What You Need to Know About Giving Up Alcohol for a Month
What were your New Year resolutions? Get more exercise? Eat more fruit and vegetables? What about alcohol? As we make the change from one year to the next, many people celebrate with a drink. Whether you’re drinking away the year in quiet reflection, toasting to new beginnings or a cocktail combination of something in between, New Year’s Eve and drinking are synonymous for many Americans.
But what about those who have a complicated relationship with alcohol or those who wake up on January 1st and want a truly fresh start? More and more brave souls have decided to participate in ‘Drynuary’ or Dry January.
Fast becoming established as a regular tradition for many, the origins of Drynuary are unclear. John Ore wrote in the Business Insider about how he and his then girlfriend (now wife) decided to stop drinking in January over a decade ago. Meanwhile, Alcohol Concern in the UK has a story on their website of how Emily Robinson gave up alcohol one January in preparation for a marathon, which gradually evolved into Alcohol Concern’s official campaign after she joined the organization.
Why Do People Take Part in Dry January?
Whatever the origin of Drynuary, it’s become something that many Americans participate in as part of an attempt to kick start the New Year with a healthier lifestyle. We spoke to two CIA Medical employees who decided to give up alcohol for a month to see what their experiences were.
Sarah Lisovich is the Senior Editor and Content Strategist at CIA Medical. She told us: “This is the first time I have tried Dry January and even heard of it… When I heard of Dry January, I realized that a month seemed like an easy time limit to set for myself to completely cut spirits out. It felt more like an experiment than a lifestyle adjustment, which was less daunting.”
In comparison, Sophie Childs, one of CIA Medical’s writers, said “a lot of my friends have taken part in Drynuary in the past, so I knew it was a popular thing to do. I’ve been teetotal at various periods in my life and just before Christmas I decided that I wanted to completely overhaul my diet to deal with various health issues. Dry January gave me the perfect excuse to get started with a number of lifestyle changes.”
Health was also a concern for Sarah. She said that “I have tried quitting or easing up on drinking in the past because consuming alcohol often leaves me feeling unhealthy both physically and mentally. While I have been relatively successful in drinking less, I would still find myself regretting the times I did drink, pointing to feelings of dehydration, self-doubt, lack of focus, and general sluggishness.”
The Health Benefits of Giving Up Alcohol
Alcohol in moderation is fine and may even be good for you. The American Heart Association claims that red wine protects the heart and studies have shown that red wine may also protect against some cancers, reduce weight gain, fight memory loss and even protect your teeth! However, there are also plenty of negative side effects associated with alcohol if you drink too much.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines excessive alcohol consumption as drinking five or more drinks at a time for men or four or more drinks at a time for women. In addition, the CDC warns that the majority of people who drink too much are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent, so even if you think you don’t have a problem with alcohol, you could still be drinking more than is healthy.
Too much alcohol could raise your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It can also cause you to gain weight and may impact your quality of sleep, as well as increase your risk of certain diseases, such as strokes or liver problems. In the long term, it can make you develop mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, and have a negative effect on your memory and learning ability.
Fortunately, the CDC advises that simply cutting back on the amount of alcohol you consume can reduce your risk of developing alcohol related problems. England’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) takes this further and recommends that heavy drinkers should be regularly monitored for signs of cirrhosis of the liver, a serious condition which replaces healthy liver tissue with scar tissue. Over time, this prevents the liver from functioning and may even necessitate a liver transplant.
The Difference a Month Makes
After a month of going alcohol free, Sarah reported that “I didn’t gain superhero strength by any means, but I did notice a trend of more stability both mentally and emotionally. I felt like my body was functioning better overall. I felt better rested which allowed me to be more productive with my days, which made me feel better about myself too.”
Sophie agreed. “I can’t say that I noticed a mammoth difference, although my husband has said that I’m less shouty! Since I’ve been changing my diet as well, it’s difficult to say what effects are down to the lack of alcohol and what’s due to my eating more healthily, but I have lost around 10 pounds and I definitely don’t feel as tired as I used to anymore.”
However, critics of Dry January warn that being alcohol free for one month won’t have much of an impact if you simply return to your old habits in February. Creating a cycle of binging and abstaining is going to be more harmful to your health long term than being a moderate drinker all the time. So if you do decide to give up alcohol in January, you should view it as an opportunity to change your attitudes towards drinking in the long term.
Problems With Alcohol
Although neither Sarah nor Sophie had concerns about their alcohol intake before Drynuary, it can be a serious issue for many. Excessive amounts of alcohol was responsible for approximately 88,000 fatalities in the United States during 2006-2010, shortening those lives by an average of 30 years. In addition, 1 in 10 of deaths among adults aged 20-64 was caused by alcohol, with the economic costs of overconsumption in 2010 estimated at an incredible $249 billion.
