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A leading psychotherapist and addiction specialist from Priory suggests that the Dry January initiative (now in its 12th year) is a vital opportunity to “re-evaluate your drinking habits”. By observing your “automatic and absent-minded behaviour towards alcohol”, there’s no better time to be totally honest about why and how you’re drinking alcohol.
In essence, taking time out to reflect on what your true relationship with alcohol is all about – and being totally honest with yourself about why and how you’re drinking alcohol.
And, with around 9million people estimated to be taking part in the initiative, it’s perhaps not surprising that the interest across all sectors of the media remains high. And, at the start of January, it’s been encouraging to see the conversation taking place across myriad platforms already and expert insight and ‘tips’ being shared with a range of audiences.
Dee Johnson, Psychotherapist and Senior Addiction therapist at Priory Hospital, Chelmsford explains “In my experience, people tend not to think honestly about their relationship with alcohol until it’s actually problematic. So I always encourage this break in drinking habits as a welcome opportunity to take stock, with a clear head. And it can really help if you do this with friends or your partner too. Think of Dry January as something of collective, self-exploratory project.
“You may not have been aware just how much you were using alcohol as a form of self-medication. It’s a slow progressive path into disordered drinking and addiction and it’s surprisingly common not to have noticed how your consumption has crept up, as you become more and more physically and psychologically tolerant. And there’s no denying that alcohol can anaesthetise emotions and temporarily mask many issues and underlying problems.”
So, before embarking, mindfully, on Dry January Dee recommends running through this checklist to see what can be learnt about our drinking behaviour and ‘habits’:
- Does it transpire you don’t have a natural ‘off ‘switch? Despite the very best intentions at the start of an evening, do all prior thoughts of moderation fly out the window after a couple of drinks?
- Do you use alcohol as a form of self-medication, necessary to socialise, relieve stress, help you to sleep, boost confidence, numb painful emotions…or just to function?
- Are you worried that by ‘going sober’, emotions are just going to be too hard to handle?
- Has the start of Dry January resulted in any physical, emotional or psychological cravings and withdrawal symptoms? Are you struggling not to pick up a drink?
- Have you convinced yourself you are more anxious without alcohol and cannot cope as well in work or social environment without a drink or two. That’s a big signal.
- Are you desperately counting down the days to when you can allow yourself to have another drink? Can 1 February not come quick enough?
“If you answer yes to any of these, then a level of dependency – both mentally and physically – might be creeping in. Stepping away from alcohol for a month might not be as easy as you initially assumed, which in itself, can be a serious reality check”, explains Dee.
“Be honest and ask yourself, ‘are you being nicer in the mornings, waking up with less regrets? Do you have a bit more faith and trust in yourself that you are good enough and that alcohol does not make you a better and more confident person?’
“Overall, take it a day at a time and remind yourself, it’s not mandatory to pick up a drink again on 1 February. If you are feeling good just keep going, a day at a time.”
Dee adds; “It’s also important to remember that we cannot demonise alcohol, it’s what we might do with alcohol that’s the problem. Normal, recreational, non-dependant drinkers generally don’t think or obsess about whether to have drink or not. People who have a balanced, regular relationship with alcohol do not plan or think about the day when they give themselves permission to start drinking again.
“But, whatever your situation, Dry January is a great achievement, taking action on your mental and physical health (as well as your bank balance). Going sober for just this brief period will give everyone a glimpse of the longer term benefits to be gained by re-thinking your relationship with alcohol.”