With 1 in 3 drinkers reporting drinking more in 2020 than in 2019 and one in five saying that they found themselves drinking to ‘try and cope’ since COVID-19 restrictions began in March. More of us than ever are seeking to break habits and feel better in the new year. Ditching alcohol for a Dry Januaryis proven to benefit your health, wellbeing and wallet. But cutting out alcohol for a whole month is a lot easier when you’re prepared.
Here Dr Tony Rao, a consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, shares a few tips to help you make the most of your month off, and make a change that lasts.
1. Be clear about why you’re doing this
2020 has been tough. Lots of people will be going into their Dry January hoping just to feel better. But what does ‘better’ mean to you? Whether you’re sick of hangovers, want to sleep more deeply, seek to save money or you have a health and fitness goal.
It can help to write these reasons down somewhere you can access them easily, to keep you going if the going gets tough.
2. Work out your triggers
Lots of us have drinking ‘triggers’ – things that reliably lead us to reach for a glass of wine or beer. For some of us, it’s boredom. For many of us including me, it’s stress and for others, it’s the way we mark the end of a long day and a habit. In 2020, with our routines out of whack, many of us will have found ourselves with new triggers, or maybe with existing triggers being pulled more often or earlier in the day.
If you can work out what your triggers are, you can make sure you’re ready for them when they rear their heads in January.
3. Treat yourself
Many of us use alcohol as our go-to way to have fun, de-stress or treat ourselves – our trigger response. This is an important association to break. What other treats could you have stored up for January? With restrictions on our lives in place through much of 2020, it’s been easy to think of alcohol as our only option, but it really isn’t. You could have a bath, read a book, play a video game, or go for a walk.
A bit of self-care will reinforce the benefits of not drinking, plus you get to relish in the extra time and money you have found for yourself through not drinking. Use the app to trace how much money you will have saved this month.
4. Get yourself some support
Don’t go it alone. Taking on 31 days alcohol-free with support from Alcohol Change UK,the charity behind Dry January doubles your chance of staying totally dry for the full month and having ongoing benefits six months later. They offer the free Try Dry app, which lets you track your units, calories and money saved through Dry January for extra motivation. Plus you can set personalised goals to help you manage your drinking year-round, earning badges along the way.
5. Think about future you
It can be helpful to think of Dry January as a Bootcamp for developing a healthier relationship with alcohol long-term. 1 in 4 people who drink alcohol want to cut down in 2021, and evidence shows that Dry January is a great way to do that – 7 in 10 people who take it on with support are still drinking more healthily six months later. Once Dry January is over, check in with yourself. Perhaps you feel more productive, have a boosted mood, or are just generally healthier. More importantly, you’ll have realised that you don’t need alcohol to have fun, relax, or socialise.