Should I use alcohol-free drinks in Dry January®?

January 2024 | 10 minutes

By now, you're probably getting into the rhythm of what works for you during your dry challenge. We often get asked whether drinking alcohol-free alternatives will help during a dry month, and whilst they work for many people, the full answer is: it’s personal and it really depends.

For some people, alcohol-free drinks are a crucial tool for cutting back their drinking. For others, it can be all too easy to replace one habit with another, without making real change to the factors that fuel the urge to drink. We’re always interested to hear our supporters’ experiences of trying out alcohol-free drinks during their dry challenges and we’ve heard a real variety of views over the years. See if you can relate to any of the four fictitious scenarios below which we've pulled together from from the views we’ve often heard shared from participants while they explore using alcohol-free drinks during their challenge.

Zena’s experience

"I loved experimenting with alcohol-free spirits and mixers. It felt really satisfying to create something tasty and put it in a special glass when I needed a pick-me-up. It really helped me feel like I wasn't missing out and it was also handy to lean on alcohol-free bubbly drinks for celebrations. I felt like I could avoid the awkward questions from others about me not drinking and just get on with the good times - without the embarrassment or next-day hangover."

For Zena, alcohol-free alternatives were a useful way to feel comfortable in social situations without the booze. They also gave her a fun way to reward herself as she progressed through the challenge. With 83% of people finding alcohol-free drinks important in reducing their drinking, particularly helping with high risk times including social events and cravings, maybe it could be the same for you?

Finn's experience

"I really enjoyed using alcohol-free drinks the first time I challenged myself to do Dry January®. It was nice to treat myself occasionally throughout the month and it was a whole new world of drinks I'd not really explored until then. I couldn't believe the variety of alcohol-free alternatives in some of my locals, to be honest. I thought it'd just be cranberry juice! Nowadays, if I meet up with friends, I like to start out with some of my favourite alcohol-free drinks before deciding whether to switch to alcohol or not. That way, I feel able to not get carried away from the start and I've easily cut back the amount I'm drinking. It's nice to have the confidence to moderate like this and end the night feeling in control and where I want to be; I think it's something I learned during Dry January®."

Maybe you can relate to Finn's experience? Or perhaps, you'd like to? Finn used his Dry January® to learn what his favourite alcohol-free drinks were, as well as to try out socialising without alcohol. As a moderate drinker outside of Dry January®, he's incorporated his new no-alcohol and low-alcohol favourites into his nights out. If you'd like to give this a go, another method some people try is alternating an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic one as they go through the night. Could Finn's approach help you plan some new moderation methods to try out once your challenge is over?

Barry’s experience

“It started off well for me with alcohol-free drinks. I went to town researching alternatives I thought I'd like and stocking up on different no-low beer varieties ahead of the challenge - but before I knew it, I was drinking as much alcohol-free beer as I did the strong stuff. I was finding it hard not to reach for an can after 5pm on weeknights, or crates of the stuff at weekends. It felt like I was heading into the danger zone of drinking again.”

As you can see from his experiences, alcohol-free drinks started off as a useful substitute for Barry but weren’t a sustainable option in the long-term. Barry realised he needed to understand what was behind the urge to drink.

If you find yourself in Barry's situation, you might want to think about what's driving your desire to drink as a whole. Is it an emotional response? Or maybe even a reaction to boredom? It could be useful at this point to try out the H.A.L.T technique to help you pinpoint what’s going on. When you notice a thought to drink, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I Hungry?
  2. Am I feeling Angry (or another emotion)?
  3. Am I feeling Lonely?
  4. Am I Tired?

Once you’ve taken a few minutes to check in with yourself in this way, chances are you’ve identified an unmet need that you missed before (or has become more obvious to you now you’ve given yourself a moment to think). Try to take an action to meet your identified need now, such as taking a short rest if you’re feeling tired or having a snack if you’ve realised you’re hungry. Once you’ve met your need in this way, not only will you have given your body what it really needs instead of that drink, you should also have given yourself enough time to have ridden out your craving. Try it and see if that helps you figure out what's going on in that moment before you reach for the drink, in whatever form (alcoholic or not!) it takes.

Lemar’s experience

"When I first signed up to Dry January®, I drank A LOT of alcohol-free wine. As time passed and my lifestyle changed, I found I was drinking the wine much less as I just didn’t feel the need any more. I took up quite a few new activities to fill the time, so by the evening (which was always my trigger to start on the wine in the past), I was busy at one of my new sports clubs!”

Although Lemar started off by drinking alcohol-free wine at the beginning of his dry month, he soon found his groove and eased off as the way he spent his time began to change. Many people enjoy the novelty of starting off their dry challenges by stocking up on alcohol-free drinks. And with such an incredible variety on offer in most supermarkets, pubs and bars these days, why not? Enjoy the new experiences but don’t feel the pressure to drink alcohol-free drinks in exactly the same way as you have in the past, or in situations that don’t lend themselves to drinking.

Everyone's experience is different. But we've used these examples based on fictional characters to help reflect some of the common experiences people tell us about. We hope you've found them useful. Do you relate to Zena, Finn, Barry or Lemar’s experiences? Take time to think about what alcohol-free drinks have meant to you during the challenge and let us know in the comments below.