One in five UK adults shared an intention to participate in 2021’s Dry January (Alcohol Change UK); the highest number of people ever to do so.
Some will have viewed the unprecedented extra time at home – away from the social and peer pressures of the office and pubs – as the ideal opportunity to embrace being alcohol free and certainly many will be sailing through without a glitch.
However, there will be a number of people for whom this last month has not been so easy. It must be recognised that we are living through a period of immense stress and uncertainty, not to mention the increased overwhelm as a result of many having to home-school. As such, even with the best intentions we will have witnessed some people really struggling to stick to their sober resolutions.
A dependency on alcohol
Alcohol Change UK reported that more than a fifth (22 per cent) of people claim to feeling concerned about the amount they have been drinking since coronavirus restrictions began in March 2020 and 23 per cent say they have consumed alcohol to ‘try and cope’. In addition, online searches for the mental disorder ‘Alcoholism’ are have peaked in January beyond any level we have seen in the past 12 months.
There is no doubt that Dry January is beneficial in helping people pause and take note of their drinking habits. In addition, statistics show that those who make it through January alcohol-free are likely to abstain for longer, or drink sufficiently less that their levels are no longer considered to be harmful. And indeed, the herd mentality of the campaign can be very supportive.
So, whether you’re on track to make it through the month alcohol-free, or you did not continue beyond a week, do not allow this experience to define your ability to create a healthier, alcohol free life. Recognise that achieving true sobriety takes time, well beyond a 31-day period.
Here are five steps you can take right now to regain control of your alcohol intake beyond Dry January.
1. Work on your mindset
Whatever the outcome of your Dry January ambitions, it is important to recognise that it was never an all-or-nothing situation. Think of the month just gone by and any further commitment you make to alcohol as an experiment, rather than a challenge. If you are unable to complete a ‘challenge’ it is easy to view this as a failure. But by viewing it as an ‘experiment’ it is impossible to fail. Rather it is only possible to reflect and learn.
Even if you achieved one week of sobriety, rather than the month you had aimed for, put time aside to reflect on that progress and make note of how your mind and body felt during that time. Log the triggers that led you to drinking alcohol and consider how you can either avoid these, or cope differently with them in the future . Look at the evidence and commit to learning from what you find.
2. Cut back slowly
Quitting alcohol ‘cold turkey’ is not an approach that will work for everyone. If you have been drinking heavily for a period of weeks or even months, it is advised that you discuss reducing your alcohol intake with your GP. No matter what your level of consumption, slowly reducing alcohol intake (rather than removing it completely) is an approach that may suit you better. For many, this can be a far more effective strategy, particularly during stressful times.
If you are someone who tends to drink every day of the week, you could start by nominating alcohol-free days. Try using smaller glasses which will enable you to measure your intake more accurately, or set a budget or time limit before you start drinking to ensure you keep the volumes low. Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink would be a smart move towards giving up alcohol completely and creating a healthier lifestyle for yourself.
3. Create a path of resistance.
It is common for people to drink alcohol out of habit. Try to break the habit by creating a path of resistance. The more effort it takes to do something, the less likely one is to do it. Ensure there is no alcohol in your home, or at the minimum, no ready-to-drink alcohol available. Here you are creating a path of resistance; the need to leave a house and go to a shop to buy alcohol. Make your vices harder to achieve.
4. Seek alternatives to alcohol
Alcohol-free drinks are now commonplace in supermarkets and online. In fact, you no longer have to hunt high and low for alternatives that not only taste good, but that also feel special. In fact, the volume of people searching online for ‘alcohol free’ products has never been higher.
Why not use this as a time to try out some new brands to find out what you like and play with virgin cocktails on a Friday evening? The options available are endless now.
Occupy yourself during the times when you might usually drink. Pick up a new hobby, plug in exercise or commit yourself to talking therapy, meditation, or mindfulness. This may give you an alternative way of manging triggers such as stress or boredom that may otherwise see you reaching for a drink.
5. Ask for help
Seeking the help of others is undoubtedly one of the hardest steps to take, but it can also be the most rewarding. If you think your drinking level is problematic enough for you to make the commitment to give up alcohol altogether, then it is important to question how reliant you are on the substance in your daily life. Acknowledging alcoholism in one’s self is an important step to recovery. Support from a healthcare professional or a charity will be beneficial in your progress.
Remember, Dry January can be a stepping-stone to a much longer lasting commitment of alcohol reduction or abstinence. Whatever path you choose, reducing alcohol intake can be a huge step towards a happier and healthier lifestyle, which will benefit both your physical and mental wellness.
Alcohol support services
Alcohol Change UK
NHS tips and advice
Alcohol addiction services in your area
Free, confidential helpline for anyone who is concerned about their drinking, or someone else’s.
Helpline: 0300 123 1110
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
AA supports the recovery and continued sobriety of individuals. Meetings are available online and in person.
Helpline: 0800 917 7650