Dry January

Alcohol glasses

What began as a public health campaign, initiated by Alcohol Change UK ten years ago, is still going strong around the world. The initiative to abstain from alcohol consumption during the month of January is trademarked Dry January. By remaining dry for 31 days, it is suggested, you allow your body to partially recover following a period of typical over indulgence during the month of December. It also allows you to recover from a period of increased spending on alcohol and to reflect on your drinking habits, with a view to making changes, if necessary.

However, if Dry January is nothing but a pause or a cleanse from an unhealthy lifestyle that resumes as soon as the clock strikes midnight on January 31st, then any benefits may be temporary at best.

In addition, if you’ve gone from overindulging to complete abstinence, you may feel deprived, may experience some withdrawal symptoms, and if you’re counting down the days until the end of the month, then Dry January may be nothing more than a game or a personal challenge – a way in which to prove to yourself that you can survive a month without alcohol.

Recognizing that going cold turkey doesn’t work for everyone, and may even be dangerous if you’re addicted to alcohol (in which case, it would be best to have the support of a health professional), there’s a new twist to Dry January. In keeping with a harm reduction approach, experts are suggesting an option – instead of dry, consider going “damp.”

When a producer from Zoomer Radio invited me to speak to Libby Znaimer about this, I thought at first that he was referring to the amount of rain we’ve experienced this month. Realizing that they were likely not calling on me for my meteorological knowledge, I agreed after turning to good old Google for more information.

Turns out that Damp January provides one with the same opportunity for self reflection, while cutting back – with the understanding that less is best and that drinking less reduces harm to your health, pocketbook, and relationships.

And if abstinence only makes your heart grow fonder, and has you dreaming about what you’re missing, then considering a longer term solution – one that includes a moderate amount of alcohol – may be more of a sustainable option for you.

My recommendation is, along with figuring out what might work best for you, is to consider whether you’re trying to cut back from your December overindulgence or wanting to completely change your relationship with alcohol. If alcohol consumption is creating havoc in your life and relationships, if you know that you’re drinking an unhealthy amount, and this just gets ramped up towards the end of the year, you may need more than ‘dry’ or ‘damp’ January to turn things around

Whether you’ve cut out or back this month, you may be thinking more clearly and this will allow you to honestly answer some questions. Some of these may include:

  • Do I turn to alcohol in order to socialize and feel less inhibited?
  • Do I need alcohol to help me forget about other stressors in my life/cope in general?
  • Do I crave alcohol when I haven’t had any for a day or less?
  • Do I drink alone or only in the company of others?
  • Do I know when I’ve reached my limit?
  • Does my behaviour change after I’ve been drinking?

In addition to the impact that alcohol has on your body, mind and pocketbook, behavioural and mood changes and sleep, your consumption of alcohol may be interfering with your relationships – with your significant other, your children, other family members and friends.

If you determine that you need more than the challenge of Dry or Damp January to change your drinking behaviour, and recognize that your increased consumption in December is exacerbating an existing problem, you may want to enlist the help of an addictions specialist or support group.

Alcoholics Anonymous is what comes to mind for many, but there are other groups and services available. Google search “help for alcohol addiction” to find resources or check out health professionals directories such as ReferToMe.ca or psychologytoday.com for therapists with “addictions” as an area of expertise.