The past year has been filled with coming and going trends. Remember Dalgona/whipped coffee that was the in thing for the first days of the shutdown? What about the resurgence of tie-dye, the week where Tiger King was the only topic discussed among friends and let us not forget the craze of perfecting homemade sourdough bread?

At the beginning of January, one of the items trending on social media was Dry January.

Dry January was trademarked by Alcohol Change UK in 2014. While the idea of taking a break from alcohol at the beginning of the year originated before then, Dry January is what became the global trend that reappears in social media feeds.

The final days of 2020 were filled with information about the health benefits of giving up alcohol for a month, unique alcohol-free drinks and articles predicting that 2021 would be the largest Dry January yet.

But Dry January 2021 may not have been as popular as predicted.

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Health impacts of Dry January

The British Journal of General Practice reported on a study of individuals partaking in Dry January. The article states “participants testify to how great a month off from alcohol can be; they sleep better, have more energy, some lose weight and save money and others notice improvements in their skin and hair.” It went on to explain:

“Research from the Royal Free Hospital in London has shown that there are positive physiological effects to be gained from taking part in Dry January. The study, performed on moderate drinkers (those drinking around the levels of recommended limits), has shown people experiencing improvements in concentration and sleep patterns, as well as having reduced cholesterol and lower glucose levels, lower blood pressure, weight loss overall, and losing 40% of their liver fat.”

Some people agreed that participating in Dry January could help their health during the first 31 days of the year, but they worried what the month of abstinence would do to their alcohol consumption habits beginning on Feb. 1.

The National Library of Medicine in Maryland published a study that found “very few Dry January participants experienced ‘rebound effects,’ and the proportions reporting increases in alcohol consumption were small: most participants reported decreases in all measures of alcohol consumption.”

Local alcohol consumption

While Dry January is observed throughout the country and beyond, it is possible that a break from alcohol could have more benefits locally than in other parts of the U.S.

For example, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services tracks alcohol consumption trends in both teens and adults. The most recent data shows that the percentage of Wisconsin teens that have consumed alcohol is higher than the percentage of U.S. teens:

  • 47.7% of ninth-graders in the U.S. have consumed alcohol while 55.9% of Wisconsin students that age have consumed alcohol.

  • 58% of sophomores in the U.S. have consumed alcohol while 60.2% of Wisconsin students that age have consumed alcohol.

  • 66.4% of juniors in the U.S. have consumed alcohol while 69.2% of Wisconsin students that age have consumed alcohol.

  • 71.7% of seniors in the U.S. have consumed alcohol while 73.4% of Wisconsin students that age have consumed alcohol.

Wisconsin also has a higher percentage of adults who have participated in binge drinking (21.9%) than nationwide. (16.1%). Across the border, the Substance Use In Minnesota organization reported that the most recent data (from 2015) showed that 13.9% of Minnesota adults binge drank.

The Substance Use in Minnesota organization defines binge drinking as “having five or more drinks of alcohol on a single occasion for men and four or more drinks of alcohol on a single occasion for women.”

It is likely that recent alcohol consumption levels are higher than the above data shows due to the pandemic and the numerous stressors that have come about because of its impacts, studies suggest

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported, “We know from previous disasters, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, that the stress of the events and anxiety about the future can increase drinking and exacerbate symptoms of alcohol use disorder. We also know that feeling socially isolated, a possible effect of physical distancing, can worsen symptoms of anxiety or depression, which may encourage more alcohol intake.”

Few events in recent history have resulted in such widespread stress and the need for physical distancing, experts note, which means it is very likely that alcohol consumption is up.

All of this means that Dry January in 2021 may not have been as “dry” as predicted.

Local sales solid

Local liquor stores contacted for this story reported no drop in sales. In fact, Chicone’s Liquor Mart in Hudson saw a 20% increase in sales compared to January 2020. West End Liquor in Red Wing and Rod’s Liquors in Cannon Falls also reported that January was a good month for sales.

What we don't yet know is whether local liquor store sales in January are due to fewer people participating in Dry January than previous year, if it is the result of bars and restaurants being closed or offering limited services, or other factors.

Ultimately, it is too early to know the impact of Dry January 2021. What we do know is that while it was popular at the beginning of the month, it may have been a trend that people participated in for a week or two before abandoning, much like whipped coffee and tie-dye.