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Taking A Breather From The Bubbly

The holiday season provides plenty of opportunities to celebrate the conclusion of another year. Still, after sampling perhaps too much of your co-worker’s mulled wine at a Christmas party, you may be looking for a break from alcohol. As December bids ado, many find themselves contemplating a month of abstinence better known as “Dry January.” Abstaining from, or significantly reducing, alcohol for Dry January is a great way to evaluate your relationship with alcohol and to reap some great health benefits while you’re at it.

With nearly 69.5% of Americans reporting that they drank alcohol within the past year in 2019, the prevalence of consuming alcohol can be potentially downplayed as a part of our “American culture.” While many use alcohol recreationally to unwind after a long day at work, socialize with friends, or celebrate a special occasion, this is not a reality for everyone. 14.5 million people in the US have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). An AUD is a diagnosed addiction to alcohol, with symptoms such as the inability to stop or control drinking habits.

While not an alternative to professional help, participating in Dry January can be a challenge that provides you the opportunity to assess your relationship with alcohol.

Can An Alcohol-Free Month Make A Difference?

While 31 days may not seem like a significant amount of time at first glance, to our bodies and minds, a month of refraining from alcohol can have both short- and longer-term benefits. Research suggests that participating in short-term abstinence challenges, like Dry January, may translate into physiological benefits, like lowered blood pressure and decreased cancer risk, as well as enhanced well-being.

Additional benefits for abstaining from alcohol include:

  • Improved sleep
  • Weight loss
  • More energy
  • Better concentration
  • Better skin
  • Saved money

By taking a step away from drinking, one can manage alcohol’s role in their life. Recent years have been rough for many people around the world, and we’re all figuring out the best ways to cope. However, sometimes it takes the absence of alcohol to realize how much space it is taking up in our lives.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Surround Yourself With The Right People

Whether you’re looking for assistance in being held responsible or wanting a participation buddy for the road to abstinence, surrounding yourself with a personal support group can significantly aid in your month without alcohol. Humans are social creatures, so receiving emotional support from our friends, co-workers, or family members can make the journey of Dry January more attainable and less daunting. It can be intimidating to begin a month of abstinence, but it is essential to take it one day at a time. The right support team will be right there with you whenever you need them.

Make Your Goals

While this is not a ground-breaking first step, the act of determining your personal goals for Dry January is critical to a successful month of abstinence. Some may feel more comfortable writing down their resolutions in a journal, but you can just as well list your goals on a sticky note and place it on a bathroom mirror. What’s important is to create physical reminders for yourself as to why you stopped drinking in the first place.

While it may be tempting to have rigid rules for abstinence during this month, having realistic expectations for yourself is just as important as having these goals in the first place. You know yourself better than anyone at the end of the day, so setting yourself up for success with manageable expectations is vital.

Plan For Situations Where Alcohol Will Be Available

Imagine you find yourself cornered in conversation with your not-so-favorite extended family member at a birthday party. There may be a temptation for a libation to ease the anxieties or fill the socialization gap but remember that you can hold your own in conversation. Take a couple of deep breaths, ask the speaker more questions if you are not comfortable talking about yourself, and if all else fails, you can always bring up the weather.

Additionally, having solid reasons to leave early from an event, like having to let out your dog (even if you don’t have a pet), can be used in situations where your social meter is depleted.

Having another drink in hand, like juice, soda, or sparkling water can limit the question of, “Can I get you something to drink?” This is a small step to covering your bases when it comes to others asking you to partake in drinking alcohol.

Practice Saying No

If you are someone who usually agrees to go out drinking with your friends or assures the waiter that another bottle for the table is a great idea, it may be an excellent time to practice saying, “No, thank you.” Building boundaries for yourself can already be a feat on its own, but coupled with the added social pressures of pleasing others, it may feel uncomfortable. You are entitled to your own set of boundaries, and it is easier to enforce your own rules when you are comfortable discussing them with others.

Fill In The Gap With Activities

If you are used to signaling the end of your day with a glass of wine, you may find yourself with more time on your hands than previous months during Dry January. Breaking up your routine with mindful or entertaining activities can reposition the role alcohol has in your daily schedule.

Some activities that you can add to your routine include:

  • Reading that book you’ve been putting off.
  • Switching to a cup of tea instead of wine at the end of the day.
  • Catching up on your favorite TV shows.
  • Journaling.
  • Attending an exercise class.
  • Writing a letter to your future self.
  • Walking a nature trail.
  • Volunteering.

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Final Thoughts

Don’t fret if you have any nerves before embarking on your Dry January journey. It’s important to remember that you can achieve your goals, and if some things don’t go as planned, you can resume the next day. You have accomplished difficult things before, and you will continue to do so. The important thing is not how flawlessly you completed a month without drinking, but the fact that you showed up to challenge yourself in the first place. That is already an achievement.

If a month free from alcohol sounds impossible, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. If you have repeatedly tried moderating or cutting out alcohol or found yourself craving alcohol, then just participating in Dry January may not be the right course of action. Alcohol abuse can be difficult to spot, but there are some common symptoms to look for. Signs of alcohol addiction can include: exhibiting signs of irritability or extreme mood swings, making excuses for drinking, or becoming distant from friends and family. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, taking a permanent break from alcohol is something to seriously consider.

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