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Are We Really Calling It ‘Damp January’?

There must be a better phrase for a month of light drinking

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Glass of white wine in front of a rainy window
Notes on damp.
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

Since 2006, Dry January (or the more cumbersome “Drynuary”) has gained a cultural foothold. There are certainly criticisms, but the normalization of taking a break from drinking — whether during Dry January, Dry July, or Sober October — has helped many people reassess their relationship with alcohol. This is fueled by the increased prevalence of nonalcoholic cocktail options at bars, and nonalcoholic bars and stores themselves.

Dry January is just an idea, and no one gets in trouble for drinking before January 31. So of course plenty of people have bent the “rules,” whether by taking a night off to celebrate a birthday, or only drinking on Saturdays, or making some change that feels like a significant departure from the participant’s regular drinking habits. The point is not the rigidity, but the insight that ideally comes from the experience. But of course, we love taking a casual thing and making it Official, and now the idea of having a dry-ish but not completely sober January is getting its own name. And it’s the worst.

Damp January. The phrase was around last year, but this fall my inbox has been flooded news of Damp January from PR reps of zero-proof aperitifs, low-ABV drink brands, apps that promise to help you reduce your alcohol intake, and research firms with breathless reporting on the drinking habits of Gen Z.

Some claim the phrase is taking off on TikTok, and that more than a mere month, this is now a whole “damp lifestyle.” A press release from Cañelo Drinks explains, “A ‘damp lifestyle’ is essentially living in moderation when it comes to your alcohol intake ... It offers you the option to enjoy both non-alcoholic drinks as well as alcoholic drinks, at your choice — which is a key word when it comes to leading a damp lifestyle.”

Many people might read that and say “okay, so... drinking?” And, again, enjoying alcohol in moderation when you want to seems to be common enough that it shouldn’t need a new name or an official month. But if the idea of participating in a socially sanctioned activity inspires some people to cut back or rethink their drinking, good for them. There’s no harm in the practice.

But damp? The word you use to describe a towel that is four hours away from growing mold after being abandoned on the bathroom floor? The word of used bathing suits and jean hems dragged through puddles and mattresses after bladder accidents? I know complaining about “moist” became everyone’s personality in 2010, but surely there was a better word!

We may never know who was responsible for deciding that the adjective that embodies the essence of sitting in a cold room after you’ve been caught in a rainstorm was the correct choice for creating a positive association with moderate drinking. But whoever it was, they hit on something, and now brands are really trying to make damp happen.

Surely, though, there is a more appealing way to talk about the way adulthood has become conflated with alcohol consumption, and what it means to find meaningful avenues of socialization without alcohol, while also not demonizing the specific joys of a good cocktail or even getting drunk once in a while. That’s not catchy enough? Okay well, enjoy being soggy, humid, clammy, or any of the other synonyms served to me from