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Want to cut back on drinking? Four apps to try this Dry January

A close up of the DrinkControl on a mobile phone, which helps users track their alcohol intake with color-coded bars and motivating slogans.
The app DrinkControl helps users keep track of their alcohol intake with color-coded bars and slogans. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Drinking with friends in bars has been one of Susan Tenby's main forms of socializing since her college days in San Francisco in the early ’90s.

Now, decades removed from boozy dorm parties, the 52-year-old nonprofit online community manager and Hodgkin's lymphoma survivor is striving to cut back on her alcohol consumption, both to minimize the risk of the disease’s return and to maintain her overall health. 

But Tenby has also found it difficult to balance drinking less with her active social life. 

“San Francisco, it’s a drinking city,” Tenby said. “Bars are a big part of my life. It’s really hard to see your friends over anything other than drinks.” 

In March, Tenby decided to try out a new tool after stumbling upon an alluring Facebook ad for Sunnyside, a San Francisco-based “mindful drinking app.” 

Having recently raised $11.5 million in venture capital, the app uses goal-setting strategies to guide people toward drinking on their terms. Sunnyside also provides one-on-one coaching via text and offers an online community where members can share their struggles and wins with the bottle. 

Since it launched in 2020, Sunnyside claims to have helped over 200,000 users cut out 13.5 million drinks. Tenby credits it for helping her lower her alcohol consumption from about 20 drinks per week to around 10, a reduction that allows her to maintain important social activities, like trivia nights at a local bar. She says she would still like to reduce her drinking even more—to perhaps one drink per day or only drinking three or four times per week—but is pleased with the results so far. 

“I’ve already cut my drinking in half,” she said.

A close up of a community members post on the Reframe mobile app, which helps people track and monitor their drinking habits.
Reframe aims to help people drink less or quit altogether and lets users post about their progress and feelings about their relationship with booze. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Sunnyside joins a field of apps developed in recent years as “sober curiosity” has been on the rise. The period of temporary abstinence known as Dry January—along with its less rigorous cousin, “Damp January”—has become a post-holiday tradition in its own right. 

Several apps offer similar drink-tracking features, community message boards, personalized coaching and educational resources for people looking to cut back on their drinking, quit completely or develop a more thoughtful relationship with alcohol. 

So, if you’re looking to go cold turkey this January—or at least have a dry-ish month—here are four apps that can help you strike the balance that’s right for you.  

AI-Assisted Moderation With Sunnyside 

Sunnyside gives users a colorful dashboard to track their daily drink totals, their dry days, the amount of money they’ve saved and the calories they’ve avoided. As with Strava, the fitness app, there are challenges like “Dry(ish) January” that help keep users engaged, and people can post their reflections on their relationship with alcohol in a supportive community forum. 

Daily text nudges goad everyone to log the number of drinks they’ve consumed per day and remind them of their target goals for the week with playful and color-coded emojis. Subscribers can also reach out to a friendly human coach with prompts like “I’m having a craving” or “I’d like to celebrate a recent win.” They receive encouraging DMs from coaches, penned with the help of Sunnyside’s new under-the-hood AI assistant, Sunny, which the company rolled out in November.   

A close up of a colorful dashboard on Sunnyside "mindful" drinking app, which has tools and educational resources for people to try "Dry-ish" January.
Through colorful dashboards, the Sunnyside "mindful" drinking app offers tools and educational resources to help people drink in moderation for "Dry(ish) January." | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Rather than interface with consumers directly, however, Sunny suggests responses for coaches to use in one-on-one text exchanges with users, and the human coach reviews, evaluates and, ultimately, sends the message for quality control. 

The tone is relentlessly positive. “Take a moment to reflect on how it felt to go the whole week alcohol free. Internalize this feeling so you can use it as motivation this week!” reads one cheery note. “Stay confident in your journey, and I’m here cheering you on!” reads another.    

