Life

Beyond Dry January: Is it time to reassess our long-term relationship with alcohol?

Want to take being booze-free beyond Dry January? Lauren Taylor consults experts on the hows and whys

There's a widespread perception that alcohol equals having a good time

IT'S common to hear people say they slept better, lost weight, saved money, had more energy, or were more productive during Dry January and it's not surprising you might want to continue feeling these benefits. So now could be the perfect time to reconsider your longer term relationship with alcohol.

:: Keep going:

"February is the perfect time to reflect the new experience of feeling great without alcohol," says OYNB's Andy Ramage (oneyearnobeer.com). "Once you have experienced a bit of the alcohol-free magic, you're much more likely to reduce or even stay alcohol-free in February. My plan was to do a month, and that was six years ago."

:: Alcohol and socialising:

Drinking is interwoven into the fabric of our social lives and it means there's a widespread fallacy that alcohol equals a good time.

"If you became a social recluse and bemoaned the 'boring month of Jan', then too often nothing will change [in February]. In fact, it feeds the myth that alcohol makes life fun," says Ramage.

"Whereas if you adopt a mindset that there is nothing to give up and everything to gain, you might glimpse the many alcohol-free benefits such as more time, better skin, hair, more motivation at work, consistency in the way you exercise – dare I say, more fun."

Simon Chapple, author of The Sober Survival Guide, says: "Many people believe you can't have fun unless you drink alcohol. I used to believe exactly this. The belief turned out to be untrue and was holding me back from being the best version of myself."

:: Dutch courage:

Associating alcohol with having fun is one thing, but also connected for many people is a sense of extra confidence, or a dose of 'Dutch courage'. It can be an association made from your teenage years or early-20s which has simply continued. It's really common, but having a drink in your hand as a coping method could be doing more harm than we realise, says Neil Macaulay, therapist at Priory's Glasgow Hospital.

"If an individual uses alcohol to give them confidence or to reduce social anxiety it actually makes things worse, as they ascribe the increased confidence to the alcohol rather than developing their own strategies, and reduces their self-esteem," he says. "They become more disempowered by this and have even less confidence in their abilities in social situations."

:: Drinking to de-stress:

"Being aware of your reasons for having that drink is as important as the quantities you are drinking," Macaulay says. For many people, pouring a glass of wine or opening a beer signifies the end of a hard day or long week, or even signalling that the children are finally asleep and you have some 'me time'. It's become a normalised way to deal with stress, or as a method for relaxing.

If that's the case for you, acknowledge it and start to incorporate other coping mechanisms; have a bath, cook, call a friend, read, exercise, whatever works for you.

:: A different approach:

For many, it's a case of simply choosing to be more mindful. "The key to success is an approach of curiosity to your drinking, being really mindful about every element of your alcohol intake and being honest with yourself if you feel it is becoming a problem," says Chapple.

One method, he says, is to use a daily journal or an app to log how much you drink, alongside your thoughts and emotions for the day. "This also allows you to reflect on your past entries and monitor your drinking in an analytical manner."

You could also decide in advance which days of the week you plan to drink, and which you don't. Sticking to it can be empowering.

For some, a month off booze can help you identify certain habits or triggers where you'd automatically reach for a drink, and that awareness can be all you need to help you cut down.

Ramage says: "The placebo of a cold alcohol-free beer or glass of 'nosecco' offers a sense of relaxation after a long day, and can also make you feel part of the social action."

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