Author Kara Fletcher, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Regina
Campaigns that challenge people to abstain from alcohol for one month — often in support of a good cause — have emerged across the globe over the past decade. Dry January officially launched in 2013 with a public health campaign by British charity Alcohol Change.
Other “month of abstinence” campaigns have included Dry July, Sober September, Sober October and “Dry February” — a few examples of campaigns from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and beyond. Dry campaigns have gained traction with people increasingly taking a time out from drinking alcohol for one month.
Early research suggests alcohol use has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among individuals who have mental health challenges. The pandemic may be contributing to the greater interest in dry month campaigns. Market research surveys have found an estimated one in five people participated in Dry January in 2022.
On the surface, “dry” months are great — individuals set a personal goal to abstain from drinking, are publicly encouraged to achieve it and raise funds for a charity. It can be seen as supportive and positive, and many individuals tout the health benefits they experience as a result.
Substance use is complex
As a substance use researcher and therapist, I certainly do not dispute the potential benefits of avoiding alcohol for a month to meet personal health goals. I also appreciate the peer support received by individuals doing these challenges.
So, why was I so bothered as I listened to someone sharing the life-changing benefits of her four-week sobriety stint on the radio? Why am I irked when people express relief when their four weeks of Dry February are over, and they can get back to “wine time?”
I’m troubled because while dry drinking campaigns benefit many, they do not help the individuals that I have worked with over the years. These attitudes and campaigns do not contribute to a more nuanced discussion about substance use. Instead, they perpetuate the idea that quitting drinking for a month is a choice, and an easy and positive one at that.
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necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ‘FASD Prevention Conversation, A Shared Responsibility Project’, its stakeholders, and/or funders.