How is your Dry January going? If you’ve been successful in abstaining from alcohol so far, pat yourself on the back. But if your plans have already gone off the rails a time or two, don’t beat yourself up, experts say: When it comes to quitting drinking, a slip-up isn’t a failure.
“That certainly doesn’t mean all is lost,” said Dr. Brian Hurley, an addiction specialist in Los Angeles and president-elect of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “People can absolutely get back on track.”
Started in 2013 by a UK charity called Change of alcohol in the UKthe Dry January challenge is to see if you can go booze-free for the month, starting the new year off with a fresh, healthier start.
But even if you weren’t 100% successful in Dry January, there are benefits to giving it a good try, say Hurley and others.
“I wouldn’t consider a mistake to be unusual or represent failure in any way,” Hurley said. “I could think of it as part of learning. So if someone was planning on not drinking during the month of January and there was a situation where they were drinking, that’s a learning opportunity. They can figure out what to put in place to avoid this situation in the future or, when faced with this situation again, find an alternative to drinking alcohol.
Those who get it wrong during dry January can still embark on the important process of reassessing their relationship with alcohol, said addiction expert George Koob, director of the National Institute on Abuse of alcohol and alcoholism.
They may begin to notice that their body feels better when they’re not drinking – or when they’re drinking less – and this can provide additional motivation to make lasting changes to their drinking, whether it’s stop drinking or drink more moderately, according to Koob.
“If you feel better when you’re not drinking, your body is trying to tell you something and you should listen to your body,” he said.
The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than two alcoholic beverages per day for men and one for women. A standard drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Excessive consumption of alcohol is defined as men drinking more than four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week. For women, excessive alcohol consumption corresponds to more than three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week.
People hoping for a dry January and getting it wrong should be kind to themselves and “keep trying,” Koob advised.
“Someone who has a little slip-up, maybe a big slip-up, but reassessing their relationship with alcohol, overall, that’s a good thing,” Koob said. “I don’t think you should catastrophize a slide. Somehow get around the obstacle then and see if you can hold on a little longer next time.
Pandemic stress and self-medication
If dry January seems particularly difficult this year, it may have to do with the weight of the ongoing pandemic, with virus fears, social isolation, economic hardship and more. Managing alcohol consumption can be particularly difficult during times of stress, and studies show an increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic.
“About 30% of the population seems to drink more, and those who drink more drink to cope with stress,” Koob said.
Dr. Kevin Wandler, a psychiatrist in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and chief medical officer for The Recovery Village drug and alcohol treatment centers across the country, said he hears many patients cite pandemic stress as a factor in their alcohol consumption.
“Self-medicating with alcohol is legal, but it can definitely be a health issue,” he said.
Too much alcohol can cause a range of medical and personal problems. Intoxication carries well-known immediate health risks, including falls or other injuries, alcohol poisoning, and impaired judgment that can lead to risky sex or drunk driving and traffic accidents. road. Too much alcohol can also interfere with a good night’s sleep and, as many know, lead to a miserable hangover the next morning.
In the long term, excessive alcohol consumption can not only lead to alcohol use disorder, but potentially to a long list of others. negative health effectsincluding heart and liver problems, certain cancers, pancreatitis and a weakened immune system.
But cutting down on alcohol consumption — even if a person doesn’t quit completely — has health benefits, Wandler said. Positives can be seen quite quickly, and small successes can lead to bigger ones.
“Especially if you’re a heavy drinker, giving up alcohol for even two weeks will have a positive impact on your blood pressure, your heart, your mental well-being,” he said.
The NIAAA has a Redesign Alcohol Website with advice to help people reduce their alcohol consumption and assess whether they might have an alcohol use disorder. People with serious alcohol problems can experience potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms if they quit smoking suddenly, so medical supervision is recommended.
Wandler pointed out that change can take time, so people who fail with their dry January goals should try to “reboot” tomorrow.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, especially if it’s not what you’ve tried to do before,” he said. “Most of us aren’t good at making lifestyle changes so quickly.”