Dry January:Things to Consider Before Jumping on the Wagon

January calendar page.
Ready to ditch alcohol for the month? Read this first.

It’s that time of year again! The end of one year (and what a year it was!) and the beginning of another. As we creep into January, I’m sure there are some of you out there making that same resolution: to complete Dry January – no alcohol for the entire month. If that’s you, great. Fantastic! However, I urge you to consider a few things before you begin.

I’m going to be transparent with a few things right from the start:

1. I’ll hit my 5-year mark of sobriety in January.

2. I’m not a huge fan of these month-long no-drinking challenges like Dry January or Sober October. Confused? Well here’s why:

Many people use these “breaks” in drinking to convince themselves that once the month is over, they can go back to their normal drinking habits and that everything is well and good. However, if you’re at the point where you think you need to take a break from drinking, it’s probably worth taking a minute (most likely a little longer) to ask yourself why you think such a break is needed. How do you feel about your drinking habits? How would you define your relationship with alcohol? I.e. is it healthy? Unhealthy? Do you know what a healthy relationship with alcohol is? Are there changes you’d like to make to your consumption? If so, how would you realistically go about making those changes?

When I first got sober, I challenged myself to take a whole year off from drinking. I’d tried (many) times to do a month or a few months alcohol-free and knew that it was easy to make an excuse (but there’s a party! But it’s Halloween!) and wanted a longer time commitment to hold myself accountable. I never thought I’d make it, I’d been binge drinking for 15 years (I was 30). However, I did. I made it!

But then I drank again. And I hadn’t learned (or even really seriously thought) about better personal drinking habits. I knew I should stop at three drinks, but my body wanted to feel the buzz I was used to. I could still drink my regular amounts without even blacking out. After a night out where I had six drinks and probably could have continued drinking, I realized, I shouldn’t drink at all.

I’m not saying you need to stop drinking forever. But I am saying, if you’re taking a break, you might as well figure out how you’d like to drink, moving forward. Are you wanting to scale back? Break up with tequila? Only drink on weekends? Maybe you will discover you do want to quit all together. Maybe you’ll decide you need to quit but you’re not ready. Just things to consider.

If you do decide there’s something about your relationship with alcohol you’d like to change, a follow up question: is going cold turkey for a month the right decision for you, or does it make sense to work on the actual changes you’d like to make? As a coach, I know that small, steady changes lead to sustainable change a lot more frequently and more easily than big, sweeping changes. If, after some reflection, you decide that what you want to do is cut down your alcohol intake from say, 10 drinks/week to only drinking 5 drinks total/week and only on the weekend; it could make sense to use January to starting working toward that goal. (And a coach can help!)

One problem I have with Dry January is that after the 31 days are over, people are not just right back to their normal drinking, they often imbibe more in early February to reward themselves. If you’re cutting out alcohol for a month, what’s the point in jumping back into the deep end?

Another question to ask yourself is what you’re expecting to get out of this month sans alcohol. Are you looking for fewer hangovers? Do you want to save money? Support your friend who needs to stop? What is your why? You’re less likely to succeed at any goal without a purpose (a “why”). Bonus points if your purpose has a feeling attached. You know, like, you want to feel less ashamed and prouder of the way you conduct yourself. You want to feel in control and healthy. Again, something to spend some time thinking about before you start your Dry January. When you hit a point in the month where it feels like it might be worth it to give up and have that glass of wine, you can remind yourself why you’re doing this: I want to be more present with my children and get up an hour earlier to work out each day.

Finally, if you decide to do Dry January (or a modification), avoid thinking about the month as a month of deprivation. How many times have you heard someone on a diet complain about what they can’t have? “Ugh! I wish I could have that cake – but I can’t! I’m on Whole 30!” The same mentality creeps in with time spent on the wagon. “Ugh! I wish I could have that cocktail – but I can’t! I’m doing Dry January!” The reality is, you’re an adult, you’re choosing to do the diet or the Dry January. You’re the one who will skip the cocktail or the cake, yes, but you’re also the one who will see the benefits, if you let yourself. So, will you?Pay attention to what you’re gaining in the month. Consider keeping a list. Have you saved money on booze? How much better are you sleeping? How do you feel? (Better, I’m guessing.) Notice and keep track of the things you’re gaining, rather than what you’re “missing out on.”

As always, if there’s anything you need to work through or a goal around decreasing changing or completely cutting out your alcohol consumption, I’m here for you! And know you’re not alone: nearly 2/3 of my clients at Shawcroft Coaching acknowledge wanting to change some aspect of their alcohol consumption.