With thousands of alcohol-related deaths reported each year, an expert has suggested it may be time to reflect on your “automatic and absent-minded behaviour towards alcohol” this Dry January.
This year, an estimated 8.5m people across the country are pledging to stick to soft drinks for the first 31 days of 2024, according to Alcohol Change UK, the charity behind Dry January.
As well as bringing much-needed mental clarity following a heavy festive period, ditching the booze for four weeks can bring physical health benefits – such as clearer skin, potential weight loss, improved memory, better sleep, and more energy.
An opportunity for ‘personal evaluation’ this Dry January
A leading psychotherapist and addiction specialist from The Priory has also said the Dry January initiative, now in its 11th year, is a vital opportunity to “evaluate your drinking habits.”
Dee Johnson, psychotherapist and senior addiction therapist at Priory Hospital, said: “In my experience, people tend not to think honestly about their relationship with alcohol until it’s problematic.
“So I always encourage this break in drinking habits as a welcome opportunity to take stock, with a clear head. And it can really help if you do this with friends or your partner too. Think of Dry January as something of a collective, self-exploratory project.”
So, before embarking mindfully on Dry January, Dee recommends running through this checklist to see what can be learned about our drinking behaviour and ‘habits’.
Dry January checklist: Is your relationship with alcohol healthy?
- Does it transpire you don’t have a natural ‘off‘ switch? Despite the very best intentions at the start of an evening, do all prior thoughts of moderation fly out the window after a couple of drinks?
- Do you use alcohol as a form of self-medication, necessary to socialise, relieve stress, help you to sleep, boost confidence, numb painful emotions, or function?
- Are you worried that by ‘going sober,’ emotions are just going to be too hard to handle?
- Has the start of Dry January resulted in any physical, emotional, or psychological cravings and withdrawal symptoms? Are you struggling not to pick up a drink?
- Have you convinced yourself you are more anxious without alcohol and cannot cope as well in a work or social environment without a drink or two? That’s a big signal.
- Are you desperately counting down the days when you can allow yourself to have another drink? Can 1 February not come quickly enough?
“If you answer yes to any of these, then a level of dependency – both mentally and physically – might be creeping in. Stepping away from alcohol for a month might not be as easy as you initially assumed, which in itself can be a serious reality check,” explained Dee.
Monitoring feelings and celebrating improvements
The most recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed almost 10,000 people in the UK died from alcohol-related causes in 2021. And, according to a survey carried out by the charity, Alcohol Change, one in five people questioned said the cost of living crisis led them to increase their alcohol consumption last year.
“I often recommend writing down your feelings and tangible improvements to your well-being daily if possible, so there’s a visible summary of what you have achieved during your month of sobriety, observing and celebrating the progressive improvements and benefits,” said Dee.
“Be honest and ask yourself: ‘Am I nicer in the mornings and waking up with fewer regrets?’
“Overall, take it a day at a time and remind yourself that it’s not mandatory to pick up a drink again on 1 February. If you are feeling good just keep going, a day at a time.”
Goal setting and progress tracking beyond Dry January
Therapy with an addiction specialist can be beneficial, looking at what has been driving alcohol use and possible dependency.
This might include past or childhood issues, mental health problems, trauma, bereavement through to social and genetic influences or a habit that has gotten out of hand.
Dee adds, “It’s also important to remember that we cannot demonise alcohol, it’s what we might do with alcohol that’s the problem. Normal, recreational, non-dependent drinkers generally don’t think or obsess about whether to have a drink or not.
“But, whatever your situation, Dry January is a great achievement, taking action on your mental and physical health (as well as your bank balance). Going sober for just this brief period will give everyone a glimpse of the longer-term benefits to be gained by re-thinking your relationship with alcohol.”
If you know you regularly consume large amounts of alcohol, please seek medical advice before doing Dry January, as going ‘cold turkey’ can be dangerous to your physical health. Speak to your GP, be honest about the amount you drink and work out a reduction plan first.