While experts say that more research into mobile apps and alcohol moderation needs to be done, Sunnyside’s own metrics indicate that the app’s “behavioral psychology-backed system”—which is based on scientifically rooted strategies such as pre-commitment to a particular goal or course of action—could work for some people. 

Cost: $99 per year. 

Neuroscience to Curb Drinking: Reframe

Born out of Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator and launched in 2020, Reframe uses a “neuroscience-based” approach developed by experts in that field and psychology—its scientific board is comprised of doctors from Emory University—to help people curb their alcohol use or quit entirely.  

Like Sunnyside, Reframe helps users track their drink totals and dry days, offers online coaching sessions and provides a 24/7 anonymous community where subscribers can seek support from other community members. Taking an educational and reflective approach, the app guides users through a series of step-by-step daily exercises and readings, including articles about such topics as the neuroscience behind drinking, inspiring quotes to keep you on track and an opportunity to journal about your relationship with alcohol. 

A close up of the Reframe app on a mobile phone shows a link to a seminar on "How To Reset After a a Slip."
Reframe offers webinars that encourage people to drink less or stay sober. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

The app also has a dedicated “toolkit” section offering games like Tetris that users can play to  distract themselves if they’re fighting the urge to cheat, guided meditations, podcasts and mocktail recipes. According to Reframe’s website, 91% of Reframe users noted a substantial decrease in alcohol use within three months of using the app. 

Cost: $9.99 per month.

Striking a Balance With Drink Control 

As with Sunnyside and Reframe, DrinkControl’s in-app calendar lets users also designate specific days as “dry.” But this app, with a cheeky British twist, also helps people track their alcohol consumption by the cost per drink and by the ounce over one-, seven- and 30-day periods, helping users to get a fuller picture of their alcohol intake over time and its impact on their wallets. 

A photo composite of screenshots of the DrinkControl app, which shows alcohol intake and a calendar of dry and wet days.
DrinkControl allows users to tally their drinks to make more informed decisions about their alcohol consumption. | Source: Courtesy DrinkingControl

A color-coded system of of green (sober or dry days), blue (days within drinking limits), purple (days over drinking limits) and red (binge-drinking days) bars show you how your drinking compares with alcohol consumption guidelines set by various countries’ public health organizations. You can pick a custom photo or color background for your drink log—or you can go with the app’s preset background, a riff on England’s “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster with a booze bottle that changes colors as you add drinks to your tally and might warn you to “Keep Calm and Take a Break” if you start going overboard. 

Or you can fully embrace the British invasion into the mindful drinking space with the U.K.’s “Try Dry,” which is free and sponsored by the charity behind the country’s official Dry January health campaign. In addition to counting your days without alcohol, you can also pass on a percentage of the money you’ve saved on drinks to the charity—but be sure to set your country to the United States to avoid the sticker shock of seeing the cost of drinks in pounds.     

Cost: $3.99 per month, $11.99 per year or $24.99 for a lifetime subscription.

Abstinence-Only, Only 

Finally, people looking to go full-on cold turkey for Dry January—and possibly beyond—can try one of several sobriety trackers. 

I Am Sober can help users manage a number of different types of addictions—from quitting nicotine to impulse control with video games. For alcohol specifically, the app invites users to make a daily pledge to stay sober, reflect on their relationship with alcohol through a digital workbook and helps connect them with people in similar stages of their sobriety journey through community message boards. For instance, if you’re on day 30 of your sober streak, you’ll be connected with others who’ve also abstained from alcohol for 30 days as well. 

Meanwhile the “Sober Recovery Network” Loosid takes a more social approach, helping people find other locals also in recovery—you can specify if you’re looking for sober friends or sober dating—and offers “Boozeless Guides” to local events and restaurants. 

Cost: I Am Sober’s basic version is free, but a premium version costs $9.99 per month or $39.99 per year. Loosid is free to join, but you can upgrade to a premium version for $19.99 per month, $49.99 for a three-month subscription or $79.99 for six months.