As readers conclude a month without alcohol, many say they’ve changed for the better

As Dry January ends, Minnesotans are looking to February and a fresh future

Many readers say they've changed for the better after a month without alcohol.
Editor's note: This story first appeared in January 2022. We resurfaced it to support people participating in Dry January in 2023. If that's you, consider joining our Facebook community here.
When COVID shut things down, Tasha Coats and her husband found a pick-me-up — at-home happy hours.
"We started out trying to make it fun," Coats said. "But fun just turned into five hours of drinking every night."
Quickly, the post-work drinks became ingrained. She tried to cut back — no drinking Monday through Wednesday, the Plymouth resident would promise herself — but within a week would fall back into the routine.
Then Coats tried Dry January. After three weeks of abstaining, she doesn't miss the alcohol. Nonalcoholic cava hit the spot. Her husband concocted an N/A cosmopolitan that was "quite frankly, just as good." She drank on her 62nd birthday, as she'd planned to, but found that in many ways, she likes herself better sober.
Come February, she plans to make her drinking occasional, rather than habitual.
"So far with Dry January, I feel like I'm 100% in control of whether I drink," she said by phone. "I haven't lost weight, my sleep still sucks. But being in control of something that I let control me? That's what I really wanted to get out of it."
Dry January has become a phenomenon, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States. At the Star Tribune, we wondered: If we created a locally focused challenge, with articles and resources and a Facebook group of folks trying the same thing, would readers appreciate it?
They have. More than 1,100 people joined the group, quickly swapping introductions and support. They taste-tested N/A beer and wine and posted endorsements — as well as warnings: "If you want your wine to taste a little like bad Kool-Aid then this is for you."
But they delved deeper, too, describing their relationships with alcohol, colored by family history and tough times and, yes, COVID.
Mary Macauley of Savage retired just as the pandemic spiked and "in the middle of winter, to boot." She spent the next several months crocheting, doing jigsaw puzzles, watching CNN and drinking wine.
"The amount and frequency of my imbibing crept up and up," she shared via e-mail. Soon, she found herself anxious, unable to sleep past 3 or 4 a.m., and with regular chest pain. She was considering seeking therapy when she saw a blurb in the paper about Dry January.
"It was an impetus for change," Macauley said.
In just a few weeks, she was sleeping more soundly and getting more done.
"I am simply happier," she wrote. "Who knew that such a simple step could improve so many aspects of my daily life so quickly?"
Others in the group have reported other changes: Less heartburn. More patience. "Our recycling can was considerably lighter when I pushed it up our long driveway in the snowpack last night," someone shared. "My pocketbook is quite a bit heavier!" another person replied.
Many Dry January participants said this month will change their drinking in future months. Some hope to drink only on weekends, on Saturdays, on rare occasions. A few are questioning whether they ever want to drink again.
During a live Q&A with the Star Tribune mid-month, Dr. Kristen Schmidt, an addiction psychiatrist with Hazelden Betty Ford, suggested taking an inventory:
"What are the gains that you made in this amount of time? How is the quality of your life better? What is the progress? And then, taking a look at that, is it worth extending that progress?
"No judgement involved, no risk involved," Schmidt said. "Just, is it worth doing it longer? Or is it worth deciding, on a Friday night, I'm going to have a glass of wine or two and being able to moderate that?"
Before this experiment, Brian Lofquist, 65, and his wife watched the local and national news each night, preparing a cocktail they called the "Lester Holt" after the NBC anchor. Depending on the night, it might have been a gin and tonic or an Old Fashioned.
Then they'd enjoy some wine with dinner, too.
Last year, Lofquist attempted Dry January but then on Jan. 6., aghast at the attack on the U.S. Capitol, he succumbed to a cocktail. And he wasn't alone: "So Much For Dry January," the New York Times reported then.
But this year, he was buoyed by the information he was learning in the Star Tribune and the research shared in its Facebook group. "It helps keep you on track," he said, "because you see other people's resolve." Within two weeks, his cravings disappeared and his blood pressure dropped.
Since high school, Lofquist had struggled with insomnia, seeing doctors but getting few results. "This worked better than anything," he said, laughing. "That's, of course, quite motivating."
A friend texted the other day, telling Lofquist that "it will be disappointing when we get together if you're not drinking." He shared it in the Facebook group, and within minutes, dozens of people offered their support and suggestions.
"As a grownup (or even anyone), you shouldn't have to feel pressured to drink because someone feels uncomfortable."
"That is a friend with a problem."
"I'd say their attitude is what's disappointing."
Their support strengthened his resolve. Lofquist plans to abstain during February, too. Or at least stay mostly dry.