Approximately 17 million American adults were diagnosed with ‘alcohol use disorder’ (AUD) in 2012. In that same year, roughly 855,000 adolescents between the ages 12-17 were also diagnosed with an AUD. In order to receive a diagnosis, individuals need to meet two out of 11 criteria in a 12-month period. These may include having strong cravings for a drink or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they tried to stop.
Many American employers have drug testing policies in place, screening for alcohol as well as other drugs. Kits are readily available to test blood alcohol levels to minimize the risk of alcohol causing an accident in the workplace or impacting on productivity. This means that if someone believes that they may have a problem with alcohol, it is imperative for them to seek help at the earliest opportunity.
Support and Resources
Fortunately, there are many resources available to help people with an AUD, as well as support for those who are concerned about a family member. For example, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is part of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and aims to reduce the harm caused by substance abuse. Their website contains a wealth of information for those who need help, including a tool to find your nearest alcohol treatment facility or program.
Possibly the most famous organization battling the problems caused by AUD is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Its focus is on peer-to-peer support with the sole aim of staying sober and helping alcoholics achieve sobriety. Alternatively, Moderation Management is aimed towards those who feel that they are in danger of developing a more serious problem, supporting those at the beginning stages of AUD.
Helping a Friend With Their Alcohol Problem
If you are concerned about a friend or family member, it can be hard to know what to do to help. An intervention might seem too much, but at the same time, it’s difficult watching someone you care about struggle with alcohol.
The first step is to talk to them. Make sure you pick the right time to mention the subject and don’t try to talk to someone when they’re intoxicated. Wait until they’re sober and have the best chance of hearing your message.
Keep your focus on the consequences of their drinking, such as job loss or an arrest for DUI. Talk about how it hurts you to see them suffering, but avoid lecturing. Keep your language nonjudgmental and avoid blaming. Don’t insist that they get help. Simply tell them what’s worrying you and encourage them to seek counseling.
Don’t take it personally if you get a negative reaction. It’s very common to deny that alcohol is a serious problem. But when your loved one has calmed down, they may remember what you’ve said and think about your advice.
If your loved one is ready to get help, be prepared to support them by helping them get to a support group or treatment center and be there throughout the process as much as necessary.
Developing a Healthy Attitude Towards Alcohol
The National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week® was set up in 2010 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and runs for the last week in January. It is geared towards teenagers and aims to counteract the information they get about drugs and alcohol from unreliable sources, such as social media, movies, and music. Throughout the week, various educational events are put on so that young people can see what science tells us about drug abuse and addiction.
It is crucial that young people develop a healthy attitude towards alcohol early. Over 4,300 underage youths died because of excessive alcohol in 2010 and although it is illegal to drink alcohol if you’re under 21, 12 to 20 year olds drink 11% of the alcohol consumed in the States.
Dry January is almost over, but don’t worry if you didn’t take part. It’s never too late to cut down your alcohol intake or stop altogether. If you do decide to drink, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines state that you should only have one drink per day if you’re a woman, two if you’re a man, although there’s room for a little individual variance. Look around to see if there are any community strategies to combat alcohol abuse . Don’t give alcohol to those who shouldn’t be drinking, such as underage teens, someone who is already intoxicated or someone you know is trying to stay sober.
Don’t be afraid to speak to your health care provider if you feel that you need extra support with your attitude towards alcohol. They will be able to help you find an approach that works for you, including counseling. They can also help if you have any concerns about a loved one.
Sarah and Sophie’s Final Thoughts
How much of a difference did going ‘dry’ for a month make to Sarah and Sophie? After four weeks, Sarah said “Refraining from alcohol is worth the slight discomfort and possible anxiety of turning down a drink at a social gathering in exchange for accomplishing more. While I can’t say for certain that I will cut alcohol out of my life entirely, productivity is a major priority for me, so I will continue to keep consumption at a low.”
Meanwhile, Sophie’s going to continue to avoid alcohol. “Much as I miss a nice, relaxing glass of red wine in the evening, cutting it out is part of an overall health strategy that is only starting to have an effect. It’s likely to be at least another couple of months before I raise a glass again and when I do, I’m going to make a conscious effort to keep my intake down. One thing I did notice was that what used to be one bottle of wine per week gradually crept up to two and I’d prefer to limit myself to just one. It’s healthier for my bank balance as well as my waistline!”
Have Sarah and Sophie inspired you to cut back on alcohol or stop drinking? Did you take part in Dry January? What were your experiences? When you get the urge to have a drink, do you have any tips for avoiding alcohol or helping loved ones stay sober? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments.