Dry(ish) January: How One Company Is Helping Consumers Drink in Moderation

Alcohol use disorder

While Americans join in on the Dry January trend, one startup is promoting a “Dry(ish)” January instead.

San Francisco-based Sunnyside steers away from the total sobriety approach. Instead, the direct-to-consumer app helps users find a balance. It recently launched a Dry(ish) January challenge that encouraged reduced drinking instead of complete abstinence. This includes only drinking on the weekends or cutting usual drinking in half.

“If you get overly restrictive and you’re kind of stuck in this ‘all or nothing’ mindset, as soon as you slip up or as soon as you have that first drink, there’s a feeling of failure … Whereas if you’re really seeking to be more mindful and make lifestyle and habit changes that you’re going to [keep] for the long term, the impact there is sustainable long-term change,” said Nick Allen, CEO and co-founder. Allen founded the company with Ian Anderson, chief growth officer of Sunnyside.

Sunnyside isn’t just promoting balanced drinking for the month of January, but throughout the year. People begin with an onboarding quiz that asks about their personal habits and goals. After signing up, consumers are able to receive a customized plan to help them moderate their drinking, along with automated messages to encourage them to stick to their goals. They can also receive text-based peer coaching from previous Sunnyside users, who can answer questions and provide advice. To facilitate user engagement, the platform allows them to communicate with other people on the app through a daily prompt the company provides.

Customers pay $99 per year, which includes planning, coaching and community support. For those who want more hands-on help, they can pay $300 a year to receive more messaging from peer coaches and more proactive check-ins.

Sunnyside was born out of Allen’s own experience with alcohol. He grew up in a household with two parents recovering from alcoholism, both of whom went the full sobriety route. Then a few years ago, Allen and his wife chose to take a sabbatical for work and travel. But being without a set routine made it easier for drinking to get “out of balance,” he said. Allen decided to make a change to his drinking habits too, but wanted to take a different approach from his parents.

“While my parents made the decision to be sober and that was something that really had a profoundly positive impact on my life, complete sobriety has not felt like the right fit for me,” he said.

He began searching for technology to help him moderate his drinking, but mostly found solutions promoting total abstinence.

“I was really looking for something that would help me be proactive in managing my drinking and quantify my overall consumption, much like I had success tracking calories and steps and exercise and mindfulness with the help of technology in other areas of my wellness,” Allen said. “It became pretty clear to me that there is a massive gap in the market for the millions of adults who are interested in being more thoughtful and balanced with their drinking, yet who are not open or interested in complete sobriety.”

The company claims to have achieved results: users reduce alcohol consumption by 30% on average in the first 12 weeks, according to Sunnyside’s website. Drinking less has proven to improve sleep, reduce stress and help with weight loss.

The company chose its name to highlight the benefits of reduced drinking, including “brighter mornings,” Allen said. Sunnyside has received interest from investors as well. It has raised about $6.5 million over two fundraising rounds, including from Uncork Capital, Offline Ventures, Scribble Ventures and Adjacent Ventures, Allen said.

Other companies that help people with alcohol consumption are Reframe, SoberBuddy and I Am Sober. However, they’re more focused on sobriety rather than moderation, Allen declared. In 2023, Sunnyside is hoping to scale its product to reach more consumers looking for an alternative to sobriety.

“It’s really about breaking through in 2023 and demonstrating at scale that there’s a massive population of people for whom we are better fit,” he stated.

While moderation rather than sobriety may be the more sustainable route given how culturally entrenched drinking is, recent research seems to have a very clear answer: Even a little amount of alcohol is harmful.

Photo: fizkes, Getty Images