Reaching for a drink is the easiest thing in the world - especially when the world is in the grips of a pandemic.
Bad day at the office/kitchen table? Grab a beer. Children playing up? Fear not, it will soon be ‘wine o’clock’.
Alcohol consumption can creep up on us with alarming ease - but trying to reset our relationship with it can feel monumental.
According to new research published by Alcohol Change UK, the charity that created and runs Dry January, 28 per cent of drinkers have found themselves drinking more in 2021, compared to 2020, and a quarter would like to cut down.
An estimated 7.9 million UK adults who drink alcohol are planning to have a month off drinking for January 2022 - and one in three would prefer to take part in Dry January.
"I have Dry January to thank for helping me find my way off that slippery slope.”
Teresa, who began drinking even more during the 2020 Christmas lockdown in Wales, is among those who have already benefitted from the UK’s one-month alcohol-free challenge.
“I guess I was aware that my drinking habit was getting out of control for quite some time,” said Teresa, 60.
“Family and friends had jokingly started to remark on the amount of wine I was drinking and the time of day I opened the wine – always by 4pm, and I would work my way through a bottle an evening and sometimes more at the weekend.
“The December 2020 lockdown meant that it would be impossible to get together on Christmas Day with my family who live 250 miles away. I drank more wine than ever over the holiday period to make up for the disappointment of not having the family Christmas we had planned. And I didn’t even enjoy the wine.”
For Teresa, the turning point arrived a few days after Christmas when she awoke with a thumping headache, heartburn and self-loathing; she signed up to Dry January that morning.
“That was the best decision I have made in a very long time, and without a doubt it has changed my life for the better,” she said.
“Some of my close family had been worried about my daily wine drinking for a while. They could see it slowly creeping up but didn’t feel they could approach me about it.
“There are so many positive differences I have seen: weight loss, the night sweats have disappeared, along with the bloated feeling which I had previously blamed on the menopause.
“I feel happy and full of life, but the most important thing for me is the sense of freedom I feel. It’s so liberating to not have that awful feeling of self-loathing each morning.
“I have embraced sobriety and can honestly say that I feel happier, healthier and fitter than I have felt in years, and I have Dry January to thank for helping me find my way off that slippery slope.”
Help and support for Dry January
Teresa found Alcohol Change UK’s free Try Dry app helped to motivate her.
The app allows people to track their units, calories and money saved during January, and to set custom goals for managing their drinking year-round.
Alcohol Change UK also provides a free programme of daily coaching emails throughout the month.
Research published in 2020 found that those taking part in Dry January via the app and/or email coaching programme are twice as likely to have a completely alcohol-free month, compared to those who try to avoid alcohol in January on their own, and have significantly improved well-being and healthier drinking six months later.
This desire for support is particularly evident for those drinking at increasing and higher risk levels.
“We know that things are feeling uncertain at the moment and some of us will be looking for ways to try to cope,” said Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK.
“As the pandemic continues to take its toll, research consistently shows that, for many people who were already drinking heavily, our drinking habits may have taken a turn for the worse.
“So it makes sense to get on top of our drinking using strategies that are proven to work. And that’s where Dry January comes in. It offers the opportunity for a total reset. Thirty-one days to try something new.
“Sleep better and have more energy, improve your mental health and concentration, look fabulous and get brighter skin, save money and feel an amazing sense of achievement.
“What’s more, over 70 percent of people who do Dry January continue to drink less six months later – so it’s an investment in your health and happiness year-round.
“Taking part in Dry January means accessing brilliant free tools and resources, especially the outstanding Try Dry app, our motivational and inspiring email coaching programmes, and the fabulous online support group.”
To sign up for Dry January visit:dryjanuary.org.uk.
Five tips for Dry January by Dr Tony Rao, consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London.
1 Make your goal SMART
You’ve probably got one or more reasons why you want to do Dry January but it can help to hone these into something specific that you can measure.
If you want to feel fitter: in what way? Do you want to see your resting heart rate reduce, achieve a sporting personal best or something else?
Work out how you’re going to know you’ve achieved your goal and give yourself milestones along the way to keep you motivated.
It also helps to have a ‘go to’ goal rather than a ‘run from’ goal. So, “I want to wake on Saturday mornings feeling fresh and ready for the weekend,” rather than: “I’m sick of feeling rubbish and lying in bed with a hangover on Saturdays.”
If you know there are events coming up or emotional states that would normally have you reaching for a tipple, do your research and planning in advance.
Thinking through potential drinking situations ahead of time can really help to stop you from saying yes to a drink that you would rather refuse.
Planning might include removing leftover alcohol from the house (or at least put it out of sight); buying in some alcohol-free alternatives; practising what you’ll say if you’re offered a drink.
Do your homework: if you’re going out, find out what drinks will be on offer, ask your companions to support your decision, and reward yourself when you overcome a tricky challenge.
3 Pay attention
The first week or two of any behaviour change programme can seem relatively straightforward but, by week three, your enthusiasm can start to wane. Especially when you’ve already come so far.
After a while, other priorities start to creep in and naturally your attention is on other things.
It’s helpful to set up a routine from the beginning so that you regularly offer up a little mindfulness to completing the month.
Something as simple as using the Try Dry app each day to record not drinking can keep you on track. Or start a reflective journal; even just a mental check-in each night before bed will increase your chances of success.
4 Be accountable
Think about who you’re going to tell about your Dry January.
Getting loved ones onside can be a real boost in these situations and they’ll help to keep you accountable throughout the month too.
They might even decide to join you, which is so much better as you’ll be able to support each other throughout.
5 Don’t beat yourself up
If you’re a regular drinker, it’s natural that some parts of the month will be tough.
Cravings are normal, and if you have a slip-up don’t think of it as failure – it’s not, it’s a learning experience.
Reflect on what happened – who were you with, what happened, how did you feel?
Dry January is about resetting your relationship with alcohol, and finding out what leads to having a drink is an important part of learning how not to have a drink.
Give yourself some grace and don’t let one drink ruin your achievement; celebrate every drink you don’t have. Have faith in yourself and give it a go.
Download the free app, Try Dry, via the App Store or Google Play, or sign up for free daily coaching emails at http://dryjanuary.org.uk.