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Two years of global pandemic featuring lockdowns, school disruptions, remote work, job losses, family squabbles over vaccination, loss of loved ones and countless other anxiety-inducing events have been tough on morale.

It’s enough to drive you to drink.

And drink we have.

Alcohol consumption has increased sharply during the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, sales in the U.S. increased 34 per cent. In Canada, 24 per cent of alcohol users are drinking more than they did prior to the pandemic, according to a survey conducted in May.

But the numbers are a little more nuanced than they may suggest. While about one in four Canadians is drinking more, a similar number is also drinking a lot less.

If you want to join the latter group – and there are many health benefits to cutting back on alcohol consumption – Dry January may be for you.

The idea of abstaining from alcohol for the first month of the year is an initiative of Alcohol Change U.K., which launched a campaign in 2013 with the promise that, post-holiday, revellers could “ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline and save some serious money by giving up alcohol for 31 days.”

(For the record, John Ore of the U.S. had a similar idea in 2006 when he coined the term “Drynuary,” but it didn’t have the same reach. We will leave it to historians to sort out the origin story.)

Dry January generates a lot of mockery. It’s a gimmick. It’s simplistic. It’s pointless. It’s virtue signalling.

These things may well be true in some cases. But, at the very least, Dry January is harmless. There are few, if any, downsides to cutting down on alcohol consumption.

Like other New Year’s resolutions, it’s an opportunity to set new goals – to reset – and it can benefit a lot of people.

But like other resolutions or sharp lifestyle changes, it needs to be done thoughtfully and purposefully to have an effect.

The single greatest benefit of Dry January is offering individuals an opportunity (or excuse, if you prefer) to reflect on their relationship with alcohol.

Why do you drink? How often do you drink? How much do you drink? How do you feel after you drink? Will you miss it if you abstain for 31 days?

Others see it as an opportunity to lose weight (alcohol features a lot of empty calories), save money (drinking is expensive) and shake up their social life.

Alcohol is ubiquitous in society. About three-quarters of Canadians 15 and older drink alcohol at least once a year. The remainder abstain for a wide variety of reasons, from religious to health-related.

The leap from the drinker to non-drinker category can be difficult, and scary, even for 31 days.

Much of our social lives revolve around alcohol. That glass of wine with dinner, or a night out with friends, can be a well-ingrained routine. And it all adds up.

Many people drink a lot more than they care to admit. They use alcohol to numb their fears, sadness, anxiety or anger – and there’s a lot of that going around now.

Per-capita consumption in Canada is 98.6 litres a year – 69.3 litres of beer, 16.7 litres of wine and 5.7 litres of spirits. As a country, we consume 50 per cent more alcohol than the global average.

Technically, there are no safe levels of alcohol consumption. Alcohol misuse kills about 5,000 Canadians a year and results in 77,000 hospitalizations, while producing about $14.6-billion in societal costs.

Alcohol is a poison, but it’s important to remember that the dose makes the poison.

Most people consume responsibly. But they also do so without much thought. Dry January provides an opportunity to think about how drinking affects you physically, mentally and socially.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Dry January is how it has been embraced by young people – millennials and Gen Z.

They are “sober curious,” with popular Instagram accounts such as “Sober Girls Society” and hashtags such as #SoberIsSexy and #DryJanCan. And, of course, there is the Dry January app, Try Dry.

Giving up alcohol for 31 days is not going to dramatically change your life. But it could be a springboard to something a little better – a clearer head, a slimmer waist, better sleep, a new way of socializing.

As the proverb holds: “A change is as good as a rest.”

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