For those of us in active recovery, the question of whether to drink or not to drink has been answered. For others, the question has not yet been asked, or seemed relevant. For still others, the decision to take a break from alcohol has more to do with the potential health benefits of not drinking for a sustained period. The idea for Dry January (i.e., voluntary abstention from drinking alcohol for the month of January) came from a British organization called Alcohol Change UK that advocates for shifting perceptions of alcohol and its use as a means of reducing alcohol harm.
If you are thinking about staying dry, consider this:
- Is your desire to stop drinking part of an overall concern for your health or is it driven by an unvoiced concern for how much and how often you drink?
- If your use is daily and substantial, you should seek the advice of a medical professional, as unsupervised detoxification can lead to serious health consequences, including death.
- You should actively examine your thinking and behaviors on either side of the dry period. Did your use increase just before you stopped drinking? Did it increase after the dry period ended? If you stayed dry, did you spend a lot of time thinking about when you could drink again?
- How did you feel during the period of abstinence? Was your temper shorter? Were you more alert and focused? Did you find that you had more energy and desire to engage in pleasurable activities? How did your experience change throughout the month?
Many people can drink moderately with few negative health effects. Others (myself included) find that we cannot control our use of alcohol and that it impacts our mental and physical health in very negative ways. For me, abstinence is the only solution that works. For many others, moderation may be possible. The National Institutes of Health has published a guide on what constitutes healthy drinking patterns and use (which, of course, can vary based on a number of factors) entitled Rethinking Drinking; Alcohol and Your Health. This is a good resource if you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol.
Dry January (or Sober October for that matter) can be a good way to take a gut check on your drinking. Alcohol can have deleterious effects on our mental and physical health. Those effects are temporary in most cases (e.g., the occasional “hangover”). However, long-term use can lead to more serious and lasting negative health effects. Dry January may be just the first step in coming to terms with your use.
If you or someone you know is struggling with how much and/or how often they drink, LCL can help.