Cheers to Dry January: Reasons Las Vegans Take an Alcohol Hiatus

Part one: Exploring the origins of the movement and the ‘why’ behind the decision to abstain from alcohol for a month

This is the first installment of a four-part series highlighting the ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘Why’, ‘How’ and, of course, ‘Where’ of observing Dry January. If you’d like to participate in the conversation, find Gemini on social media: @wishboneandvine.

“Dry January” as an official event was first observed in the United Kingdom in 2013, started by Emily Robinson of Alcohol Change UK. Robinson stayed away from alcohol in January 2011 in preparation for a half marathon. According to the Alcohol Change UK website (ACUK), Robinson found unexpected health benefits in her choice and realized that people around her were quite interested in her decision. When she joined ACUK in 2012, she repeated the experiment. In 2013, the inaugural campaign garnered 4,000 participants.

A decade later, over 130,000 participants in the UK have officially signed up. According to their Facebook page, over four million people have made similar declarations. Various studies indicate anywhere from 20% to 35% of adults of drinking age participate in Dry January.

ACUK makes sobriety portable: there’s an app for that.

Courtesy of ACUK website

Another take on the unofficial start of Dry January:

In the US, Seattle Times writer Nicole Brodeur wrote “A Good Time to Dry Up” based on her choice to do Dry January in 2010. She shares in the article that a friend had been doing it for six or seven years. An official event or movement is not linked to the article, but credit where it’s due.

Making a choice: Why do people do Dry January?

Whether a resolution for the new year, a personal health decision, curiosity about sobriety or a social media fad, the reasons behind participating in Dry January–often referred to as DryAnuary–are many.

The choice in my house was twofold. First, we ended the year stuck in the travel debacle of Winter ‘22, never making it to our holiday destination after five days of cancellations and rerouting. After more nights in airports than beds, we finally settled into a very cathartic, but boozy, weeklong New Orleans adventure. I made a resolution for the new year: I needed to get reacquainted with my water bottle.

Second, I wanted to write this series as more than just a list of where you can imbibe non-alcoholic beverages (you’ll get plenty of recommendations, I assure you) but how and why this monthlong experience exists and how it affects people, especially in a city such as Las Vegas, with a special look at those in the hospitality industry.

An unexpected third reason presented itself during the past two weeks (it’s only been two weeks?!). Akin to a plane running on autopilot, ordering a cocktail at happy hour, wine with dinner or beer with a pizza is rote behavior for us. Not only do I work in and mostly write about the food and beverage scene, my husband and I are avid consumers and gustatory enthusiasts. Breaking that habit is a big step towards better self-awareness.

Discussing this article and my listed reasons for the process with friends, colleagues and hospitality workers over the past two weeks, a very unscientific poll has raised two main issues: social pressures, norms and expectations; and health concerns.

Alcohol as a social lubricant

Meesh Clifford, a good friend and bartender at Davy’s on Main Street in the downtown Arts District, said she, too, was trying to avoid the automated inclusion of alcohol after work or in social situations.

“In hospitality, I’m constantly around alcohol,” says Clifford. “Getting off work and making [myself] a drink is second nature. I’m trying to break the habit of drinking as an automatic part of my day; [to be aware of] the way that it is so deeply ingrained as part of hanging out with friends or going to events.”

Photo by ELEVATE

She says it changes the focus of her social interactions. “Taking it out of my social life has helped me focus on doing things that are actually fun and interesting, instead of having alcohol be the main event of the evening. I’m not just grabbing a drink with a friend; I’m hanging out with people I genuinely enjoy spending time with.”

Niyen Iredia, a member of one of my Dry January social media groups, talked to me about his Why. “I’m a big social drinker, but generally not at other times. I also live in a city with a big drinking culture and I’m surrounded by alcohol all the time. You see how easily people can lose control when it comes to substances.”

Iredia acknowledges the social aspect–and importance–of support. “I’ve probably done Dry January five or six times,” he says. “When I found out other people were doing it, I joined them. I don’t need the extra support, but I know other people do. It’s nice to be able to be an extra resource and a force for good in their lives.”

