The start of a new year is a time for reflection and resolutions. Perfectly aligned with this, “Dry January” has become a trending campaign to encourage people to abstain from alcohol throughout the month of January. First started in the United Kingdom, this campaign has since spread worldwide in an effort to help people reevaluate their relationship with alcohol.
With excess alcohol use linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, various types of cancer, dementia, depression and anxiety, liver disease and more, the benefits of stopping or reducing alcohol consumption are clear.
Of course, sticking with Dry January goals isn’t always easy. But as Ziyi Gao, co-founder of Reframe, a neuroscience based alcohol reduction program explains, following some key best practices can greatly increase your odds for success.
1. Monitor Your Habits and Identify Triggers
“One of the best ways to stop drinking is to monitor your existing drinking patterns,” Gao explains. “Tracking your habits — such as when you drank and how much you drank — will make it easier for you to identify the triggers or situations that cause you to drink in the first place. This gives you the information you need to start avoiding scenarios or developing coping mechanisms for situations when you would be more likely to drink.”
Drinking triggers can vary from person to person. Some people are more likely to drink when they are with certain people or at a certain place. For others, feelings of stress from work could be a trigger. And for some, it might simply be a habit to enjoy a drink after dinner each night. Consistently tracking your current drinking habits is a key first step in planning for problematic drinking scenarios.
2. Plan Ahead
Substitute drinks can be part of what Gao emphasizes as an essential element of sticking with sobriety goals: planning ahead. “If you don’t have a plan for how you’ll say no when offered alcohol in a social setting, you’ll have a much harder time sticking with your goals when that temptation comes,” she says.
“Set clear boundaries for yourself and practice polite ways to say no. Explain your situation to friends or the host. Don’t be afraid to leave the room and engage in mindfulness exercises if needed. Regardless of what you do, plan it out in advance so you’re not left second-guessing yourself when offered a drink.”
3. Create a Support and Accountability Network
Peer support groups have been found to offer empowerment and improve engagement in the addiction recovery process, while also reducing the risk of relapse. You may not be struggling with an alcohol addiction, but in a similar vein, having a strong support and accountability network can go a long way in helping you stick with your Dry January goals.
“Choose your support group wisely,” Gao advises.
“Friends and family who support your goal can provide much-needed encouragement, serve as accountability partners and may even try doing Dry January along with you. On the other hand, some friends might not understand or support your goals, and could even undermine your attempts to avoid alcohol. Such people should be avoided. If alcohol cravings are particularly bad, you might also benefit from professional help, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.”
4. Understand Issues Contributing to Your Drinking
Habitual drinking isn’t always just a social exercise. Mental health conditions that often appear concurrent with alcohol abuse include depression, OCD and bipolar disorder. Not only can these conditions serve as triggers for drinking, but excess alcohol consumption can make mental illness even more severe.
“Deeper emotional and psychological issues often contribute to unhealthy drinking habits,” Gao explains. “Even your best efforts to stop drinking may not be enough when these unresolved issues persist. Learning more about underlying health issues you’re dealing with and how they could affect your drinking habits is essential. When needed, getting therapy to address these root causes will be a crucial part of ensuring lasting success in your Dry January goals.”
5. Choose Substitute Non-Alcoholic Drinks
Many people who practice Dry January don’t want to give up their social life. However, many social situations serve as triggers for drinking alcohol. In these scenarios, bringing your own non-alcoholic drink (such as soda, juice or water) may be a good alternative. For those who often drink at home, opt for similar replacements as you remove alcohol from your house.
With a chosen substitute, you can ensure that when you habitually reach for a drink during a trigger event, you won’t end up consuming alcohol and compromising your Dry January goals. With the growing popularity of mocktails, you could even enjoy drinks similar to what you would normally choose, but without the alcohol.
Enjoy a Healthy and Sober New Year
Sixty-three percent of Americans drink alcohol on a regular basis — but at the same time, 37% say they are total abstainers from alcohol. If you want to do Dry January this year, you’ll hardly be alone. Despite social pressures to drink, you can succeed in your sober living efforts as you practice mindfulness in how you address your drinking habits and get support from like-minded people.
By making Dry January a success, you can set yourself up for a long-lasting healthy habit that will provide significant benefits for your overall well-being.