Dry January has been a thing for a few years. But now, more and more people are extending their dry spells—especially, surprisingly, young people. In fact, a recent U.K. survey found that nearly one in five millennials don't drink, and a full 66 percent say alcohol isn't important to their social lives. Other research showed that less than half of people ages 16 to 24 said they drank in the past week, while two-thirds of those aged 45 to 64 said the same thing.
That trend isn't just a coincidence, or a function of young people not having enough money to spend on going out. The first survey found that many millennials say they don't drink or don't drink much because of their health. "Living well and eating healthy are no longer a trend, they're here to stay," says Howard P. Goodman, a licensed psychotherapist, addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor at Luminance Recovery. Many of these teetotalers are giving up alcohol, but not because they have a problem or addiction, he says. "It's about people being conscious about how we treat our bodies to feel better overall. As we become more aware of the health consequences of what we consume, cutting out alcohol is just another extension of clean eating, similar to cutting out processed foods and preservatives," he explains. Sure enough, Google Trends indicates that searches for the term "benefits of quitting drinking" rose by about 70 percent in the last five years.
But it's not all about physical health. Mental well-being encourages people to drop bottles too. "I think sobriety is becoming a trend now because people are just tired of the inauthentic way we show up when we're drunk," asserts Radha Agrawal, a founder of Daybreaker, a sober morning dance party. "We're more interested in cultivating a healthier lifestyle and developing real connections. At Daybreaker, we're rebranding the word sober to mean connected, present, and mindful instead of serious, grave, and solemn." (I Quit Drinking for a Month—and These 12 Things Happened)
Still, even for moderate drinkers, the idea of giving up drinking for good or seriously cutting back can be a bit daunting. How will you handle work parties? What will you do at happy hour? Will your friends think it's weird? What about first dates?! We use alcohol to relax after a stressful day and as a dose of courage to help us get over awkward or overwhelming social situations. "Even if you aren't addicted to alcohol, you might still rely on it without realizing," Goodman says. "The good news is that as time goes on and you strengthen your commitment to sobriety, turning down a drink or coming up with an alternative plan gets easier." To help ease the transition, try these alcohol-free alternatives to wind you down or psych you up.
Kava tea. This sip, made from the root of a plant related to pepper, is becoming way more popular. It contains compounds known as kavalactones, which have a strong anti-stress effect. The taste is... not great. But the relaxation effects are said to be worth it for people looking to unwind sans wine. (A caveat: The FDA warns that some kava products have been linked to liver damage. So if you have a preexisting condition that affects your liver, you might want to talk to your doctor before trying a tea.)
Mineral-spiked sips. Mocktails containing magnesium can stand in for alcohol-dosed variations. The mineral is a natural stress reliever. Plus, many women don't get enough in their daily diet. Blend a smoothie rich in dark, leafy greens (a natural source of the mineral) or try a powdered supplement like Natural Vitality Natural Calm. ($25, walmart.com)
Exercise. "True relaxation is a skill, and without the crutch of alcohol, it may require time and practice. One of my top recommendations for dealing with stress naturally is regular exercise," Goodman says. Uh, sold. Exercise is also great when you're giving up drinking because you can do it with friends in place of going out—trade in the bar for the barre.
Meditation. This is the other stress-buster Goodman recommends. But when it comes to relaxing, meditation is more like a marathon than a sprint—you won't get the near-instantaneous hit of calm a glass of wine (or a cup of kava) provides. But if you can give it a couple weeks, you may find a new sense of tranquility imbued into your everyday life, making the post-work cocktail unnecessary.
Anti-bar crawls. Go on a food crawl (search for "culinary walking tours" in your area if "food crawl" doesn't yield any results) or a juice crawl. It's an opportunity to socialize around something other than alcohol.
Dance. Daybreaker combines an hour-long workout with a couple hours of dancing—all before work. "In all my research on the science of dance, I saw that we can actually naturally inspire our brain to release our four happy brain chemicals—dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphin—the same chemical release you'd get from drugs or alcohol, just through dancing sober in the morning with other people," Agrawal says. If there's no Daybreaker in your city, look for other sober parties, which are gaining steam everywhere. Or just dance anywhere—holding a glass while trying to bust a move is inconvenient anyway.