3 Reasons Why "Dry January" Doesn't Work & 3 Tips That Do Work
By James Martinez, Program Director at LifeTime Recovery in Mullica, NJ
The Christmas holidays are a time for joyous wishing and thinking about what life should look like after the new year arrives. Many individuals take this moment to try and forget whatever problems they experienced throughout the year, hoping January will bring better expectations. Thus, the famous New Year’s resolutions will start to develop with the idealistic mindset that after January 1 everything is going to be different for them. You can start to hear from some people that “After New Year's, I am going to stop drinking for a while, and then everything will be so much better”. Dry January is sort of a mini resolution where a person will stop drinking for a month, so they can manage their lives better. But “Dry January" really doesn’t work for most people and in fact can be very dangerous. I would know, I used to be one of them.
My name is James, and my sober date is February 9, 2009. It took me more than these twenty “Dry Januarys” to experience the desired life change when I achieved it. Much of the time my drinking caused me relationship and financial problems while making my health much worse. Every year I would make the same resolution with the same negative result. Some years I would not drink for only days or hours, while other times I was lucky to make it through alive.
There are three main reasons why “Dry January” doesn’t promote successful outcomes as intended:
1. It doesn’t promote behavioral change – Problematic drinking is caused by the misconception that the person can control their drinking. The fact that the person decided to take this step often is a sign that their drinking has caused problems. Over a short time, the body and mind will start to heal, and a person often forgets the consequences that lead them to want to stop drinking in the first place. For me, I would rationalize the ability to be able to handle the first drink after an urge and basically would lead me back to where I started or worse.
2. Underestimating mental and physical withdrawal symptoms – The preferred way to stop drinking is to white knuckle it. When a person has a pattern of excessive drinking, which ironically the holidays seem to promote with their joyous activities surrounding alcohol, they may start to experience some withdrawal symptoms. While some physical withdrawal symptoms can be more severe than others, it is common to experience sweating, tremors, shakes, stomach upset, insomnia, and more, some common mental withdrawal symptoms are depression, anxiety, and irritability. Often these can become the justification to drink again. This also explains why there are increased emergency room visits and crisis intervention calls during this time.
3. It is attempted without help - Let's face the facts. We can be our worst enemy because of the bad decisions that got us here, yet we count on ourselves to get better. Why allow others to know our weaknesses? Thoughts of guilt and shame can generate fears of being judged which prevent us from asking for help. However, it keeps us from developing new positive experiences needed for lifestyle change and prevents old triggers from returning. There is also the misconception that abstinence equals sobriety, but it isn’t. Abstinence is simply the act of not drinking, while sobriety is a lifestyle change without alcohol which is what encouraged the resolution in the first place.
Here are some effective, alternative mindsets to have a sober, successful 2024:
Pour Into YOURSELF - Invest in your self-care routine. Find ways to pour into your physical well-being through exercise, a proper sleep schedule, and a feasible diet. Also, tend to yourself emotionally through journaling, meditating, and creating room for connection with close friends or trusted family members. By shrinking your room for improvement, you’re taking steps towards a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t have space for addiction and old habits.
2. Pay Your Debts- The road to recovery isn’t just stumbled upon, it’s chosen. There are so many people who have and/or will invest in your recovery journey. Pay your debts to those your addiction hurts, even if you just start with yourself. Start by giving the effort back - showing up for yourself and being the best version of yourself is exactly what your loved ones deserve the most. Reminding ourselves who we’re doing it for is accountability - which is a foundational element of recovery.
3. Find a Support System - Allow yourself to be given the proper guidance from a healthcare professional or counselor who understands the addiction recovery process. Joining local AA meetings can also strengthen your network of support. Recovery is a journey we chose, but we don’t have to take this ride alone.
Learning and practicing these healthier coping skills, positive lifestyle changes, and improving your environmental support can make your “Dry January” a “Sober New Year”.