What It Means To Live A 'Damp' Lifestyle

If you've ever been to a club or a college party, you know excessive drinking is nothing new. But in recent years, alcohol consumption has skyrocketed. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that binge drinking among American adults increased significantly between 2011 and 2017. Dangerous drinking habits only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering a 25.5% jump in alcohol-related deaths between 2019 and 2020 (per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).


On the other end of the spectrum is a growing group of people swearing off booze entirely. In the same years that binge drinking rates rose, more young adults began abstaining from alcohol, according to a 2020 study published in JAMA Pediatrics. And with trendy challenges like Sober October and Dry January, trying out a zero-alcohol lifestyle is perhaps more normalized than ever.

However, not everyone fits into one extreme or the other. If you don't feel like you belong in the partying crowd or the sober squad, a "damp" lifestyle might be the perfect solution.

What is a damp lifestyle?

Somewhere between staying dry (in other words, totally sober) and regularly throwing back drinks is the "damp" lifestyle, a term originally coined by TikToker Hana Elson. She's created several videos educating others on the benefits and how-to's of damp drinking, and since then, the concept has caught on — TikTok's #damplifestyle hashtag currently has nearly 20 million views and counting.


Going damp might have staying power beyond the social media buzz. "We're seeing it all over TikTok at the moment, because it's a more realistic approach to drinking," Ellie Webb, founder of non-alcoholic drinks brand Caleño and host of The Joyful Drinker podcast, told Independent. The idea is similar to intuitive or mindful eating, but for liquor, where you allow yourself to drink but with boundaries.

"It's about being aware of how much alcohol you're drinking and its impact on you in the moment," Ian Andersen, co-founder of mindful drinking app Sunnyside, explained to InStyle. "It's about recognizing the reasons for and the ramifications of drinking. It's about improving your relationship with alcohol so you maximize enjoyment and minimize negative side effects like hangovers, regrets, and anxiety."


Cutting back on alcohol offers physical health benefits

Fewer hangovers might be one of the most appealing selling points of a moderate, damp approach to drinking. But the physical health benefits don't end there. Dr. Hrishikesh Belani, Associate Medical Director of the South Los Angeles Health Center Group, shared with InStyle, "Over time, lower intake of alcohol can reduce the risk of early aging, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease."


Swapping binge drinking for moderate alcohol consumption (defined as having one or fewer drinks per day for women) may also lower the risk of sexually transmitted infections, injuries, and even cancer, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You'll likely also notice subtle but valuable changes in overall physical well-being. Drinkaware, an Irish organization focused on preventing and reducing alcohol abuse, suggests that people who cut down on booze have a stronger immune system, sleep better, and feel more energized.

Finally, the cherry on top: more radiant skin. Limiting yourself to the occasional drink here and there can slow down the effects of alcohol on the skin, including dryness, dullness, and inflammation, according to Medical News Today. Not only will you feel healthier, but you'll look healthier too.


Going damp may improve your emotional well-being too

Regrettable drunk texts and anxiety after a night of drinking can make it seem like alcohol and mental health are totally incompatible. But a damp lifestyle might make it possible for happy hour to end, well, happily.


In a clip on TikTok, Hana Elson detailed how going damp benefitted her emotionally. "I noticed my mental health wasn't doing well," she stated. "Once I started working on my relationship with drinking, I started noticing so many domino effects. Drinking less, mental health goes up."

Experts agree that lowering alcohol intake can boost mental health, without the pressure or rigidity associated with staying 100% sober. NHS Talking Therapies Berkshire Healthcare notes that binge drinking can trigger or worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety in some people, especially those who drink to cope with these feelings. Taking control of your drinking habits may help keep you from spiraling, especially if you only imbibe when in an emotionally healthy state.


Being mindful of alcohol intake can also boost self-esteem. Abby Wilson, a psychotherapist and addiction specialist, told Bustle that a damp lifestyle may make it easier to keep commitments, adding, "This can be a confidence boost: You are showing yourself that you don't actually need alcohol to be social, decompress, get through the week, etc."

