Here’s what to do if you didn’t quite make it
Dry January can be a great way to kickstart your journey to sobriety (or just drinking more mindfully), but what if you fell off the wagon part way through the month? Don’t worry! Your efforts aren’t for naught. Here’s how to reframe this month and get your good intentions back on track.
For anyone dependent on alcohol, suddenly stopping drinking can be dangerous. If it’s time to make a change, reach out to your GP or a credible clinic, such as Priory, for help with this transition.
Why dry January?
Dry January began in 2014 as a public health campaign by Alcohol Change UK. Years later, a significant number of adults start out the year, every year, with a month of abstinence. For many, this sober month offers an opportunity to reset after an indulgent festive season. It can help support better sleep and mental health and also saves money, refilling the coffers after Christmas.
The key to a successful dry January is knowing why you want to do it. If you’re just looking for a fun challenge, great! If you suspect you might be reliant on alcohol in some way, a month without it can help you figure out if that is, indeed, the case. And even if you’re not quite sure of your motivation – maybe you’re just doing it with your friends or a partner – getting through the month could help you think about your drinking habits in a healthier way.
Some questions you might want to ask yourself if you’re considering a sober month (at any time during the year) include:
- How often am I drinking?
- How much do I drink each time?
- Who do I drink with (and why)?
- What are the reasons I drink?
- How did I feel before drinking? While drinking? After drinking?
Your answers to these questions will also influence how you feel if dry January doesn’t quite work out as planned.
What if dry January didn’t work out?
Okay, so you didn’t quite make it to the end of dry January. Before you start chastising yourself, take a moment to reflect on your successes and figure out what happened.
Did you have a brief lapse and sip some champagne during a toast at a family function? One drink for a happy reason doesn’t negate all the good done the rest of the month, nor does it suggest problematic drinking.
Changing habits can be hard, especially if the rest of society tends to enable and even encourage those habits. The odd lapse doesn’t mean you have totally failed. Instead, treat any lapse as a learning opportunity. Figure out the circumstances that led you to drink and reflect honestly on why you made the choice you did.
What about binge drinking?
If you got part way through dry January and then drank heavily one evening (or two), treat this as a momentary lapse and keep it that way. This isn’t a reason to ditch your resolve entirely and revert back to old drinking habits. You can still reap the rewards of not drinking for the rest of the month, including working out what your relationship with alcohol really looks like.
Binge drinking is another learning opportunity. Give yourself a day to get through the hangover and then look at what triggered you to drink. Were you spending time with a certain friend, colleague, or family member? Were you feeling alone and isolated? Did something stressful happen or were you feeling uncomfortable and shy in a social setting? Or did you get carried away at a party and not realise how much you’d had until it was too late?
It’s important to examine the circumstances that led to the lapse, and why one drink turned into another. That way, you can strategise for the next time you face a similar situation and help yourself make healthier choices.
When drinking is a problem
Did you start Dry January on a whim, only to struggle the whole way through? Maybe you began fully resolved not to drink a drop and found that the month breezed by with the exception of a brief lapse. Whether you got through the full month or not doesn’t mean you do or don’t have a problem with alcohol.
If you spent a good chunk of January preoccupied with thoughts of alcohol, it might be that you have a problem and would benefit from professional help. The same is true if you found yourself making excuses to drink, sneaking a drink when no one was looking, or experienced cravings after a couple of sips of someone else’s drink.
Even if you didn’t experience any of these issues, a full month without alcohol might have helped you realise how booze affects your sleep, mood, appetite, and energy levels. These changes can be subtle. Sometimes so subtle that it takes a full month for you to realise that you feel much better without booze!
So, while you might not have started dry January with strong motivations to cut back or eliminate alcohol, and finished it without concern over your drinking habits, the endeavour may help you be more mindful about when and why you drink. This, in turn, could help you reduce your overall alcohol consumption, which is always going to be better for your health.
Quitting drinking for a month also gives you an opportunity to recognise other health issues that were being masked by alcohol. For instance, if you felt an urge to drink (or did drink) due to anxiety, let this be a prompt to get help with anxiety. The same goes for sleep; if you found it hard to sleep without drinking, sleep is the issue, not the alcohol.
Benefits of dry January
If you made it through all or most of January without drinking, take a moment to reflect on how it went. If you’re anything like the folks who took part in a University of Sussexstudy, you probably experienced some serious benefits!
Of the 800 adults in this study, 93 percent had a sense of achievement and 82 percent thought more deeply about their relationship with alcohol. This included 80 percent who felt more in control of their drinking, 76 percent who had learned more about when and why they drink, and 71 percent who realised that they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves.
Other benefits reported in this study included:
- Saving money (88 percent)
- Better sleep (71 percent)
- Generally improved health (70 percent)
- More energy (67 percent)
- Desired weight loss (58 percent)
- Better concentration (57 percent)
- Better skin (54 percent).
Research also suggests that those who take part in dry January (even if they didn’t complete the whole month) tend to drink less six months later. The trick is to get back on track and stick to not drinking for the rest of the month.
What to do next
If dry January didn’t work out this year, there’s always Sober September, Sober October, the 1000 hours dry challenge, and many more ways to cut back and cut out alcohol.
As with most things, making your commitment public can help with accountability. This helps to keep you on track, especially if you get positive reinforcement from friends, family, and on social media, for going a day, a week, a month, one thousand hours, or longer.
If you’re game to try again, consider using supportive apps such as Reframe (view on the app store). This app takes a neuroscience approach to helping folks drink less or quit drinking entirely. It has a 160-day, evidence-based core education program that helps you track your progress and figure out and reframe your relationship with alcohol. You also get access to a supportive private community to celebrate your successes and get back on track if things go awry. And if you need more support, Reframe can connect you to a certified recovery coach and more tools.
If you’d rather get daily support and reminders through your social media feed, consider following 1000 hours dry (view on Instagram). Positive and supportive, this feed can help you connect with others and feel less alone on your journey.
Like many, you might be struggling more with drinking due to the stress of the pandemic. Alcohol Change UK has a dedicated coronavirus support hub with online resources to help you restore and maintain healthy habits.
In the meantime, make sure to take your B vitamins (which alcohol depletes), and give your liver some love with milk thistle extract.