DeKALB – Local experts say people have been starting the New Year on a positive note by eliminating alcohol from their diet.
So much so, it’s leading non-alcoholic beverages to gain steam in the market.
It is all part of a monthlong campaign dubbed, “Dry January,” that encourages people to examine their drinking habits and abstain from using alcohol.
Bridget Garrelts, licensed clinical professional counselor and the addictions team lead at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb, said it’s easy to pinpoint why people are taking their participation in the campaign so seriously.
“I do think it’s a small timeframe,” Garrelts said. “It’s one month. It gives people the opportunity to make some changes and to try something new. I think it’s a manageable goal for people to set around that time of year where people do want to set some goals. So, I think that is probably helping to drive a lot of the popularity.”
The trend has gained steam over the past couple years, as more national grocer chains offer more alcohol-free options, including wine, beer or zero-proof even spirits. Chains such as Walmart, Hy-Vee, Meijer, Jewel-Osco, Amazon and Costco also sell alcohol-free alternatives, some with entire shelves devoted to the beverages.
According to Nielsen IQ, a global consumer data collector, desire for alcohol free drinking options grew significantly as the COVID-19 pandemic settled in. U.S. non-alcoholic beverage sales grew by 20.6% between August 2021 and August 2022, coming in at $395 million, the data shows. Alcohol free beer made up the majority, with $328 million in sales, non-alcoholic wine about 13.4% of sales and alcoholic spirits at 1.3%, or $5 million in sales.
Data shows younger consumers such as Millennials and Generation Z are less interested in drinking alcohol than previous generations, according to Nielsen IQ.
Reports put out by Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend those who consume alcohol should do so in moderation, about one drink per day for women and two per day for men, The Associated Press reported. Experts say people who tend to drink consume more.
There are a number of health benefits to taking part in Dry January and reducing one’s alcohol consumption, such as sleeping better, having more energy, decreased weight and improved blood pressure, Garrelts said.
One’s mental health, however, may feel worse at the beginning.
“But when alcohol or any other drugs are completely out of their system, then they may start to feel better,” Garrelts said. “If they don’t, then that may indicate that there is a mental health condition potentially.”
Garrelts pointed to people with certain mental health conditions, saying they may benefit greatly from participating in Dry January.
“I think a lot of times there’s crossover with mental health and substance use,” she said. “It’s not always clear what happens first. But I think if somebody has an underlying mental health condition and they stop using substances they might recognize that there is that underlying mental health issue still going on. … If they haven’t noticed much of an increase in their overall mood, then maybe that would be a good time to seek out therapy to try to go through that journey and kind of see what’s going on.”
Dr. Robert Glovsky, an internal medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, said women are more likely to reap the benefits from participating in Dry January than men.
“Alcohol is absorbed at a little bit higher concentration in women,” Glovsky said. “They may take a little bit longer to metabolize it. Drinking the same amount as a man, a woman can become more impaired than a man. … I wouldn’t say that men don’t get any benefit from Dry January either. Obviously, they do as well. But women would be just a little more at risk just because of their chemistry.”
Garrelts cautions people who are taking part in Dry January from turning to other substances.
“We’d want to be careful from replacing one substance with another substance because that could continue if there is an addiction problem,” Garrelts said. “A lot of times we see in addiction therapy that when someone stops using one substance and uses another that the addiction continues no matter what the substance is.”
Glovsky pointed to people with health conditions such as diabetes and cancer as likely to benefit from reducing their alcohol consumption.
He stressed that alcohol has a tendency to make medications less effective.
“A lot of times medications are broken down by the liver,” Glovsky said. “If your liver’s not functioning properly, it can interfere and either keep higher levels in your body or not make them work as good. Certain medications would be potentially dangerous to people that are on lots of medications or drinking.”
Garrelts said she doesn’t believe alcohol’s standing in society as a popular go-to substance for many will be upended.
“I do think alcohol is very popular because it’s legal and it’s very commonly used, which I think is also with marijuana gaining a lot more popularity with the legality that has changed with marijuana,” she said. “I often encourage people to remember that just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe.”