Others are quick to the point. Friend Lillian Hillhouse says she is “taking January to reflect on [her] relationship with alcohol.”

Sorry, fellow imbibers: all alcohol is unhealthy

Abstaining for health reasons can be for anything related to physical or mental health, including weight loss, sleep disruptions, mental acuity and more. While there are studies that talk about extracts and enzymes and the like found in alcoholic drinks–mostly wine–that have potentially positive health effects, the fact is that alcohol itself is poison.

“It’s nice to give my brain and body a rest from booze,” says Clifford. “I feel better physically because my body isn’t constantly processing toxins, and I’m not consuming all those extra calories and carbs.”

And, boy, do those calories and carbohydrates (sugars) add up! Alcohol is full of “empty” calories offering little to no nutritional value. Hard liquor usually has no carbs, but averages 60-100 calories per one-ounce “shot.” A five-ounce glass of wine has approximately 100-125 calories and five to seven grams of carbs. A 12-ounce beer can deliver as little as 55-99 calories (if light beer commercials are to be believed) and as many as 25 or more carbs and 400 or more calories when considering high-alcohol Triple IPA styles.

Photo from CDC website

If you use mixers, you’re in for a high-caloric shock. Typical soda drinks, creamy additions (think Mudslides, Pina Coladas, White Russians) and syrups often add hundreds of calories in sugar and saturated fats to your favorite spirit.

Sleep disorders are also a common problem among those who imbibe. Alcohol is a depressant, lowering the speed at which your body processes almost everything. While this makes you tired and you want to sleep, it’s not good sleep. Alcohol is a depressant but also raises your blood pressure, which works against your body’s need to relax and refresh during sleep. Add that alcohol is a toxin and your body works hard to process it and rid your system of it, often before other systemic needs, disrupting the rest and restoration process.

Clifford adds, “I’m sleeping better, have more energy, and my mood has been pretty upbeat!”

Alcohol can cause memory issues, foggy thinking, delayed reactions and more, long after your last drink. It also lowers inhibition, which may encourage risky behaviors including, yes, drinking more and too much. It also exacerbates the effects of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

Sarah Ryan, a bartender for the better part of 23 years, is sober. “I have had a questionable personal relationship with alcohol over the years,” she says while making me “mocktails” at Red Dwarf on Vegas Valley Drive. “Ultimately, a major traumatic incident found me drinking to cope. Stopping all use [helped me] to confront my PTSD.”

Red Dwarf’s Bartender Sarah Ryan / Courtesy of Samantha Gemini Stevens

While she will happily pour you a beer or mix you a tiki drink, Ryan adds, “I only create seasonal cocktails that can be made into mocktails with alcohol-free distillates now.”

Some good news: Where to find alcohol alternatives

A growing list of where we have been going and what we have been drinking, no alcohol required! Most of these are standard offerings and will continue after January. We will do our best to keep the information as current as possible.

Coming soon are more details and interviews. In the meantime, visit them and let us know what you think!

Red Dwarf

1305 Vegas Valley Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89169

11 a.m. to 1 a.m., daily

  • We tried: A Cure for Syphilis, Painkiller, Mai Tai, Halekulani, and Dole Whip. Don’t forget to ask for the Humuhumununkukuapua’a!

Sparrow + Wolf

4480 Spring Mountain Rd #100, Las Vegas, NV 89102

Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

  • We tried: Straight-Edge Punk’n, Orange Creamsicle, Sage Me From Myself, and a take on Harney & Sons

Al Solito Posto

Inside Tivoli Village. 420 S Rampart Blvd #180, Las Vegas, NV 89145

Sunday – Brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Monday through Thursday – Dinner – 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday – Brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Saturday – Brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

  • We tried: Tipping Point, Bohemian Spirit and Tropical Mule

Ada’s Wine Bar

Inside Tivoli Village. 410 S Rampart Blvd #120, Las Vegas, NV 89145

Sunday through Thursday 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday and Saturday 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.

  • We tried: Non-alcoholic Gin and Tonic, Spritz

This list will be updated each week.

For more information, check out these resources:

Alcoholics Anonymous, LV Central Office
(702) 598-1888

Blog: Sober in Vegas

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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