What is a "Damp" Lifestyle and Can it Help With Alcohol Use Disorder?

Lauren Smith
Morgan Blair
Written by Lauren Smith on 27 June 2023
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 05 June 2024

The newest TikTok lifestyle trend isn’t fast fashion hauls and dances: it’s mindful, moderate drinking, known as going “damp.” Not as hardline as Dry January or full sobriety, a damp lifestyle allows users to partake in alcohol in a considered, restrained way. But while a damp lifestyle is a good compromise for people sick of fuzzy evenings and weekend hangovers, it typically won’t be healthy for anyone struggling with alcohol use disorder.

What is a "Damp" Lifestyle and Can it Help With Alcohol Use Disorder?

What is a damp lifestyle?

The term “damp lifestyle” was coined by TikTok creator Hana Elson in 2022 and refers to a conscious, moderate approach to alcohol, a balance between dry and wet, strict sobriety and overconsumption.

In a damp lifestyle, there are no hard and fast rules about how much alcohol you consume. Instead, it’s about considering every drink you take rather than imbibing mindlessly and trying to consume less overall. So you might pause before grabbing that after-work beer from the fridge but still enjoy a glass of bubbly at a weekend birthday party. Or you may still sip a beachside cocktail on vacation but limit yourself to one. 

The damp lifestyle has been compared to mindful or intuitive eating: not adhering to a strict diet but rather paying non-judgemental attention to the way you eat, being aware of your food-related triggers, and developing a healthier relationship with food and your body. When you go damp, you apply the same ethos to alcohol.

With a damp lifestyle, you set your own goals, so you can’t fail at being damp, as you can slip up during Dry January. You can also reduce your drinking without feeling you have to miss out on social occasions or when your friendship group continues to revolve around alcohol.

Elson herself says a damp lifestyle is about “internalizing the fact that drinking culture and your relationship with alcohol does not have to be black or white, all or nothing.”

How to "go damp"

Going damp isn’t about following a strict set of rules borrowed from someone else. It’s about developing a personalized healthier relationship with alcohol and setting limits that work for you. Those limits might also change as your life does. For example, Elson initially eschewed liquor and shots but she later said she’d re-introduced hard alcohol but “only in a fun-drink format.” But someone else’s damp lifestyle might look different.

Proponents of the damp lifestyle suggest the following tips to help you reevaluate and reset your personal relationship with alcohol:

  1. Reflect on your current drinking habits: Tracking your drinking patterns will increase your self-awareness and help you identify problematic behaviors to change. And don’t just track how much and what you drink. Consider the feelings you have before, during, and after drinking.
  2. Learn your triggers: Consider the situations that provoke you to drink to excess, such as a stressful work day, a big football game, or gatherings with certain friends. Do you drink to cope with social anxiety or in reaction to arguments with loved ones? By learning your triggers, you can act in ways that keep you in control of your drinking. 
  3. Set personalized limits and goals: Once you know your habits and your triggers, you can develop a personalized plan to moderate your drinking. This can involve setting specific limits around alcohol, such as:
  • Only drinking in certain venues and among friends, such as on special occasions.
  • Avoiding certain types of alcohol, such as those with high ABVs.
  • Only consuming a set number of drinks during an evening.
  • Staggering drinks or drinking a glass of water between drinks.
  • Not drinking by yourself.

It can also involve avoiding triggers and developing new coping strategies. For instance, maybe you develop a new way to deal with stress instead of pouring a glass of wine, such as going for a run or taking up another hobby. Maybe you resolve to avoid certain events that push you to drink or plan to leave them early. You don’t have to completely push away heavy drinking friends but you can decide to set firm boundaries with them and not meet up for every happy hour or partake in every round.

4. Pause before you pour. If you tend to react to uncomfortable feelings, such as stress or sadness, by reaching for the bottle, try to take a breather first. Sit with those feelings for 10 minutes. You’ll often find they subside and the urge to have a drink passes too.

5. Spread out your drinks: If you do decide to imbibe, do so slowly so you don’t get carried away. You can alternate alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic ones, including glasses of water. You can also dilute your alcoholic drinks with water or opt for drinks with lower alcohol content.


6. Learn from your stumbles: Slipped up and drank an entire bottle of wine one evening? Don’t lambast yourself or wallow in guilt, which may fuel further drinking. Instead, non-judgmentally gather information from the experience. What led you to drink? How did you feel before, during, and after? How can you react to similar situations in the future without reaching for the corkscrew?

Is a damp lifestyle right for you?

A damp lifestyle works well for people who wouldn’t necessarily be classified as problem drinkers but want more control over their drinking. They're not addicted but they may use alcohol as a crutch and a coping mechanism.

You might want to consider going damp if:

  • You’re sick of spending weekend mornings nursing hangovers.
  • You consume more drinks during nights out than you intend.
  • You use alcohol to cope with difficult emotions.
  • Your social life revolves around drinking.
  • You feel regret about your behavior while drinking.

However, a damp lifestyle won’t usually be suitable for most people with alcohol use disorder, as explored below.

Damp lifestyle and alcohol use disorder

While some people can adjust their relationship with alcohol and moderate their drinking, others—particularly those who could be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder—might struggle to imbibe in moderation and would do best to abstain entirely.

According to the DSM-5, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is “a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:”

  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use
  • Consuming more alcohol than intended.
  • Failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home as a result of alcohol use.
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining alcohol, using it, or recovering from its effects.
  • Continued drinking despite physical or psychological problems caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  • Continued drinking despite social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  • Reducing or giving up social, work, or recreational activities because of alcohol use.
  • High tolerance for alcohol.
  • Withdrawal from alcohol.
  • Use of alcohol in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

One of the hallmarks of alcohol use disorder is the inability to curb alcohol use or drink in moderation. Most people with AUD will therefore struggle to implement the moderation of a damp lifestyle. Their addiction means they can’t just mindfully have a single glass of wine at a party without drinking to dangerous excess. That's the argument of treatment programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that argue for total, lifelong sobriety.

However, there's some debate about whether current or former alcoholics or problem drinkers can ever drink in moderation. Some people argue that the black-and-white of total sobriety dissuades people from seeking treatment for their drinking. They may feel depressed or daunted by the idea that they can never again have a beverage, even on special occasions. 

That's the ethos of treatment programs such as Moderation Management (MM). MM is the original damp lifestyle, endorsing techniques that have been rebranded on TikTok, such as tracking your drinking, setting personalized limits, and learning your triggers.

But experts say that whether a drinker can successfully moderate their drinking depends on the severity of their problem with alcohol. Some problem drinkers may be able to cut back while those who are severely addicted and have faced serious consequences for their drinking, such as health problems, DUIs, relationship breakdown, and job loss, would do better to abstain entirely.

Resources:

  1. Interested In A “Damp Lifestyle”? These 11 Habits Will Get You Started. (2023, March 13). HuffPost UK.
  2. Archive, V. A., Author, E. the, Twitter, F. on, & feed, G. author R. (2022, November 17). “Damp lifestyle” is the newest drinking trend on TikTok.
  3. Appendix 3 - Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Dependence. (n.d.). Alcoholtreatmentguidelines.com.au.
  4. NPR Choice page. (2020). Npr.org.

Activity History - Last updated: 05 June 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 23 June 2023 and last checked on 05 June 2024

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan Blair

Reviewer

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