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As Dry January Gains Popularity, More Mainers Look For Alternatives To Hitting The Bar

Caitlin Troutman
Maine Public
Jim Maldonis is a bartender at Vena's Fizz House

Recent reports show that New Englanders consume more alcoholthan people in other parts of the nation, and that alcohol-related deaths have increased most sharply among ages 25-34.

But increasingly, more Mainers are resolving to abstain from alcohol during Dry January, which participants say is a low-stakes challenge that shifts away from the all-or-nothing mentality that can be associated with alcohol.

"We always think about changing things up a lot at the beginning of the year, getting a fresh start," said Shari Lawrence of Portland, who in past years has done Dry January without realizing it was a trend or that it had a name.

Credit Caitlin Troutman / Maine Public
Maine Public
More Mainers are resolving to abstain from alcohol during Dry January

This year, though, she decided to abstain with some Facebook friends.

“It was just something that I decided to do. Mainly because I wanted to, you know, lose weight,” she said.

Although some research has shown certain health benefits associated with mild alcohol consumption,  health professionals say there are myriad benefits to taking even a short break from drinking.

And Dry January participants have reported benefits ranging from weight loss and more energy to better quality of sleep.

“I feel like I'm sleeping more deeply at night,” Lawrence said. “And you lose a bit of water weight when you stop drinking. You get a little less bloated.”

Additionally, a growing body of research suggests that taking a break from even moderate drinking has benefits including improved liver function, increased insulin sensitivity and decreased blood pressure.

Aside from the health benefits, attempting Dry January can be socially challenging — leading more young adults to "grab drinks" where there is less pressure to drink alcohol.

“Increasingly, I'm seeing friends either go totally dry or cut back. And it's nice to have a place where everyone can get what they want and no one feels left out,” said Molly Firth, who, with Damien Lally, frequents Vena’s Fizz House in Portland's Old Port.

Vena's drink menu includes a substantial nonalcoholic section, and Firth said that makes it easy to meet up with a mix of friends.

Credit Caitlin Troutman / Maine Public
Maine Public
Two mocktails at Vena's Fizz House

"Here it kind of takes that pressure off for somebody," Lally said. "If I don't feel like drinking this month, you don't have to feel like you have to choose going out with your friends versus sticking to your plan."

Vena’s co-owner, Johanna Corman, said it's a common sentiment.

"People just crave the social ability of what a bar offers," she said. "They love the sociability of it, being with friends and feeling like they're kind of having a treat for themselves."

Corman and her husband, Steve Corman, opened Vena’s in 2013. Originally, the bar was completely dry — and, in fact, is named after Johanna’s great-grandmother, who was the president of the Maine Women's Christian Temperance movement in the 1920s.

Credit Caitlin Troutman / Maine Public
Maine Public
Co-owner Johanna Corman, her parents Bill and Marilyn Johnson and co-owner Steve Corman stand outside Vena's Fizz House. Bill is namesake Vena's grandson

"It wasn't that we were trying to establish a nonalcohol space," Johanna said. "We just thought it would be this kind of cool, different thing to have a healthy soda bar."

Now the bar's menu is about half cocktails and half mocktails, and Johanna said the same amount of care and craftsmanship is put into all the drinks.

“As somebody who doesn't drink much, I enjoyed having, like, a mocktail experience,” said Andrew Robison, another Vena's regular whom friends describe as something of a 'Vena's Evangelist.' "Then I can bring my friends who can drink, and I can have a fancy drink next to them — something other than soda or like, just a soft drink. It's something I can't make at home."

For people looking to cut back on their drinking — at any time of year — that choice can be a crucial tool.

“I mean, I definitely want to continue,” Lawrence said, reflecting on her Dry January. She didn't stay perfectly dry the entire month — she had one glass of wine — but she said that she will try the challenge again.

“I think it's good to reset every once in a while," she said. "It just changes like your mindset. You're not always thinking, 'Oh, it's like five o'clock. Let's grab a drink.'"

If you're worried that you are one of the 17 million U.S. adults who are alcohol-dependent, and alcohol is causing you stress or harm, medical advice can be found at alcoholtreatment.niaaa.nih.gov.

Caitlin Troutman is the Digital News and Content Producer for Maine Public. Caitlin worked as a writer and editor for various publications before discovering her love for public media at KCUR in Kansas City. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Critical Theory from the Oxbridge Honors Program at William Jewell College and the University of Oxford. She joined Maine Public in 2018.