Thinking Beyond Dry January

By The Fix staff 01/31/20

Now that you’ve given sobriety a try, why not make a long-term change?

man refusing a glass or red wine during Dry January
Sometimes you think you’re in control, until your patterns are challenged © Andrey Cherkasov |

Have you given up booze for the month? If so, you’re not alone. An estimated one in five Americans are participating in “dry January,” the health kick-turned-social media phenomenon that urges people to forgo alcohol for the month. If you’re participating in dry January and seeing benefits, you might be curious about long-term sobriety. Getting sober — even for the short term — has many health benefits. Studies have found that people who participate in dry January lose weight, save money, sleep better and have more energy. All of those benefits can lead to you wanting to give alcohol (or other substances) less of your time, money and health during the year ahead. In fact, research has also shown that people who start the year sober drink less over the course of the year. “The brilliant thing about Dry January is that it’s not really about January,” Dr. Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK, told Inverse in 2019. “Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, to socialize.”

Here are a few common experiences during dry January, and how they can inform your relationship with alcohol and other mind-altering substances in the year and decade ahead. 

You Cut Back, and Felt Great

This is a common experience for dry January participants. They realize that they don’t need alcohol to feel good, and that in fact they often feel better when they haven’t been drinking. Waking up on weekend mornings with a clear head, or going to bed without a rumbling stomach from drinking too much can be addicting in and of itself. If you find that you’re feeling better without the booze, take a critical look at your drinking habits. If drinking doesn’t ultimately make you feel better over all, why are you doing it? Often, we drink in social situations without really considering why we’re imbibing. As you move away from dry January, become more mindful about when you really want a drink, and when you’ll be just fine with a mocktail. 

You Participated, but Struggled 

Some people who participate in dry January are surprised at how difficult it is for them to cut out booze for 31 days. If you participated, but struggled to go without drinking for a whole month, it might be a sign that you use drinking as a coping mechanism. Sometimes, you think you’re in control of your drinking, until your patterns are challenged. If you found it very difficult to be sober, or looked forward to the end of the month with relief, you should ask yourself some tough questions about your relationship with alcohol. What need does booze fill in your life? Do you feel like you’re in control of your drinking, or has the balance shifted and your drinking is controlling your behavior? Don’t be afraid to reach out to qualified professionals who can help you sort through these questions.

You Couldn’t Stay Dry, or Didn’t Participate 

Some people start January with the best of intentions, but end up drinking before the 31st because staying sober is too hard. Others opt not to participate in the first place because the idea of a sober month seems too challenging. This can be a sign that you’re not in control of your drinking any more, and it’s time to make more drastic changes, like talking to treatment professionals. If you find yourself in this camp, it’s important not to be embarrassed. Alcohol use disorder and troubling drinking patterns are very common in our country. The important thing to remember is that alcohol use disorder is a progressive disease. If you catch it early and get the help that you need, it’s much easier to build your life around a healthier relationship with alcohol. However, if you leave it untreated you’re likely to find that you’re drinking more and more over time, and that you have less control over your drinking. Dry January may seem like a fun and lighthearted challenge, but it can also be a powerful tool for evaluating your relationship with alcohol, and reclaiming your power over drinking.

Asana Recovery offers residential and outpatient treatment in Costa Mesa, California. Learn more by calling 949-438-4504.

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