Why I’m Abstaining From Dry January


I’VE SPENT THE past few weeks reading the social-media accounts of friends and acquaintances touting their wineless state during Dry January, aka

Dryuary

(or even, awkwardly, Drynuary). Some have been taking a few days off alcohol during the week; others are spending an entire month alcohol-free. I haven’t joined them. My plan has been to drink wine in modest amounts with dinner every day in January, just as I do during the other eleven months of the year.

These decisions are highly personal, and I know that there are wine lovers for whom a period of abstinence can be a helpful way to manage a beverage that, for some, can lead to dependence and medical issues. You won’t be surprised to learn that a wine columnist isn’t part of a movement to forgo wine for an arbitrary period. I look forward to the comfort and pleasure of drinking wine with my meal every night. It’s a ritual my husband and I both enjoy, and I think there are benefits to maintaining the rituals that give shape to our days, especially during these turbulent times.


I think there are benefits to maintaining the rituals that give shape to our days, especially during these turbulent times.

Dr. Jane Ogden,

a professor of health psychology at the University of Surrey in the U.K., has written extensively on women’s health. She agreed there are good reasons to uphold rituals in stressful periods. “I think the most important thing at the moment is self care and being kind to yourself,” she wrote in an email. “If a routine glass of something helps, then that’s fine. It’s the bigger picture which is more important!” Yes, she included an exclamation point, which I took as further approbation of my vinous custom.

Dr. Ogden added that she thought Dry January proponents might actually be putting themselves at future risk. They might end up drinking even more in February when they return to “regular” consumption. “We call this the what-the-hell effect, or disinhibition,” she wrote. “Probably best to just drink in moderation all year round so your liver doesn’t need time off and you don’t need to binge.”

Keri Glassman,

a New York-based nutritionist, registered dietitian and founder of the Nutritious Life Studio, also discussed the significance of our everyday customs. “Rituals can be important for consistency and structure within our days, weeks or months. A healthy ritual can be powerful in terms of maintaining long-term healthy behaviors,” Ms. Glassman noted. Dryuary devotees need to assess their goals—and their reasons for giving up alcohol, she said. “If you are doing it because you really overdid it, you’d better figure out why you overdid it,” she advised. “It’s better to alter your behavior long term.”

Dr. Eric Rimm,

a professor of epidemiology and nutrition as well as medicine at Harvard University, has found that many Dry January adherents are over-indulgers. “They aren’t the people drinking one glass of wine,” he said. “People tend to use January as a wake-up call.” Dr. Rimm does see a benefit they might enjoy: weight loss. “From a truly nutritional standpoint, people should remember there are 200 calories in a glass of wine. People who drink two to four glasses of wine a day do gain weight,” he said.

I told Dr. Rimm I’d defied those odds. I have even lost a few pounds since the start of the pandemic, and I drink two glasses of wine each day. Dr. Rimm replied that wine drinking should not be “singled out,” but that one should assess its place in an overall healthy lifestyle. Dr. Rimm drinks wine with dinner himself, at least six days a week. “I have one to three to four glasses a night. It’s part of my lifestyle,” he said.

It seems there are quite a few wine drinkers like me, still drinking as much as they always did this month, perhaps even more, judging by some wine merchants’ reports. For

Gary Fisch,

proprietor of two Gary’s Wine & Marketplace stores in suburban New Jersey (his wife,

Liz Fisch,

owns two as well), the first two weeks of January this year have been better than the first two weeks last year in all four stores. “People have given up on Dry January!” he wrote in an email.

Tekla Israelson,

a sales manager of Astor Wines & Spirits in New York, said that while sales normally decline in January, this year sales are up. “I think most people who started Dryuary gave it up on January 6th,” she said. According to an email from

Caleb Ganzer

of Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in New York, “We’ve had our best month in recent memory.” Mr. Ganzer added that a new subscription (aka wine of the month) helped sales, too. A dissenting report came from

Craig Perman,

proprietor of Perman Wine Selections in Chicago. He’s seen a slow January, which he notes is typical of the month and interprets as unsurprising in the current climate. “The political chaos and general uncertainty of 2021 has resulted in a dip in sales,” he said.

Dr. Edward Kerwin,

founder of Belle Fiore Winery in Ashland, Ore., and former medical director of the Clinical Research Institute in Medford, Ore., has also seen a slowdown of sales at his winery. He attributed it partly to Dry January and likewise reported slower sales as typical of the month. For his part, Dr. Kerwin has never practiced Dry January. He drinks wine with his meals most every night. “Wine is not a highly alcoholic beverage,” he noted.

It is, of course, still alcohol, as

Dr. Reid K. Hester

reminded me. He has spent nearly half a century analyzing alcohol use. He’s a Pismo Beach, Calif.-based research psychologist and co-founder of CheckUp & Choices, an online program for managing alcohol and drug habits, used by individuals and organizations. Dr. Hester, who holds a PhD in clinical psychology, calls Dryuary “the New Year’s resolution phenomenon” for those whose drinking has become problematic. Unlike the other experts I spoke with, he does think it has a lingering salutary effect. “One of the nice things about stopping drinking is that it resets your tolerance level,” he said.

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Is Drynuary something you are doing this year? Join the conversation below.

I told Dr. Hester that I drink two glasses of wine every night with dinner, seven days a week. “What you are referring to is an appropriate, low-risk alcohol use that has positive benefits,” he said. “Alcohol is rewiring in this context. It helps people adjust their attitudes and helps loosen them up. It can enhance positive emotional states.”

My emotional state and that of others needed some enhancement at times this month. At my house, a good wine becomes part of the conversation each night. Almost every time I open a bottle, my husband asks me to tell him about the winemaker, the winery and the vintage. Wine soothes the cares of the day and thoughts of trouble and strife. As the late, great

Bette Davis

once said, “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of Champagne.”

Write to Lettie at wine@wsj.com

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