Day 3: No One Gets Sober During The Holidays

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Barack Obama

No one gets sober during the holidays. While they can be an exciting time to reflect on the previous year, make resolutions, and reconnect with loved ones, the holidays are often also extremely stressful. And stress is a major trigger for addiction relapse, which can make the holidays a particularly difficult time for people who are struggling with their own drinking. 

However, with the New Year being the epitome of a fresh start, January is often a time when people want to get a better handle on their drinking or drug use. This is why so many who struggle with alcohol take on the challenge of Dryuary – a decade-old international celebration of alcohol abstinence. Where committing to abstinence is difficult for many, Dry January offers an appealing, community-driven, and inclusive approach to going sober in the new year. I myself have been participating for the past 7 years.

What is Dry January?

Dry January is a one-month challenge created by Alcohol Change UK. It started in 2012 with 4,000 people and has grown to 4 million people taking part in the 2018 challenge.

The research tells us that alcohol consumption during the holiday period peaks during the two-week period just prior to Christmas until New Year’s Day. Binge-drinking is at its highest during this time, but that’s probably not news to you.

In 2013, researchers focused on the effects of the Dry January campaign. Of the people who participated in the challenge and the survey afterward, seven out of ten people reported they were drinking less heavily six months later than before the campaign. Not only that, but many had moved from “harmful” levels of drinking to “low” levels of drinking.

I’ve experienced a substantial reduction in drinking for months after every January in which I’ve participated as well.

So, why is going sober in January so appealing to people? Well, there are many of us who may feel we drink a little too much sometimes, but we don’t consider ourselves an “alcoholic” or a “binge-drinker.” What if you were thinking, “actually, I’d like to cut down a bit and lose weight, save money, maybe start a family?” The beauty of this challenge is that it helps unify people, it destigmatizes the notion of “alcoholism” as it’s not necessarily aimed at people with an addiction. Dryuary is about transforming your relationship with alcohol, taking some time off drinking, and observing the impact. The side-effect is that some people continue to stay sober or resume a healthier pattern of drinking.

Why a Dryuary resolution can work for you

Let’s look at the pros of Dryuary and some of the reported benefits of going sober for one month:

• More mindful of alcohol consumption

• It’s better for your overall health and wellbeing

• You may lose weight as a standard drink typically has around 150 calories

• You’ll likely feel more alert and better able to concentrate

• Your sleep may improve (alcohol can disrupt sleep and even cause insomnia)

• You will be more hydrated (alcohol dehydrates your body and skin)

• Many people experience increased energy and motivation

• You will save money

And when you participate in a community challenge like Dryuary, there’s a sense of camaraderie and pride in knowing you’re doing something good for yourself and others. It can feel less shameful to say “I’m participating in the Dryuary challenge” than “I’ve decided to stop drinking…”

What’s more, if you cut down on drinking in the long-term you lower your risk of developing more than 60 different alcohol-related health conditions such as liver disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and depression.

That’s not a bad bonus.

Reasons Dryuary may not work for you

There are a few circumstances under which Dryuary may not be the best option for you:

• If you experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, seizures, sweating, appetite loss the likes, then stopping “cold-turkey” can be dangerous to your health, particularly if you have been a heavy and daily drinker for years.

• If you go “cold turkey” you may be tempted to replace drinking with other unhealthy habits (such as smoking or eating high-sugar drinks or food) to cope with the withdrawals or the underlying issues that drive you to drink

Abstinence may cause future binging. When you deprive yourself of something for a period of time then it may cause the opposite effect when it is reintroduced. You could end up drinking more than you did before!

Helpful hint: Try managing the ‘sugar crash’ (cravings for sweets) associated with alcohol withdrawals by replacing it with healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado, as well as vegetables such as cauliflower, asparagus, and broccoli. These foods will help keep your blood sugar levels balanced. Also, replace the alcohol with drinks you love like Le Croix, Ginger beer, or seltzer water. That way you still get to enjoy a drink you enjoy!

Should YOU go sober in January?

Dryuary is a good answer for those looking to sample abstinence but may be scared of committing in the long run. Aside from the physical danger (in which case you shouldn’t participate), it’s a solid way to take a little time off from booze and to experience some of the benefits listed above like enhanced physical health, better mental health, and improved sleep.

Dr. Adi Jaffe is the founder of IGNTD Hero Program and author of the book, The Abstinence Myth