those who’ve turned Dry January into Damp January.

Count Lawson Clarke, a freelance creative director from Hingham, among them.

“Well, it’s February somewhere,” he tweeted on Jan. 16, after a ski weekend where he used the one-time “hall pass” he had promised himself to enjoy apres ski beer, which turned into wine with dinner, which turned into beer at lunch the next day.


His friends gave him “no end of crap for cracking,” he said, “they were like, you’re so weak.” He paused for effect. “By the way, I just checked in with one and he cracked this weekend.”

Clarke decided to do Dry January because he was like a “foie gras goose” after the holidays, he said, and has gotten himself back on track after his ski weekend. “As an adult” — he’s 51, with two kids — “you suddenly realize how amazing a good night’s sleep is.”

Surveys trying to capture the number of people doing Dry January in 2022 put the number somewhere between nearly 20 percent of legal-age adults and 35 percent, and it’s also moving in on other parts of the calendar. Sober Spring is becoming a thing, and so is Sober October.

Advertisers eager to break through the clutter are trying to grab some of that Dry January magic, good taste be damned.

“Why do Dry January when you can do sweaty January?” Peloton asks in a promotion.

What?? wondered a Reddit user. “Is Peloton suggesting that trying to get sober isn’t really a worthy goal for the New Year?”

Going Peloton one further, Tito’s, “certified gluten-free” vodka, brought on Martha Stewart as a spokesperson to push alternative uses for vodka during Dry January and to, well, wink, wink.


In a jaunty ad, she uses it to clean, adds it to pasta sauce, splashes it in a vase to keep flowers in bloom, and then, heh heh heh, she looks coyly at the camera as she holds a martini glass. “I certainly can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing with my Tito’s,” she coos.

When a nonprofit called Alcohol Concern (now Alcohol Change UK) launched the campaign in 2013, it was only 4,000 people strong, bars weren’t selling $20 mocktails, and it’s safe to say that The Hollywood Reporter (and other publications) was not running headlines like “Sober Stars Step Into Spotlight Amid ‘Dry January’ Focus.”

Nicole Brodeur, a former Seattle Times columnist who wrote about doing a “Dry January” in 2010 (years before there were Dry January wristbands and mugs), reflected on the growing acceptance of turning down a glass of wine.

Back then, she said, “if you weren’t drinking, you were either pregnant or sober.”

“I think people still notice when you’re not imbibing,” she added, but in today’s world, there’s no need to explain, and if you do, “it can make for an interesting conversation . . . and not a buzz-kill.”

Unless, that is, you’re sick of hearing about Dry January.

Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.