January 9, 2023

Dry January Thoughts

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Thoughts on what it means, how to do it and concerns for this not so new hype.

It is, to put it simply, nearly impossible to miss; you see headlines in every major news outlet, on social media channels, and in advertising. Dry January. Sober Curious. It’s become a ‘thing.’ This really isn’t new but, like any other idea that has good marketing, you can hear about it and see it everywhere. A quick scan of the newspaper this morning screamed to me about apps to track your drinking, the new non-alcoholic beverages being sold, the effects of not drinking for 30 days and the alternatives one can seek if not drinking is harder than might be expected. There was even an article about what to do if you find yourself in withdrawal unexpectedly. (This one is easy: seek medial support if you have a history of seizures, or if you are unsure of what will happen.)

So, let me ask you ~ are you giving this a try? Are you hoping that it will give you some clarity and help you hit the ‘reset’ button on your relationship with drinking or using? Here are a few thoughts from someone who helps their clients do this every day of the year, not just January, which might be of interest to you.

Not drinking for a few weeks is, indeed, a good thing for your body. Every organ will thank you for it, especially your liver. Your skin will be more hydrated and your sleep, after a bit of a rough patch, will likely start to stabilize. Sleep is great for not only your mental health but your physical health as well. I love this short piece on sleep and you might find it useful too! https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2013/04/benefits-slumber

Taking a break will also allow your brain to catch its figurative breath. Neurotransmitters will be produced and used more effectively. Your mental acuity may feel slightly sharper and you may find yourself feeling better about yourself and the decision to stop. Depression and anxiety may quietly exit off to the side in such a way that you wonder if they were ever there to begin with or just a part of the drinking. 

Here’s the fun part ~ you may find it easy! It might be so easy that you’re thinking to yourself, “why didn’t I do this sooner?” That would be so neat, wouldn’t it? It’s also what I hope for you; the experience is easy, no major drama. And when you get to February 1st it is my hope that you have met your goals for this time away from drinking.

If, however, you find that it was harder than you thought it might be or that you found yourself wanting to drinking but then opting to because you don’t want to be one of those people who drop their resolutions by January 15th, this post is for you.

Like it or not, a goodly number of people who seek to take a break from drinking discover pretty quickly their relationship with alcohol is more complicated than they thought it was. Much more. The urges, cravings, irritation, sleep issues, short temper and resentment about taking this on are a clue of a bigger something, lurking not all that far beneath the surface. I’m not saying that it’s an indication of a problem, but I am saying, for all the hype, part of what concerns me about Dry January is, well, all that hype. 

Substance related issues have skyrocketed through the pandemic. We know that 13% of Americans are reporting increased substance use as a result of stress from COVID related changes in their lives (American Psychological Association, March 2021). The National Institute of Health as well as the Center for Disease Control both tell us that deaths from substance related causes is also on the rise. 

Issues with drinking or using other substances don’t know dates or care too much about New Years Resolutions. Nor do such problems care too much for the long term impact on the person with the problem, the family impacted and the friends who gradually lose their person to the all encompassing nature of a substance related issue. 

If you’ve been trying to hold to your Dry January but are finding it hard, or are finding yourself sneaking a bit on the side, pre-gaming and then wondering if anyone notices, keep reading; I’ve got some suggestions for you. If you are having an easy time of it, finding yourself enjoying socializing without drinking or discovering the joy of sleeping through the night – congratulations! 

For those of you who may fall into the former category here are some suggestions to help you decide where you might want to head next in your quest toward a greater understanding of your relationship with drinking.

Tip #1: Did you notice how I snuck that word, “relationship” in there along with “drinking”? Like any other substance (think Advil), how we use the substance, the expectations we have for it and the lengths we’ll go to get it or recover from using it, the risks we’re willing to tolerate around it’s use, are important to keep front of mind. Taking a break allows you the opportunity to examine just what’s going on for you. Have you found it harder than you expected? Easier? Are some of your friends uncomfortable by your choice or even downright unwilling to accept this short break? That tells you a lot about the relationship with your friend, in addition to showing you that perhaps the only entry point to this friendship is a shared bond around drinking.

Tip #2: This is a great time to take a look at how you’re spending your downtime. Do you have outside of work interests or pursuits that feel fulfilling? Have you been able to establish a routine that reflects your desire to take a break?

Tip #3: You might find your sweet tooth gets worse ~ for a time. That’s normal and OK. What’s happening is the part of our brains that get activated and tickled by drinking are seeking out that feeling and sugar provides it as well. It will pass and you may find eating sugar-free hard candies to be a good bridge (sugar-free so you’re not spending extra time at the dentist!)

Tip #4: Emotions in general and strong ones specifically, may show up fast and furiously. If you can, try not to get swept up into them but rather try to begin to understand what’s going on with them and what they are trying to tell you. Alcohol is a depressant so as it leaves your system and your routines, emotions may be more intense. It’s normal and it’s OK.

Tip #5: While your sleep may initially be horrid, it should improve over time with your body finding it’s own rhythm again. Alcohol does a number to our sleep cycle so this is one of the places where you’re likely to feel some of the biggest and most impactful changes. Believe it or not, making sure your water consumption is good and working out in the morning are helpful ways to get yourself to sleep and staying asleep through the night.

There are no magic solutions or pixie dust that comes down from the sky once you start down the road of not drinking for a month or so. What does happen however is a greater awareness; for some, that’s uncomfortable and for others, totally liberating. What you may have thought you needed you discover you don’t. Wondering if alcohol is a problem? Here’s a great set of guidelines to help you decide for yourself: https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/Whats-the-harm/What-Are-Symptoms-Of-Alcohol-Use-Disorder

Have you found it harder than you expected? That’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with you ~ your relationship with alcohol or other substances may well have taken a turn you didn’t expect. Now would be a fine time to step further back, look at it and decide how you’d like to move forward. Want help with that? I’m here, as are many, many others. A quick search on Google is likely to yield you some helpful paths to try. Still stuck? Reach out ~ really. I may not be the person for you but I’ll sure do my best to get you pointed in the best direction. And, if you didn’t already see it, I wrote some helpful tips on finding a therapist, which you can find here: https://lisacurtislcsw.com/3-strategies-for-finding-a-therapist-pro-tip/

Hype or no hype, there are some positive things that can come from taking a break from using; it’s your decision how to tackle them but the fact that you’ve read this far tells me you’re ready to give it a go. 

Looking for some more? Here’s a video I made last year that you might find useful: https://youtu.be/X3miHq6-_EU

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