Detroit-Area Entrepreneurs in the Non-Alcoholic Industry Offer Dry January Steps for Success

Jake Newby

| 5 min read

Thinking about taking the Dry January pledge in 2024? What started as a public health campaign in the United Kingdom has evolved into a full-on social movement across the Atlantic. Dry January is a wellness challenge to stop drinking alcohol for a full month. One of its benefits is the opportunity to help a person reset their relationship with alcohol, especially if they overindulged over the holidays.
Most Dry January participants try to abstain from drinking altogether. Others use it as a time to scale back their drinking habits and become more mindful about when they do and don’t drink. 
“I don’t do a total month of abstinence,” said Jason LaValla, co-founder of the Detroit-based Casamara Club producer of non-alcoholic botanical sodas. "I really use it as a month to reassess and be selective more than anything. Really think about why I’m going to drink alcohol. I think sometimes up through the holiday season it can be like, ‘well it’s a holiday party, I better have a drink.’ That’s really my relationship with Dry January, more of a mindfulness period.” 
Studies that have examined regular drinkers who abstain for Dry January have reported these benefits:
  • Increased daily energy
  • Better sleep
  • Better skin
  • Better nutrition and eating habits 
  • Weight loss
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Fewer cancer-linked proteins in the blood
  • Mental clarity and less fogginess
  • Money saved
Ingredients of a non-alcoholic drink made by Zero Bar & Lounge.

Dry January tips and insights from Michigan entrepreneurs in the “sober curious” space

Whether you drink a little or a lot, Dry January can be tough to complete. If you’re used to socializing or watching TV with a drink in your hands, altering that pattern can pose a mental challenge. Here are some quick tips to make Dry January a success, expanded on by sober curious business owners in the Detroit area.
  • Be public about your goals. 
  • Find substitutions.
  • Forgive yourself if you slip up.
  • Have alternative activities to fulfill your urge to drink.
At its core, being sober curious is about putting your relationship with alcohol under a microscope and rethinking some of your habits. Josnelly Aponte-Martinez – co-founder of Jackson’s Zero Bar & Lounge – thinks that anyone who is trying Dry January inherently has some sober curiosity. And that’s a big step in helping some alter the routines in their life connected to drinking. 
“If you’re trying Dry January, you already have the right mindset of being curious,” Aponte-Martinez said. “Curiosity is what can break you away from your routine. If you go home and your routine is ‘I’m going to go home and have a glass of wine,’ then your brain is wired that way and sort of starts to expect (alcohol). But changing your mindset and planning a walk after work or go try a new class. Maybe you meet with a friend for tea and try a different activity together. Curiosity is a great word to keep in mind the whole month.” 
Erica Johnson and Jason LaValla, co-founders of Casamara Club.
LaValla said finding beverage substitutions can make completing Dry January a whole lot easier. He said it isn’t just about filling up the refrigerator with one 24-pack of N/A beer; variety is key. 
“Make it fun,” he said. Mongers’ Provisions, they got one in Midtown, one in Berkley, they’re a retail store that has this really fun variety of N/A drinks. You can buy them one at a time, you don’t have to worry about buying a big case online and having a bunch of them leftover if you don’t love it. For me, it’s not always about the alcohol itself when I’m drinking alcohol, it’s the fun and the adventure and the excitement of trying new products. If you can recreate that excitement in your fridge, it makes it a lot easier to stick with it.”
Tori Guido is the event manager of Absence of Proof Detroit, an N/A event curation company that has spawned multiple chapters across the country after starting in New York City. She was actually on vacation in 2023 while committing to Dry January. She found that alternative activities successfully filled up time she may have otherwise spent drinking.
“Something that we did was look up places that had non-alcoholic menus,” she said. “It made it so we could still go out without drinking alcohol. Another thing we would do, and we were specifically in Cleveland, we went to a board game café with N/A options. So, we were able to go play board games and hang out with friends and do it without the booze.”
Absence of Proof Detroit launch party.
Absence of Proof celebrates its Detroit launch party in April 2023.
When it comes to forgiving slip ups during Dry January, LaValla said baking in some flexibility has helped him accomplish his goal of scaling back and resetting his drinking habits.
“Let’s say I’m at a restaurant and they’ve got a really exciting wine list or cocktail, for me, that could be a good enough reason to say, ‘yeah, I’ll have one drink,’ then going back to trying the non-alcoholic stuff the next week,” LaValla said. “If it’s really that hard line for you, where it’s, you go the whole month or you fail, that’s cool. But you can try opening it up to, and realizing there is no failure as long as you’re being thoughtful about your approach to drinking.”
Check out content from AHM's Sober Curious series:
Photo credit: Getty Images

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