Dry January allows us to reassess our relationship with alcohol

by Nickolaus Hayes

Dry January is an exercise of abstaining from alcohol for the entirety of the first month of the year. For many, drinking alcohol during the holidays and the weeks leading up to the festive season is commonplace. Social drinking is widely considered a way to lighten the mood and bring people together.

Yet the holiday season is a complex time for many. Alcohol is often used to manage stress and other emotional discomfort during that time of the year. Even casual and social drinkers find themselves drinking more than usual.

Fortunately, the new year is an opportunity to give yourself time to recover and even reassess your drinking habits if you have concerns.

There are countless benefits to abstaining from alcohol. You will end up sleeping better, having more energy and money, losing weight, feeling less depressed and anxious, and experiencing lowered blood pressure and cholesterol.

Additionally, you are contributing to removing the risk of drinking and driving. Abstinence from alcohol is the backbone of drunken driving prevention. Heavy social drinking and binge drinking tend to lead to more people driving while impaired. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “every day, about 37 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 39 minutes.”

In Chicago and Illinois, binge drinking is a notable public health issue. Binge drinking for men is defined as drinking at least five alcoholic beverages on one occasion or within a few hours; for women, it’s four or more. According to city data, binge drinking rates in Chicago are highest among men, non-Hispanic white people and adults ages 21 to 29. Adults in Illinois binge a median of 1.9 times monthly; 25% of most active drinkers binge 4.4 times per month, the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports.

Along with the health benefits, Dry January provides ample opportunity to reevaluate your drinking habits. Ask yourself whether you are using alcohol as a tool to cope with stressful situations. Do you find yourself stressed when you do not have alcohol, or has your drinking affected your professional or personal life?

While it may seem like an uphill battle to give up alcohol, there are practical tips you can use to make Dry January a success.

 Create a supporting environment where you know you will succeed. Thoroughly purge all the booze around you; either dump it, hide it or give it away. Moreover, find a suitable nonalcoholic drink for social situations.

 Recruit a friend or family member to participate with you and help you avoid temptations. Not only will you support one another, but you can also plan activities that do not involve alcohol, and you can speak about the successes and challenges of abstaining from alcohol.

 Stay busy and active and take this time to focus on your mental and physical well-being; take advantage of having more energy and sleeping better. Use Dry January apps that will help you track your progress and find practical ways to hold yourself accountable.

Ideally, this time of abstinence can be optimal to reflect on your drinking habits. During the month, you will begin to lose alcohol cravings, and you may realize alcohol does not need to take up such ample space in your life. If the benefits make you feel great physically and mentally, consider continuing for another 30 days. Embrace your new attitude to alcohol use.

Nickolaus Hayes is a health care professional in the field of substance use and addiction recovery and is part of the editorial team at Drug Rehab Services.