Extending Dry January? How to keep the progress going, according to Priory experts

Dry January has become a phenomenon, so much so that the charity Alcohol Change UK estimates that one in five people who drink alcohol in the UK are taking part this year, which amounts to a staggering six and a half million people.

The benefits of taking a month off from alcohol are enormous. By the end of the month, if you have refrained from drinking, you’ll be enjoying improved sleep and increased productivity. There’s a good chance that the reduction in calories will have resulted in weight loss, and your liver, stomach, and skin will have all have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol. This is all in addition to the money you will have saved. If one month can make this much difference, why not go one step further, and enjoy these benefits all year round by quitting alcohol all year or even permanently?

Choosing to live life without alcohol isn’t about giving something up, it is about gaining a happier, healthier and more confident version of yourself, says Priory Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Paul McLaren. “Confidence comes from ‘doing’, and free of the shackles of regular drinking you may be open to a host of things from new opportunities at work to potentially new and different social horizons.” After a couple of months, you’ll find yourself with “more energy and enthusiasm”, which will help your relationships and your career, he says.

It’s well known that drinking does long-term damage to the body, including to the brain, the heart, the liver, and the pancreas. Heavy drinking can also increase blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, which are major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. It’s less well known that some of the damage is reversible if you stem it early enough. “Human tissue has a degree of regenerative potential,” says Dr McLaren. “Allowing your body to recover, and avoiding the myriad problems associated with alcohol toxicity is one of the major benefits of quitting.”

After a year of the pandemic, 2021 certainly feels like the time to make a fresh start. But does the isolation of lockdown make giving up harder than it otherwise would be? Not according to Dr McLaren; “It’s always a good time to stop,” he says. “How people react to lockdown varies enormously. For some who get anxious in social situations, the isolation may actually make life easier.”

Tips for remaining alcohol-free

Deciding to extend a period of abstinence is one thing, but maintaining it is something else. Priory psychotherapist Pamela Roberts offers her tips to those considering extending their break from alcohol:

  • Keeping a dry house is the best way to start. This means more than making sure there is no drink in it; you should be thinking of it as an alcohol free sanctuary. Find a new non-alcoholic go-to drink
  • Make a note of the compliments you get, like people saying ‘wow, you’re looking great’, because they are good things to remember later on, when temptations might creep in. The first few months of abstinence are when you’ll feel the biggest difference, so you should make the most of this feeling
  • Note the changes in the way you feel for the same reason. Little things, like having a clearer mind, feeling healthier, being more tolerant and having more patience, make a big difference to your quality of life
  • Do your best to keep to your normal bedtimes and waking up times, eat as normally as you can, and keep reaching out to people to avoid loneliness. It’s important to avoid becoming hungry, angry, lonely, or tired if you want to maintain your abstinence
  • Be cautious in your use of social media. If you find spending time online is making you feel worse, take this as an opportunity to do a digital detox as well as a drink detox – or consider joining a Facebook Group of others who are also changing their relationship with alcohol
  • Plan your time. Being in your house for long periods can lead to boredom, which could lead you back to having a drink. Consider any hobbies you’ve always wanted to take up, or things you’ve wanted to learn, and use this opportunity to do so. Be productive
  • When you find yourself tempted, perhaps by a time of the day or week when you would normally have had a drink in the past, you can use calming phone apps to focus on something different until the feeling passes. Reflect on all the progress you have made. If you do have a lapse, just start again. Do not consider yourself a failure
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