There are plenty of great reasons to “dry dry” in January and give up alcohol. Maybe you drank too much over the holidays or want to start a diet or exercise routine and just can’t handle the calories or zap of energy and stimulation that drinking can bring.
“Or it could be that someone is really starting to question or question their relationship with alcohol, and this is an opportunity to really explore that,” said Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director of the Substance Use Disorders Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez said, “For some people who say, ‘I’m not going to drink this whole month,’ it can be really hard, so trying to do that can show you how easy or difficult it is for you.” She conducts classes at Teachers College, Columbia University.
What’s the expert advice on how to have a successful Dry January? Read on.
1. Know your reasons
It’s helpful to be clear about your goal in making it a habit, said Wakeman, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“Our research on goal setting says that goals are more likely to be achieved if they are truly related to you as an individual and not as abstract as ‘I should stop drinking because drinking is bad,'” she said.
She said tangible goals like adopting new sleep habits or getting more exercise will help make it easier to quit drinking.
“I really want to stop drinking because I know that when I drink so much I don’t wake up the next morning and don’t exercise, that’s a very specific goal,” Wakeman said.
Experts say that extra motivation can come from the health gains you can make from reducing or eliminating alcohol.
“Drinking less alcohol over time can have tangible benefits for your health in terms of blood pressure, cancer risk, risk of liver disease and other conditions,” Wakeman said.
She added, “Over the course of a month, you may notice some short-term benefits such as better sleep, better complexion due to improvement in your complexion, feeling clearer, and having more energy.”
2. Setting SMART goals
Many of us may be familiar with SMART goals from work or school settings. They are used to help people set achievable goals. abbreviation stands for:
specificSet an achievable goal, such as drinking less than three days a week. You can add days until you reach your final goal.
Measurable: How many drinks will you make – and what are the drink sizes? Beer is 12 ounces, glass of wine is 5 ounces and a serving of spirits is 1.5 ounces.
Realizable: Ensure that there is no set of social engagements as alcohol is likely to be served during the month of abstinence.
Appropriate: How will drinking not help my life and my health?
On the basis of time: Set a reasonable time frame for finishing your efforts. If you wish, you can select another target later.
“If you set the bar too high, you may fail, so it’s best to set smaller goals to achieve that,” Hafeez said. “Nothing begins without an honest conversation with yourself.”
3. Share your goal with others
Experts say that telling a few friends or family members about your goal can help you reach it. For some people, it can be helpful to announce their plan on social media – inviting others to join in and reporting on their progress.
“That’s where I think ‘Dry January’ kind of caught on,” Wakeman said. “If you say publicly that you will do something, you are more likely to stick to it than if you keep it to yourself.”
4. Consider a mocktail
Drinking is often associated with social gatherings or fun times. This can train your brain to see alcohol as a positive thing. Experts say you can resist those urges by swapping your beverage of choice for something festive or delicious.
“For some people it could be just sparkling water, and for other people it’s a mocktail or some kind of (non-alcoholic) drink that feels fun and festive,” Wickman said.
“Replacing one behavior with another can work because you’re tricking your mind,” Hafeez said. “It can definitely help you avoid temptation.”
An entire industry is dedicated to making non-alcoholic beverages that taste (at least a little bit) like the real thing. Some even claim to have added “calming” or “healthy” ingredients.
“I’m skeptical of anything that claims to relax you or have amazing health benefits that comes in a glass no matter what,” Wakeman said. “But if it’s the alternative that allows you to feel like you’re not missing out on a social situation and helps you make the changes you want in your alcohol consumption, I don’t think there’s any downside to that.”
5. Track your progress, your goal, and your feelings
Even if you don’t end up quitting alcohol, Wakeman said, tracking your feelings and urges to discover your triggers can be helpful.
“Even just measuring your behavior, whether it’s alcohol or exercise or your diet, can be an intervention in and of itself,” she said.
“Even if someone isn’t yet ready to make changes, just keeping a diary of when they drink, the situations in which you drink the most and what you’re feeling at those times can really help you identify some kind of trigger situation where they may be more likely to drink.”
Monitor your symptoms
Experts say there is an important additional piece in the Dry January achievement. It is important to note if you – or someone in your family – develops any negative symptoms as a result of cutting down or cutting down on alcohol. It may be a sign that you need professional help to reach your goal.
“The first thing you need to consider is whether or not you actually have an alcohol use disorder,” Wakeman said. “If someone is drinking heavily every day and is at risk for withdrawal symptoms, it can actually be dangerous to stop suddenly.”
A person with an alcohol use disorder, who is used to having a certain level of alcohol in their body every day, can slump and experience severe physical symptoms such as shakiness, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and seizures.
“This would be a real indication that you need to talk to a medical professional about getting medical treatment for withdrawal and not stopping on your own,” Wakeman said.