20 Dec Dry January: Should You Take a Month Off Drinking?
The holidays can be a time of indulgence, even for people with the strictest of lifestyles. With one party and social obligation after another, drinking – both in terms of frequency and quantity – can get out of hand. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from alcohol to see exactly how important it has become in your life. With the new year being a time of reflection and goal setting, Dry January has come about for exactly that purpose.
People who observe Dry January commit to abstaining from alcohol for the entire month of January. Dry January became a movement in 2013 in the UK and since then, it has grown from 4,000 participants in its first year, to more than 130,000 signing up to take part formally in 2022, with countless more participating without registering. The movement follows a larger trend toward drinking less that can be observed over the past several years. In fact, a 2021 US Gallup Poll indicates that alcohol consumption among all US adults had dropped to 60% in 2021 from 65% in 2019.
Why Take a Break from Alcohol?
Even if you’ve never had an issue with alcohol, it’s still a good idea every now and then to put a little distance between you and the bottle. After all, nobody starts out as an alcoholic. For many, it is a progressive disease that takes hold over time.
Because alcohol is such a socially accepted form of release, it can be initially difficult to tell where normal drinking ends and problem drinking begins. Taking a month off can give you the perspective you need to see how the absence of alcohol affects you.
Are You a Functional Alcoholic?
When we think about alcoholism, we tend to imagine situations where alcohol has taken over a life to such an extent that victims have lost their jobs and/or spouses and are clearly out of control. But that is not always the case – or, more likely, it’s not the case yet. Functional alcoholics can appear to have their act together and be quite productive, but if a person is, in fact, dependent, eventually, the disease will take over if the drinking continues.
People sometimes rationalize their drinking by pointing to their ability to keep their life in order. The problem is that maintaining that standard over time becomes more difficult. Committing to a Dry January is an opportunity for honest evaluation. If you can’t do it, it may be time to get some help.
Alcoholism vs. Problem Drinking?
According to an article in Harvard Health, “nearly one-third of American adults are ‘excessive’ drinkers, but only 10% of them have alcohol use disorder (alcoholism).” What this means is that while 10% of these drinkers are actual alcoholics, the other 90% are “almost alcoholics.” They engage in unhealthy drinking habits including binge drinking, underage drinking, heavy drinking and drinking while pregnant, but they don’t quite qualify for an alcohol use disorder diagnosis.
Problem drinking is a step on the path to an actual alcohol use disorder. If you ever engage in problem drinking, Dry January can give you the opportunity to reevaluate alcohol’s role in your life, and make some permanent changes.
The Benefits of Stopping or Cutting Back on Drinking
Even if you don’t have an issue with alcohol, a thirty-day abstinence run can also improve your life and health in the following ways:
- Better Sleep
- Decreased Irritability and Anxiousness
- Fewer Headaches
- Weight Loss
Recent research suggests that drinking five alcoholic beverages per week can take years off a person’s lifespan. It can increase the risk of developing several different types of cancer and can damage organs including the liver, heart and brain.
What to Drink Instead
In social situations, holding a drink can help solve the problem of what to do with your hands, and if you’re at a bar, club or party where everyone’s drinking, it can help you feel like you’re still part of the festivities without having to explain yourself if you don’t want to.
Thankfully, these days, most bars and restaurants offer a menu of “mocktails” that look like alcoholic beverages but don’t carry the hangover potential. For at-home drinking, try these fun, fresh tonics, spritzers, lemonades, toddies and sodas from Bon Appetit. They are colorful, flavorful, festive and perfect for a party. If you’re at a place without designated non-alcoholic drinks, or if you’re not looking for anything fancy, a cranberry and soda is always a refreshing choice, as well as plain bubbly water with a lime wedge and sprig of mint.
Not Sure If You Have a Problem?
The National Institute of Health states that low-risk drinking is fewer than three drinks in one day and no more than seven drinks in a week for women, and fewer than four drinks in one day and no more than 14 drinks in a week for men. It’s important to note that this means men who drink more than four drinks and women who drink more than three drinks in a day are not engaging in low-risk drinking, even if they are keeping under the total weekly limit. Both the daily and weekly limits are important for overall health and dependence avoidance.
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