It is estimated that 5 million people will take part in Dry January 2020 for a huge range of reasons. Many do it for charity and believe it to be a test of willpower, others simply want to detox after the boozy Christmas period. Last Dry January I stopped drinking at 4.30am on January 1st and drank again the following weekend. Huge flop. But to be honest, when you use willpower, go into Dry January with an “I can’t drink” attitude and look forward to the 31st January like a child looks forward to Santa’s arrival, you’re probably not going to do that well. It doesn’t help when well-known Cancer Research charities have slogans like “Take on the ultimate test of willpower going alcohol-free” and liken people who participate to athletes. Wrong mindset!
In Dry January 2018, Dr Richard de Visser of the University of Sussex carried out a study on over 800 participants by conducting three self-completed online-surveys at the start of January, end of January and in August. He found that after participating in 31 days abstinence:
- drinking days fell on average from 4.3 to 3.3 per week;
- units consumed per drinking day dropped on average from 8.6 to 7.1;
- frequency of being drunk dropped from 3.4 per month to 2.1 per month on average
Additionally, participants reported improved sleep, most saved money and many lost weight, along with other reported benefits (see below):
- 93% of participants had a sense of achievement;
- 88% saved money;
- 82% think more deeply about their relationship with drink;
- 80% feel more in control of their drinking;
- 76% learned more about when and why they drink;
- 71% realised they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves;
- 70% had generally improved health;
- 71% slept better;
- 67% had more energy;
- 58% lost weight;
- 57% had better concentration;
- 54% had better skin.
The majority of ‘normal’ drinkers do it for socialising, relaxing, celebrating and commiserating but unfortunately, without warning, alcohol can just become part of a normal day and inadvertently can be used as a crutch. A habit can easily become an addiction without the drinker even realising it – and because there is such a stigma attached to the whole concept of alcoholism, it becomes a taboo subject that no one wants to discuss. Let’s just get something straight here, alcohol is addictive. It is the most harmful drug on the planet. There is no shame in becoming addicted to alcohol as it is addictive. We don’t go around saying, “oh he/she/they have a disease, cocainism!” Why is this attached to alcohol? Because it’s socially acceptable, legal and a huge money maker for the government. It is convenient to blame the person rather than the drug because the government can’t afford for us to become a sober nation – it would cost too much money. So, what starts off as an innocent part of the day, becomes a habit and over time, the neural pathways in the brain are changed at the subconscious level, and the habit is suddenly an addiction.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no safe amount to drink. The NHS has stopped calling the 14 unit recommended weekly limit, the safe limit. It is now referred to as the ‘low risk level’ and it is still much riskier than people believe – just because it is legal doesn’t make it less dangerous, in fact it makes it more dangerous because people believe it wouldn’t be legal if it was harmful. Most people don’t even know that alcohol is a carcinogen – even in small amounts. Alcohol prevents you from burning fat, so you retain weight and this fat collects around the organs leading to fatty liver disease and heart disease. It is also a leading cause of diabetes and obesity. So, you might be asking what this has to do with Dry January?
Alcohol leaves the body after around 10 days, so even a weekend drinker never removes the alcohol from their body. They are always affected, even at very low levels. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’m not hungover, I’m just tired”? That is a hangover at its lowest level. It is scientifically proven that taking a break for a month will improve overall health. Studies have shown that cholesterol, blood pressure and heart rate can reduce with just a month off the booze. However, even though there are huge benefits to Dry January and Stoptober, I still have a bit of a problem with the concept of them because they are ‘sold’ as a test of willpower and celebration at the end, with alcohol, is almost inevitable. If a person goes into a Dry month with the reward at the end being a drink, they will push through the month using willpower. They might hide indoors, avoid the pub and other social situations just to get through the month, but their attitude and mindset remains unchanged.
Abstaining from alcohol for 31 days, not only clears the alcohol from the body but if a person does it with the right mindset, new habits can be formed. Instead of drinking, people find new ways of having fun, coping and celebrating and for those, they will have lasting effects on their drinking for up to 12 months. Some people love it so much, they choose not to go back at all. These are the people who approach Dry January with an attitude of “I’m not drinking” and who seek out a sober community to support them. Perhaps they do it with friends, join sober Facebook support groups, follow a sober blogger or Instagram account, listen to sober podcasts, read quit lit or a combination of the above. These people find joy in not drinking and take up new hobbies, join a gym, take up some form of exercise and embrace the dry month. They aren’t white-knuckling it to the 31st with their drinking plans already booked. These people end January more aware and more educated. These people might go back to drinking, but they will go back changed and go back healthier.
So, this January, don’t punish yourself. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to want to not poison yourself. I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I’m no longer a drinker and it all started with a month off the booze.
If you would like support during Dry January 2020, follow us on Instagram @soberexperiment or join our Facebook support group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1285276628316149/. You can also purchase our workbook and journal on Amazon here to support you through the month. Finally, click the link if you would like to find out about our 30-day supported coaching programme (only £19.99 this month), or please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.soberexperiment.co.uk. 10% of all our profits go to Nacoa, an amazing charity helping children of alcoholics.
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