When Dry January Fails
For many people, the beginning of the new year is a time to establish new habits and break old ones. One trend that's gaining in popularity is "Dry January." The practice started in the U.K., where about 3.1 million people annually attempt the challenge, but it's picking up traction in the United States as well.
The idea behind Dry January is to spend one month without drinking alcohol. For many people, this acts as a form of "detox" from the holiday season, which can be a time full of overindulgence. Abstaining from alcohol may fit into a larger pattern of healthier eating, increased exercise and other attempts to improve health.
Month-long abstinence may also help people to identify a more serious drinking problem or reliance on alcohol. If a month of sobriety is challenging, this could be a sign that a greater problem is at work. This is a warning sign that should not be ignored. When addiction is possible, a month of abstinence is not enough to treat the problem.
Benefits of Avoiding Alcohol
Individuals who choose to abstain from alcohol may experience a variety of benefits, depending on their circumstances:
- Improved sleep quality
- Better mood
- Fewer headaches or hangover symptoms
- Higher energy levels
For many people, a major goal is to get back the hours or days lost to recovering from a night of heavy drinking.
Proponents of Dry January hasten to explain that the challenge is not for people who suspect they have a drinking problem but is rather aimed at the population at large to see how it would feel physically and psychologically to abstain from drinking. However, with one in eight Americans meeting the criteria for alcohol use as a disorder, the reality is that more people may struggle with problematic drinking than may immediately realize it.
Most people think of alcohol abuse only in the most extreme circumstances. The reality is that many people who appear to have otherwise functional and healthy lives and careers may have an over-reliance on alcohol for comfort or social lubrication. This type of self-medicating behavior can develop into the slippery slope toward more dangerous alcohol abuse problems. Not every person struggling with alcohol abuse exhibits outward signs of abuse. If giving up alcohol for a month is difficult, that can be a sign of a serious problem.
Is Mindful Drinking a Solution?
Whether or not you try to cut out drinking for a month, it can be helpful to look carefully at your drinking habits and the reasons behind them. Practicing mindfulness around your lifestyle habits can help you to identify emotional triggers, coping mechanisms and other potential signs of trouble.
But, it's important to realize that alcohol abuse is complicated. Some people become chemically dependent on alcohol very quickly and struggle to drink in moderation. For reasons that are partly genetic and also rooted in psychology, these people cannot expect to simply scale back on their alcohol consumption.
If you struggle to cut out drinking from your life or realize that you have been using alcohol as an emotional crutch, it may be time to consider getting help. Learning to replace alcohol with healthier habits and coping mechanisms is better for your body and your mind and can protect you in the long term.
Before beginning any sort of sobriety challenge, it's worth remembering that alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous for heavy drinkers. A month of sobriety may be a worthwhile endeavor for a social drinker, but someone who has chemical dependency on alcohol should not quit without medical supervision. Attempting to quit cold turkey could be dangerous and is unlikely to have a good long-term effect.
When a Month of Abstinence Isn't Enough
If you are concerned with your drinking habits or are struggling to cut back on alcohol, mindful drinking may not be enough. Our team at Springboard Recovery can help you to better understand your issues and provide support and resources for living a better life. Our holistic approach to addiction recognizes that people develop substance abuse problems for a variety of reasons and that no two situations will be exactly the same. We hope you will reach out to us to find long-term solutions beyond the bottom of the bottle.