Benefits Of Dry January: 11 Tips For Giving Up Alcohol For One Month
Pay attention to the warning signs.
By Terri Coles, The Huffington Post Canada
Now that New Year's Eve has come and gone, you might be feeling somewhat pickled. Even if you normally drink only occasionally it can be easy to go overboard during the holidays.
As a result, some people are taking the relative quiet of January as an opportunity to go dry for a month. Even the New York Times recently covered the “Drynuary” phenomenon, getting tips from a man who has spent a decade taking a booze break each January, which he says helps him sleep better and lose a few extra holiday pounds.
Of course, there are several signs that indicate you have a problem with alcohol that is not limited to the party-centric holiday season and cannot be solved by a few weeks of going without.
"If you cannot limit yourself to one drink a day for females and two for men, according to the Surgeon General, you may be asking your body to handle more than it should,” says Dr. Nancy Irwin, primary therapist at the Seasons Recovery Centers in Malibu.
"Further, if you see — or loved ones notice — that your consumption is increasing, and it takes more than before to feel a ‘buzz,' and particularly if you are lying or hiding your drinking from loved ones, if you have any DUIs or are continuously late for work due to hangovers, or your partner or children pull away from you when you are drinking, if your mood changes due to to alcohol, you might consider the possibility that you cannot moderate alcohol.”
Whether "Drynuary" is a way for you to step back from holiday excess or a first step to a new relationship with drinking, here are 11 tips for going without booze for a month and getting the most you can from the experience. And don't forget, you can do this any month, not just January.
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What is Drynuary?:Drynuary is a catchy — or annoying, depending on your perspective — name for the practice of spending the month of January abstaining from alcohol. Some take this practice very seriously. Others allow themselves a little break here and there, but still make a conscious effort to go without wine, spirits, and beer during the month.
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Help out your liver: Taking a month off from booze can give your liver a bit of a break. "Of the many benefits of abstaining from alcohol the main one is to allow the liver to cleanse itself out and build up many of the enzymes you lose when you drink,” says Ted Hale, a personal trainer with experience in health and nutrition counselling. "Reduced liver enzymes can also cause fatigue so you gain energy with abstaining as well."
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Other body benefits: A few weeks without alcohol isn’t only good for your liver — it can benefit your body in other ways as well. "Some of the other benefits of abstaining from alcohol are greater hydration, not taxing the central nervous system and avoiding the symptoms of hangover which include digestive problems, loss of vitamins and minerals and dehydration,” Hale says. You could also lose a couple pounds if going without booze results in a net decrease in calorie consumption.
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Gain some clarity: There are also mental benefits to be gained from a booze moratorium. “You just might see things you didn't notice before,” Irwin says of a break. "You may become aware of things you were drinking to avoid: unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, unfulfilling work or relationships, etcetera.” Pay attention to how you feel about avoiding alcohol both physically and mentally, and try to take advantage of the chance for different social activities and better sleep. Also, if avoiding alcohol brings up emotions you weren’t expecting, talk about them with a therapist or other trusted person.
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Switch out calories: "A great technique to avoid alcohol for a period of time would be to trade the reward calories you normally consume on alcohol and just use reward food,” Hale says. If you usually save 200 calories of your dietary intake for a glass of wine in the evening, you can spend that on a bit of dark chocolate instead, for example. Then you still get a treat that works with your overall nutrition plan, but can avoid alcohol at the same time. "This allows people to consume more of the food they love than normal, and they do not feel as restricted,” he says.
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Pay attention to your body: If you start to experience physical symptoms once you cut out alcohol, that’s a sign you should pay attention to. Those could include anxiety, tremors, nausea, vomiting, headache, sweating, and others, according to Healthline. Experiencing physical detox symptoms like these are a clue that you may be dependent on or abusing alcohol, Irwin says, and should be discussed with an expert.
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And listen to your mind as well: Along with physical symptoms, any psychological or emotional symptoms from alcohol abstinence can also help you learn more about your relationship with drinking. Those symptoms could include feeling excessively uncomfortable without a drink, being unable to entertain yourself without drinking, obsessing about booze, or feeling angry or deprived without alcohol, Irwin says.
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Track your progress: You may be keeping a simple log of your booze-free days as motivation or for accountability, but a more detailed log of your Drynuary effort can also be valuable. "I'd suggest people keep a daily journal about this alcohol-free month to get really in touch with any struggles and feelings about the process,” Irwin says. "At the end of this month, notice what is different about your life: your sleep, your appetite, your overall mood, your energy, your skin tone, your effectiveness in general."
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Bring in outside help: There is value in bringing on a professional counsellor during Drynuary, or bringing the challenge up with one you are already seeing. They can give you strategies to manage the effort and help you identify any harmful patterns that abstaining from alcohol could make more obvious. "This can be a great time to go within, or seek professional help, to make positive changes,” Irwin says.
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Think longer term: You may find after one month that you want to continue your alcohol-free period for a while longer, or maybe even indefinitely. "Extending sobriety beyond the month could be important for people who feel that their drinking has gone beyond the acceptable social situations,” Hale says. "If you are drinking at home by yourself or on days you are not socializing then it could be important to extend this process.” Talk to an addictions expert or other health specialist if you believe that you have an unhealthy relationship to alcohol, in order to devise strategies to improve that relationship — or end it altogether.
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If you need help, get it: If you find that your month away from alcohol reveals that you might have a problem with drinking that goes well beyond overindulging at a holiday party or two, then seek out help from a therapist, an addictions counsellor, a physician, or a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous — which is for anybody who has a problem with drinking. "Listen to your body and respect its individual needs. Seek help with an addictions professional,” Irwin says. "There is no shame in having an issue with alcohol, but there can be a great deal of it if it is ignored."