Goodbye, 'Dry January'. Hello… semi-dry year
Sober months are popular. Dry January (aka Drynuary) punctates the gin-soaked revels of the holiday months and Sober October often caps summers spent drinking to excess on sunny patios. For many, going straight edge, if only temporarily, seems like a savvy health move. Or at the very least, a way to avoid your liver breaking up with you.
Before you wake your well-rested liver to dive into a February of hard-earned cocktail chugging, you may want to mix in the latest trend in spirits first: moderation. Yup, moderation that old wet blanket. Or in this case, an almost dry blanket.
Surprisingly, that blanket is becoming downright trendy.
Unsurprisingly, moderate monthly drinking, as opposed to stepping on the gas and then occasionally slamming on the brakes with your consumption, is better for you. Alcohol abuse is linked to everything from depression, to dementia, to cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach and, yes, liver. Professor Charles Bamforth, of the University of California, Davis, says "you are seriously mistaken if you think having a month without drinking will protect you from the effects of excessive drinking for the rest of the year." His best advice? Drink moderately all year long. It could even fortify your heart. But 30 days of sobriety does not a healthy liver make. Especially if you're pickling it the other 335 days.
The problem is some of us rely on alcohol a lot. And no wonder. It's a social lubricant that makes the intolerable not only tolerable but downright enjoyable for many. I'll repeat that. It can make the intolerable enjoyable. Few of us could survive December's barrage of family engagements without getting a little stewed. I'm also reminded of a doctor friend of mine who is fond of the drink (and other party aids) who went to an EDM show sober and realized how much he actually hated the music. I've yet to hear him declare his love for the genre since. If you need to get intoxicated to like something, you don't like it. Alcohol changes things. And not just your health or the reliability of your internal organs the following day. It changes your perception.
Interestingly, there is a rising trend of sobriety amongst millennials. Even media types, who find themselves at wet work functions as a matter of course, are abstaining. Hangovers could rightly be considered an occupational hazard for most media professionals but my benefits plan won't cover it. I've checked. I'm no longer a big drinker but writers and journalists are notoriously fond of the drink. Still, lifestyle writer, Pippa Lord gave up drinking for a spell and even weathered some first dates completely dry. Dating sans alcohol is not for the faint of heart but Lord's experience was positive. "I've actually really enjoyed it, because you don't have that drink to make things more interesting, you just have yourself. And they have to work a little harder, too. There's not that drinking mojo that comes on after a couple glasses." That mojo can be helpful on a date. It can also falsely raise someone's stock. None of us are immune to the effect of beer goggles, which help you peer past a person's flaws, both physical and well, let's say spiritual (I'm being diplomatic). Full disclosure: I once canoodled, however brief, with a woman who didn't believe in evolution. Unsurprisingly, drinks were involved.
Forget about losing a day (or three, convalescence gets far worse as you age) in the cloudy haze of a hangover. You could lose 6 months dating someone you only like because vodka played cupid. Dating sober may be genius. Chapeau millennials. Although, you can expect some occasional awkwardness. I went on date sober once and upon ordering a booze-free cocktail was asked point blank if I had a drinking problem or was on antibiotics. The implication? Only the unwell avoid alcohol. The remainder of the date was polite, underwhelming and short. But many are fine with teetotalling. In fact, it's trending.
Non-romantic outings among friends are becoming less centered around a pitcher of beer or bottle of Pinot. Juice Crawls, where party groups hustle from location to location to do shots of healthy non-boozy cocktails (think bright green liquid), are increasingly popular. Sober morning raves and social networks are gaining momentum with more mindful millennials as well. Trying to separate hooch from social gatherings isn't easy. Especially when you're the only one intent on doing the separating. Specifically sober social gatherings are changing that and thankfully, bars are accommodating the trend.
Hotspot Bar Raval in Toronto prides itself on a broad selection of low-octane bevies. Their menu, which pushes drinks with a softer, more thoughtful touch reads: "Our "low-octane" cocktail options are perfect to sip on comfortably, ensuring the levity you feel upon leaving will be related to the energy you share with us, and not from the consumption of alcohol." Subtlety and delicate flavours are favoured over a heavy hand. Ultimately, you can enjoy a drink or two and still accurately size up the person seated opposite you. And then drive yourself home. Or the two of you home. Wink. The low-octane trend may be the return of elegant drinking.
So go easy regularly. Besides, you'll likely be on better terms with your liver, and your moral compass, the next day.
Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen.