Dry January Leads to Less Drinking: Alcohol Consumption Falls in U.S.

The Dry January movement was founded in the U.K. by Alcohol Change UK in 2013. The initial campaign included 4,000 people taking part. The increase in participants has been dramatic, with around 130,000 committing themselves to a new start.

Key takeaways:
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    The Dry January movement serves as a method to limit alcohol abuse in heavy users who complete the challenge.
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    The COVID-19 pandemic led to increased rates of alcohol abuse due to increases of stress from the virus’s aftereffects, however alcohol consumption has dropped.
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    Alcohol use disorder is the fourth major cause of death in the U.S., yet trends show signs of increased favorability in alcohol-free beverages.

Efforts with Dry January have also grown in the U.S., with studies showing the movement to be an effective way to cut-back on alcohol abuse and the symptoms that come with it.

What is alcohol use disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder is a pattern which features inability to control one's use of drinking. In many cases, those suffering from the disorder feel dependent on alcohol for activities or to satisfy emotional relief. Alcohol use disorder included increased drinking to attain a certain state, or withdraw symptoms when no longer drinking.

Some signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Prioritize drinking over responsibilities such as work or school
  • Strong will or urge to drink alcohol
  • Consume alcohol in obscure situations
  • Constantly hungover
  • Repeated attempts to quit drinking

COVID-19 pandemic effects on alcohol use

The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. occurred on January 22, 2020, with many lockdowns occurring in the spring as health precautions for the spread of the virus. Due to the lockdowns, many states relaxed their alcohol laws to provide economic support for restaurants and liquor stores. For the first time Americans could capture alcoholic drinks via curbside or in-store pick-up.

One U.S. study found participants who were severely impacted by COVID-19 to increase their drinking consumption levels, while those unaffected by the pandemic maintained more normal drinking levels.

The British Medical Association reported 21% of U.K. adults consumed more alcohol than usual in the original national lockdown. By July 2021, that number had fallen to 13%.

Impact of alcohol use disorder in the U.S. and U.K.

Although the legal drinking limit is 21 in the U.S., according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), around 15 million people 12 and older suffer from AUD. A shocking 414,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 suffer from the disorder.

Despite these eye-popping statistics, alcohol consumption is trending down in popularity in the U.S. A Gallup Poll found 60% of Americans in 2020 to consume alcohol, versus 65% in 2019. That is considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw increased dependency in alcohol on casual drinkers.

Across the pond, the National Health Service (NHS) Statistics on Alcohol in England found 21% of the adult population consuming alcohol at levels increasing their risk of ill health in 2021. While alcohol consumption is trending down in the U.K. since 2004, alcohol-related deaths increased over 18% from 2019 to 2020.

Dry January leads to decreased alcohol consumption

Advocates of the Dry January movement admit that it is not a solution to treating AUD, however it can show participants they don’t need alcohol to consume them. One University of Sussex study in 2019 evaluated the effects of Dry January, finding positive results in those who completed the study.

The investigation included 800 participants in 2018 out of a possible 40,000 taking place in Dry January. Their findings based on averages showed days drinking falling from 4.3 to 3.3 per week, units consumed per day dropping from 8.6 to 7.1, and action of being drunk falling from 3.4 per month to 2.1 per month.

A more recent probe from Sussex in March 2022 found Dry January participants bettered from the challenge compared to those who didn’t. It is of note that Dry January attracts more heavy drinkers, those knowing they have a drinking issue. For most, they might not yet realize their drinking addiction and proceed to not attend the issue.

Although these are positive changes, not enough proficient sample-sizes have been produced to highlight significant results from the Dry January Movement. Little research has been produced to observe the effects of Dry January in the U.S.

Non-alcoholic beverage increase in popularity

Nielsen IQ shows that non-alcoholic beverages are becoming more popular among Gen-Z populations compared to previous generations. They found significant increases of consumption within non-alcoholic beer, wine, and spirits.

In 2022, 0.47% of alcohol sales were non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits — a profound increase from years previous. More options are becoming available, recently 72 new non-alcoholic drinks were approved for U.S. markets from mid-July 2021 to mid-July 2022.


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