Signs a damp lifestyle might be right for you

If you enjoy drinking but don't enjoy the consequences of guzzling endless shots and bottomless mimosas, damp drinking might be the answer. This is particularly true if you generally have a healthy relationship with alcohol and are simply tired of getting sidelined by blackouts and hangovers. "Going damp may be helpful for those who want to find a middle ground, one that would allow for consumption of alcohol in moderation," Dr. Karina Celaya, an ob-gyn and assistant professor at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, remarked to InStyle.


Dr. Celaya also noted that the lifestyle may be an ideal stepping stone to abstinence for the sober curious. The sober curious movement, according to Healthline, is a shift toward sobriety that isn't related to treating an addiction or alcohol use disorder. Rather, sober curiosity encourages trying out sobriety temporarily.

If you've ever wondered what a life without alcohol might look like, but you're not yet ready to take the plunge, embracing an in-between damp stage instead might be a fitting alternative that doesn't require skipping Friday drinks with the girls.

Sticking to moderate drinking involves a little mental preparation

Going damp might be a challenge at first, especially if alcohol is often at the center of your crew's celebrations and nights out. However, reflecting on the role alcohol has played in your life and understanding your attitude toward drinking will make it easier to make decisions you're comfortable with, whether at brunch or the bar.


First, Vedant Pradeep, co-founder and CEO of the alcohol reduction app Reframe, recommended assessing drinking triggers to Real Simple. "Start by making a list of these potential reasons [for consuming alcohol], and add to it when you find new ones, and you'll find some unexpected times when you want to reach for another drink. Once you know [your] reasons, you can begin to replace alcohol with better coping strategies that will be a net positive in your life," he explained.

Then, to stay committed to your new lifestyle, get clear on why you're cutting back on alcohol in the first place. "This could be that you want to feel more productive in the morning, focus on alternative coping skills that feel healthy, or strengthen your social skills without using alcohol as a crutch," psychotherapist and addiction specialist Abby Wilson told Bustle.


Create a practical damp drinking plan and stick to it

One of the major advantages of a damp lifestyle is that there isn't one right way to do it. Going damp can look different depending on the person. Still, for it to work, experts suggest setting some personal ground rules and holding yourself to them.


When deciding what your damp lifestyle will consist of, Vedant Pradeep told Real Simple, "The more specific the plan, the better. [...] What is the typical number of drinks you would have in a week? Have a reasonable plan for reducing your intake: [For example], a 10 percent reduction, but not more than 25 percent, per week can be a good place to start." Alternatively, your damp drinking plan may focus on only drinking at major social events, like weddings and birthdays. It could also be a limit on the number of drinks you'll allow yourself during a single evening.

Then, decide how you'll weave your new habits into nights of drinking. Hana Elson says she alternates between alcoholic beverages and glasses of water to keep herself from overdoing it. You can also give yourself a curfew time to ensure you head home before getting too tipsy. Try out different tricks and techniques until you find what works best for you and your lifestyle.


Watch out for potential pitfalls

A damp lifestyle can be a safer and healthier alternative to binge drinking, but it's not right for everyone or every situation. In an article for Psychology Today, addiction expert Dr. Peg O'Connor says that slipping up and drinking more than planned could result in feelings of shame. And for some, those feelings could ignite more excessive drinking or other unhealthy behaviors.


A damp lifestyle may also be problematic for those dealing with addiction or substance misuse. According to Mayo Clinic, treatment for alcohol use disorder often involves detoxing and abstaining from alcohol indefinitely. Moderate drinking may only be a temporary solution to a larger problem that requires further intervention.

Before attempting damp drinking, check for signs of alcoholism including past failure to cut down on drinking, alcohol cravings, experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don't drink, and negative social or professional repercussions due to alcohol use (via Mayo Clinic). If you think you may be struggling with alcohol use disorder, put a pause on going damp and talk to a trusted doctor or therapist instead.


If you or people you know are dealing with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).