Dry January, drier social life: the trials and tribulations of those who commit to a month of sobriety

An alcohol-free month means much more than just giving up booze. Our analysis of social media mentions of ‘Dry January’ show consumers were less social and had to fight major cravings over the month of January

As the cold, damp weather heralds the start of February, and the optimism of New Year’s resolutions fade into a distant memory, countless people up and down the UK welcomed the end of their commitment to Dry January.

Now in its 6th year, Dry January has evolved from a public health campaign, organised by the charity Alcohol Change UK, urging people to abstain from alcohol for the month of January, into a social challenge clocking in close to four million Brits in 2018.

We turned to social data from last year’s campaign to assess how those partaking in Dry January managed over the course of the month, and what the biggest challenges they faced were.

The 5 stages of Dry January - Consumers start off feeling motivated overall, but weeks are followed by frustration, cravings and lack of social interactions. Close to the end, they celebrate the achievement with a sense of happiness and relief.

The first weekend: Make or break 

Our analysis of Twitter conversations showed that the first weekend was the biggest hurdle for most participants. The overwhelming sentiment was ‘sadness’ (42%), with most people who gave up on the commitment having done so during the first weekend of January, indicating that the temptation proved to be too great for many, even at such an early stage. Unsurprisingly, the most used emoji was the ‘clinking beer mugs’ emoji, illustrating the carefree cheer of those who gave up early. However, after an initial bout of euphoria, the mood amongst quitters quickly shifted to regret and disappointment, whereby the instant gratification provided by a drink wasn’t perceived as being worthwhile to many.

After Christmas and New Years most participants started off very motivated into Dry January. However, the first weekend seemed to be a challenge and the last hangover long forgotten...

After Christmas and New Years most participants started off very motivated into Dry January. However, the first weekend seemed to be a challenge and the last hangover long forgotten...

The second weekend: The cravings kick in

Twitter content decreased in volume following the first week of the year, as an overwhelming feeling of struggle set in. The most used emojis in the second weekend of January were ‘beer mugs’ and ‘wine glasses’, which were used to express people’s temptation to attend work drinks or to refer to their friends’ attempts to persuade them to come out for drinks.

During the second week of January, there were repeated expressions of cravings and people even shared their wishes for an 'alcohol' cheat day, leading the conversation to be reminiscent of one amongst dieters.

During the second week of January, there were repeated expressions of cravings and people even shared their wishes for an 'alcohol' cheat day, leading the conversation to be reminiscent of one amongst dieters.

The last two weekends: The final stretch

For those who were yet to give up on their commitment by weekend three, the mood improved. The overall sentiment of posts was equal in ‘joy’ (35%) and ‘sadness’ (35%), while many referred to how the month felt as though it had lasted forever. The third weekend was accompanied by joyful anticipation towards reaching the end of January and self-motivational tweets. Those who had not yet given up on their month-long commitment to sobriety were confident they’d survive the last stretch and expressed satisfaction over the money saved and weight lost.

The last two weeks of Dry January seemed to go in slow motion for some participants. However, people also started to accept their new sober lifestyle and found alternative activities like movie nights for the weekends.

The last two weeks of Dry January seemed to go in slow motion for some participants. However, people also started to accept their new sober lifestyle and found alternative activities like movie nights for the weekends.

The final countdown

And finally, Brits celebrated the end of January with a drink (or three), as indicated by the multiple alcoholic beverage emojis featuring repeatedly in social conversations. It may well be that, for many participants, Dry January is nothing more than a challenge or a quick fix for their indulgent Christmas behaviour. However, research has shown that those who survive the first month of the year sober benefit from tangible health benefits such as weight loss, a decrease in blood pressure and a reduced risk of diabetes. The same study suggests that participating in Dry January could lead to long term changes in the ways people perceive and consume alcohol.

The first weekend after Dry January felt like a resurrection of the dead for some and others took real pride in their achievement.

The first weekend after Dry January felt like a resurrection of the dead for some and others took real pride in their achievement.

An unexpected insight

The overall social conversation surrounding Dry January appears to focus more on the struggles of alcohol-free life than the benefits, leading one to assume that social media might provide more of a hindrance than an aid to the cause. However, with an estimated 4.2 million booze-free participants in 2019, the number of participants is on the rise, suggesting that’s not the case. Then why is it that we tend to focus so much on the negatives? Is drinking in fact so synonymous with socialising in the UK that what people tend to miss is not necessarily the alcohol but the opportunity to have a chat and unwind that comes with it?

That said, there’s a chance we might be on the brink of a cultural turning point, with Millennials and Gen Z’s paving for a seemingly healthier, more moderate approach towards drinking. BMC Public Health analysed data on roughly 10,000 young people (surveyed between 2005 and 2015) and found that abstaining from alcohol altogether is becoming increasingly mainstream/ prevalent among both generations. Additionally, more than 25% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK now classify themselves as “non-drinkers”. Unsurprisingly, the alcohol industry seems worried, with hypotheses/speculations among insiders that drinking will become as unfashionable as smoking. Diageo, for one, have responded by launching an entirely new drinks range in 2015, with their brand Seedlip – the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit. There seems to be a trend on the horizon...