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In the year that was 2020 — remember that dark, dark time? — it’s no surprise that alcohol consumption saw an uptick: Liquor sales rose 54 percent in late March — around the start of the coronavirus pandemic — compared to the same time in 2019. By the end of April, online sales had skyrocketed by nearly 500 percent.

Now that time has passed and 2021 is on its way out (and a more hopeful 2022 is on the horizon!), experts think people will start to scale back by participating in initiatives such as Dry January. “There’s going to be a large number of people who go alcohol-free for the first time,” predicts Molly Kimball, RD, nutrition manager at the Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans.

If the idea of total sobriety — even just for a few weeks — feels daunting, these pointers will bolster your resolve.

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Sip a Booze-Free Drink

Just the act of holding and sipping a drink at the end of a long day can feel relaxing — that moment is what Kimball calls the “witching hour, the transition from the go-go-go hustle to relaxing at night.” But what you're really craving is may just be the ritual associated with unwinding.

Before the pandemic, we could start that transition on our commutes, but with millions working from home, Kimball says a drink may be what marks the end of the work day and a shift into personal-life mode.

Enter: the mocktail. “People are getting really creative and coming up with beautiful, tasty drinks that are zero-proof,” Kimball says. In fact, Bacardi’s 2020 Cocktail Trends Report declared lower-alcohol content in drinks to be the top trend, and Google searches for the term “mocktail” increased by 42 percent last year.

The drink market has responded with options — from booze-free beer to not-so-stiff spirits, and turning to one may be a way to maintain your witching hour (or even happy hour) tradition without the alcohol.

Find New Modes of Decompression

If zero-proof drinks leave you wanting a taste of an alcoholic one (it happens), identify a replacement behavior to help you relax.

Activities that occupy your hands are particularly helpful, as they make it logistically harder to drink, says Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze forDry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month.

Plus, a recent survey discovered crafting activities — think knitting, sewing, baking, or drawing — helped increase feelings of calmness, alertness, and contentment. Researchers even found just 45 minutes of art making can lower cortisol levels.

If crafting isn't your thing, working out is a great replacement behavior to turn to. “Exercise alone is a stress reliever; it helps ‘burn off’ negative energy — and lower elevated heart rates, anxiety and cortisol levels by giving your body an outlet for stress reactions.”

So rather than sitting down on the couch with your drink, meet up with a friend for a walk and talk, roll out the yoga mat or start that sourdough loaf. “Creating new routines can help you avoid drinking while also expanding your breadth of activities,” Sheinbaum adds. “You might even find something new you love to do in the process.”

Curb Sugar Consumption

It might sound like it’ll make Dry January even harder, but Kimball says anyone going alcohol-free should double-down and nix added sugar from their diets as well.

Many people experience increased sugar cravings because the physiological reaction we have when we eat sugar is a similar self-soothing mechanism to how we use alcohol, Kimball explains. The problem is, people tend to replace alcohol with food that is just as addictive — it’s replacing one vice for another.

Plus, diving into the dessert tray instead of the bar cart thwarts the results you want when abstaining from booze. “You need to be able to gauge your true response, not a blunted affect from trading an alcohol hangover for a sugar one.”

To make it easier, Kimball says it’s best to eat something every three to four hours that has balanced sources of protein and fat to keep your blood sugar steady. Also, stay hydrated, move your body when you can and get enough sleep — all things we know can help avoid the roller coaster of blood sugar spike and crashes.

Enlist a Support Squad

While you may not be seeing friends and family as often as you’d like, that doesn’t mean you can’t do a Dry January challenge together. Having support is key, says Sheinbaum — people who understand in real time how frustrated you feel passing by the wine store and not going in after a particularly tough day.

Besides, some studies have shown that committing to your goals publicly and having accountability partners can increases your chance of success. Not only that, but connection is an integral part of our sense of belonging and can, in itself, reduce stress levels.

Place a Wager

Betting has a well-deserved bad reputation, but wagering that you’ll be successful at a challenge is a tried-and-true tactic. “Making a bet holds you accountable for your actions,” says Sheinbaum. “If you slip up, you know there’ll be consequences in addition to letting yourself down.”

Once you have your support squad on board for the challenge, one way to make it extra juicy is to ask everyone to chip in a certain amount of money — Sheinbaum says anything from a $100 to $1,000 grand prize tends to make people more likely to commit — and those who stick to the challenge can split the pot. (If your squad only consists of two people, you can also wagers a nice dinner or massage or even a chore, like mowing the lawn).

Another idea: Set a reward that you only get at the end of the challenge if you succeed. That could be a new tech toy, a winter coat you’ve been eyeing, or a cozy staycation where you actually power down your computer. “With a potential reward at the end of the month, you may be more motivated to see it through because you’ll have something to look forward to on February 1,” says Sheinbaum. Plus, you won’t be spending money on booze throughout your sober month, so you can opt to spend that cash on something else.

Fill Up Your Calendar

Pre-pandemic, it was easy to imbibe when a drink was always available, from seeing a movie at the alcohol-serving theater to paddling over to a swim-up bar at a vacation resort.

But given the close proximity required, those activities (and many, many more) have been put on hold. Rather than seeing that as a detriment to your social calendar, Sheinbaum says to think of it as more of a shakeup. “There are a ton of activities that people of all ages and interests can do together without getting buzzed,” she says.

As you plan COVID-safe social get-togethers, keep that booze-free momentum going. Instead of meeting at the bar, organize a game night or a day at the park. Rather than attending happy hour, try recruiting friends for an in-person or streaming workout class. “When you aren’t drinking with friends, you can be more present in the activity and conversation, and can listen carefully to their thoughts and feelings without a filter making things fuzzy,” Sheinbaum says. “You can have clearer communication without the possibility of misunderstandings related to slurred speech and other distractions."

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