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black bottles viewed from above - Dry January

Dry January – Should Our Relationship to Alcohol Change?

Dry January – What And Why?

As we come up on the New Year and enjoy the parties of the winter season – quieter as they may be this year – you may hear a perhaps-familiar announcement from some of your friends: “I can’t drink from tomorrow, I’m doing Dry January.”

Dry January, occasionally called ‘Drynuary’, is a relatively new campaign to encourage people to consume no alcohol during the first month of the year. It’s aim is to promote health and wellness. The term has only been common nomenclature since the early 2000s. It was only registered as a trademark by Alcohol Concern in 2014. Much like skyrocketing new-year gym memberships, many people partake in the idea of a new, healthier start to the year. Others use it as a way to cleanse and detox after the holiday season, and the large amounts of drinking that often accompany it. Some people even just do it for appearances – the performance of a healthier lifestyle for the respect of their peers.

Benefits to Dry January?

As all these types of things do, Dry January has its supporters and its critics. But overall, it’s a safe, even beneficial fad. Research from the University of Sussex suggests that it has been able to reduce instances of harmful drinking in 72% of their surveyed participants. Partakers report benefits such as improved sleeping patterns, and improved mood . Some report less of a reliance on alcohol as a coping mechanism come February and onwards. Not to mention the money saved on not purchasing that bottle of wine every week. A select few even report a general lack of desire to drink in the future.

With all these benefits, some people can begin to wonder why they drink at all – though by next year most will again be promising a sober January through the dry mouth and pounding headache of a hangover.

However, for some, quitting alcohol – especially cold turkey, for a whole month and with no outside help, can be a lot more difficult than just a simple adjustment to their lifestyle.

Addiction

Alcohol is a drug. For many, it can be a coping mechanism to deal with stresses, anxieties and difficult times in their lives. But this coping mechanism can evolve very easily into an addiction. Those that rely on it more frequently or heavily may find it impossible to relax or even get about their daily lives without a drink or more every day. Frequent consumption can lead to dependencies that are very hard to shake. And it can affect not only the lives of those relying on it but also the people around them. Some people may not even realise the severity of their habit.

People struggling with an addiction or dependence on alcohol may try and use Dry January as a way to curb their issue, but this can be dangerous. Suddenly ceasing consumption, especially for heavier drinkers, can lead to severe and debilitating withdrawal symptoms as the body adjusts. These symptoms can be anything from shakiness, headaches, anxiety, nausea and difficulty sleeping, to fevers, high blood pressure and even hallucinations and delusions. It can also lead to a more severe relapse once the abstinence has ended. After all, if quitting makes you feel that unwell, why not just keep drinking?

Alternatives?

Those struggling with alcohol dependency would be perhaps better off taking a safer, if slower, route to sobriety. Speaking with a medical professional or addiction specialist and making a plan to steadily curb their intake and return to a healthier level of consumption, or even to quit entirely if they feel they can’t control themselves well enough.

But why do people fall into these patterns in the first place? Beyond coping with the everyday stresses, a lot of the western social sphere is built around drinking – bars and pubs are some of the most common meeting grounds for groups. Many people opt to go for a drink at the end of the day with co-workers. Some people are more genetically predisposed to addictions of all kinds – you may have heard people call it an ‘addictive personality’. Growing up surrounded by family who drink can also encourage people to follow the same path.

Struggling with mental health problems can also influence people towards addiction. Alcohol dulls the senses and can quieten the mind. People may turn to it to block out their own thoughts. It can also help people feel more comfortable being sociable, or more present in social environments – some people may feel they need alcohol to be interesting or funny and may start struggling to deal with social situations without it.

Social Pressure

With an environment so built around social drinking, it can be difficult to avoid being exposed to it and falling into addictive cycles – especially with outside pressure. People who choose to go sober often report having friends encourage or pressure them to drink. They wonder why they refuse and try to come up with theories as to why they don’t want to, even though the answer is just that – they don’t want to.

So, whilst Dry January can be a beneficial undertaking for some, for others a more root problem presents itself. As a society, how can we provide a safe and respectful environment for those who struggle with alcohol addiction and dependence, without restricting or shaming those who are able to enjoy it without that struggle?

There’s nothing wrong with drinking, as a whole. The problem comes when those who struggle with drinking and those who choose not to drink are not respected. So, if you choose to partake in Dry January, do so safely, with a retrospective into how alcohol affects us and the people around us all throughout the year, not just during the New Year’s hangover period.

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