Dry January – My Thoughts
“If alcohol was not problematic in our culture, there would be no such thing as Dry January.”
The quote in the picture above from Lee Mack is taken from the forward of the book 'Try Dry: The Official Guide To A Month Off Booze' and for me resonates perfectly with my response in this blog.
Please note that these thoughts aren't coming from a place of self-righteousness but rather deep compassion to help support others.
Dry January - My Thoughts
I was asked yesterday what my thoughts are on things like Dry January so I thought I would put it out there.
I think such initiatives are good to a certain point to raise awareness of the need to moderate drinking behaviour.
The fact that such initiatives exist tells us that there is a need to have such things in place in order to help the health of the nation.
If alcohol was not problematic in our culture, there would be no such thing as Dry January.
The problem is that alcohol is still so ingrained within our culture that the main point of why these things exist is grossly overlooked by most.
We have internalised the idea that we should be alcohol consuming animals. When we have such a self-image embedded within us it can be hard to accept narratives that tell us alcohol is dangerous for human health.
We want to be able to go out and drink.
It’s what adults do.
We have been conditioned to believe that we can only fully enjoy ourselves under the influence of alcohol and hence nights out partying on alcohol are woven into our self-image of what is acceptable as an adult human in order to have fun.
The interesting thing is that alcohol often ends in misery – arguments, upset, reduced finances and hangovers. And at its worst, domestic violence, suicide or fatal drink-drive accidents.
I would make a bet that for most people their happiest memories, the ones treasured in hearts and minds for life, are not times we have been out getting drunk.
My most treasured moments include:
being able to take my mum to Wimbledon - no alcohol involved as mum rarely drinks and I was not drinking
winning the Superhuman Games - clearly not drunk as that would be dangerous!
snowboarding in various locations - a daytime activity not alcohol fuelled, my worst times on the slopes have been after a lunchtime drink!
doing tough workouts with my friends - again no alcohol here!
being at the beach with my partner surfing and playing in the sea - no alcohol involved as we are both alcohol free!
…the list goes on. However, in my list of treasured memories none include times I was drunk despite having some fun nights out in the past with friends. Drunk nights out are not my treasured memories nor the best times of my life to date.
As fun as drunken antics may be, they seldom lead to the most precious moments of our lives.
Should You Drink Alcohol?
This is a choice that only you can make for yourself.
I personally believe it is highly important to understand what alcohol is and how it affects the body if we want to live a life where we consume alcohol socially. I highly recommend Professor David Nutt's book 'Drink?' as a place to begin. He also recommends being fully informed about alcohol before choosing your own consciously planned level of alcohol consumption for you. Also please see some information that I have gathered on the Safety page of this website.
If you have reached a certain point with alcohol where it is literally a Russian Roulette of whether you will be able to just consume one drink or whether one will lead to more without you feeling in control, I believe we must change our self-image to be at peace with seeking and living a life teetotal.
Alcohol Changes our Brain
Alcohol changes the way our brain works and how it reacts to alcohol. Once we have consumed alcohol to a particular point in respect of our own body, I believe we reach a limit of change which cannot be reversed.
I can pinpoint that change in my life. I can’t give you an exact date, but I know when it changed and I felt that shift.
When I was in my early twenties, I volunteered for a youth alcohol service supporting young people who were drinking alcohol. The service was built on the premise that it was possible to re-learn sensible drinking.
At that point in time I drank very little as alcohol never really interested me. I used to think it was bonkers that my friends saved their hard-earned money and yearned so bad for the weekend just to go and get wasted on alcohol to end up financially worse off with nothing to show for it other than some wild behaviour and a hangover!
Then I had no idea whether it would be possible for people to re-learn sensible drinking or not.
In my journey of becoming teetotal I had one relapse. After 19 months of being teetotal I caved in to the stress of a particular situation. I had been wondering if time without alcohol would reverse the damage to my brain and change how I reacted to it, so maybe this wondering also played a subconscious part in me allowing myself to relapse. After 19 months without alcohol and several months prior with much limited alcohol intake as I built up to becoming teetotal, I still had the same reaction to it and I was not in control of it.
Having had the experience I have with alcohol, I fully believe that once you hit that point where you never know whether you will be able to stop at one drink or not, you will never be able to reverse the damage to the brain and therefore re-learning sensible drinking is not an option. Life without alcohol and being comfortable with our own self-image of that is the only way forward.
Dry Initiatives and The Problematic Drinking Continuum
Using such initiatives to temporarily stop drinking is a great way to reflect on our own drinking patterns and relationship with alcohol.
As I discuss in this previous blog, I believe we need to change the language around problematic drinking to come away from the stereotype that only ‘alcoholics’ have an issue with alcohol.
Alcohol is a drug and it is highly addictive.
Anyone given the right circumstances can succumb to its addictive properties.
If when you try giving up alcohol for just one month you find it a challenge, you may well have entered the continuum of problematic drinking.
A few years back I remember listening to Radio 1 when Chris Stark reported on his journey of giving up alcohol for a month. By his own admission he found it struggle.
Such struggle is an indication that we are under the control of alcohol’s addictive properties.
If this sounds hard to believe, just compare it to giving up something innocuous like orange squash. If you drank orange squash frequently enough for a period of time and then gave it up for a month, it is highly unlikely that you would experience the cravings and desire to drink it in the way that can happen when we give up alcohol. Orange squash is not an addictive drug. Alcohol is an addictive drug and it does not discriminate against anyone, i.e. anyone can succumb to the addiction under the right circumstances.
So in answer to the question 'what do I think about initiatives like Dry January?':
1. I think they are good to raise awareness of the issues with alcohol – but I think more work needs to be done to get the message of how detrimental to human health and how addictive alcohol is across more strongly.
2. I also think individuals can use them as a tool to assess their own drinking behaviour using markers such as:
How easy it was to go without for a month
How strongly and how many cravings were experienced during the month
How strong the desire was to begin drinking again at the end of the month
Taking a month off to ‘detox’ the system is one reason given for people trying something like Dry January. If this is the case, the question we should ask ourselves is why are we needing to take a ‘detox’? The notion of needing to 'detox' is a good indication that our drinking behaviour is harmful to our health and we should deeply consider a new (lower) limit of alcohol consumption for ourselves going forward or even to seek a life without alcohol.
By assessing our reasons for using such initiatives and how we react during them can give us valuable feedback about our own drinking behaviour and lead to positive change for the future.
If you are struggling with how much alcohol you are consuming or if you would like to talk further on the subject please get in touch. Your conversations with me will remain confidential. Please note that I am not a therapist but I can support you to find a way to address any issues you may be having with alcohol.
I ask all readers to be respectful. This is an honest and heart-felt account of the struggle I incurred.
I thank you in advance for your respect and kindness and I encourage you to sign up to my mailing list so I can notify you about new blog updates.