Every year, around 130,000 people wake up in the UK and decide not to drink. For a whole month. Now in its tenth year, Dry January is an annual challenge spearheaded by Alcohol Change UK that invites participants to swap their cocktails for mocktails in a bid to lose weight, sleep better, focus their mind and feel more energised. But what happens if you struggle with alcohol dependence? Is Dry January good for addiction or are you opening up a physical and emotional can of worms?
While regular breaks from booze are recommended by medics, quitting suddenly can be dangerous for heavy drinkers and those grappling with alcohol addiction. Without proper support the recognised health benefits from abstinence may take much longer to be realised. Here, the experts at Delamere wellness retreat in Cheshire discuss the pros and cons of Dry January and the role it can play in facilitating, and hindering, addiction recovery.
As well as saving money – the average UK household spends £17.60 a week on alcohol – cutting out drinking for a month has a multitude of health benefits. Clearer complexions, healthier hair and a slimmer waistline top the list, but for those who depend on alcohol these are merely vanity metrics. Deciding to give up alcohol for a month can have a profound effect on someone living with an alcohol addiction and their loved ones.
Commitment to change: The first step in any recovery journey is recognising the need for help. By acknowledging your drinking is getting out of control and calling time during Dry January, you’re off to a great start. Research shows that 70% of people who try Dry January are still drinking healthier amounts six months after returning to alcohol.
Clearer mind: Taking part in Dry January gives you a chance to reflect on your relationship with alcohol. Now that you can think clearly without the familiar brain fog you will be able to see the impact your addiction has on those around you. As you start to notice improvements in everything from your performance at work to family relationships you may have the impetus to abstain for longer.
Improved mental health: Anxiety and depression are often associated alcohol addiction. People who suffer with mental health disorders may turn to alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. However, as alcohol acts as a depressant, heavy drinking can make symptoms worse. Giving up for Dry January can help to improve your mood and control the negative thoughts that usually lead you to drink.
Stronger immune system: Your body’s natural ability to fight off infection is battered by alcohol addiction. You’ll be more likely to suffer with general coughs and colds as well as leaving yourself open to potential long-term health conditions. One month off alcohol has significant health benefits including lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol and fewer cancer-related proteins in the blood.
Better night’s sleep: Alcohol interrupts our circadian rhythm and reduces the amount of REM sleep – the phase of sleep which supports healthy brain development. Dry January is good for addiction because it can help you to get more restorative rest, which benefits your mood, memory, emotions and mental health.
Worried about alcohol addiction? Speak to the team at Delamere
Dry January can be counterintuitive for addiction because it provides an excuse to continue abusing alcohol for the rest of the year. Proving you can stop drinking for one month doesn’t mean you don’t have an alcohol dependency. If you find yourself constantly craving alcohol during your abstinence, and can’t wait to start again, you may have a problem. Here are some other reasons why Dry January may not help with alcohol addiction.
Dangerous withdrawal: If you think you may be dependent on alcohol it’s important to consult a doctor before beginning Dry January. Suddenly quitting could lead to withdrawal symptoms which are at best uncomfortable and, at worst, deadly. Side effects include seizures, shaking, sweating, hallucinating, insomnia, nausea and diarrhoea. The most severe physical effect is known as delirium tremens, which is lethal in 37% of cases.
Social isolation: Dry January means you’re less likely to go out to socialise in pubs and clubs. At first, this may seem beneficial for curtailing your drinking, but isolation and boredom are both known contributors to alcohol addiction. With nobody to keep an eye on your habits, it could prove more difficult to stick to abstinence. Lack of social contact can also contribute to low mood and a return to anxiety or depression.
Poor health: We’ve discussed the many health benefits Dry January brings. But these can be short-lived if you immediately return to a life of heavy drinking. If you want to improve liver health and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol low the best results will be seen if you abstain for longer than one month. People suffering with alcohol addiction who have caused major internal damage should consider abstaining for life.
Ongoing addiction: People who give up alcohol for Dry January often kid themselves that they don’t have an alcohol problem because they’ve managed a month off drinking. However, many people go straight back to excessive drinking on February 1st and may even drink more than usual as a reward. The main problem with temporary abstinence is that the real issues behind someone’s reasons to drink heavily haven’t been addressed.
Looking at all of the pros and cons, taking part in Dry January is generally a positive step in addiction recovery. Despite being temporary, this month-long abstinence does give your body a chance to briefly repair and allows you to evaluate your reliance on alcohol. For people who already drink in moderation it can provide recognised health benefits. However, heavy drinkers will still need professional support if they want to give up alcohol long-term.
Dry January may not work for people suffering with alcohol addiction because it doesn’t address the underlying cause. It’s also important to stress that heavy drinkers should seek medical advice before attempting to go ‘cold turkey’ to avoid dangerous side effects. Safe withdrawal can only take place under clinical supervision.
People who have a tendency to adopt compulsive behaviours may turn to other unhealthy habits to quash the boredom of not drinking. For instance, it’s not uncommon for people to smoke more, take drugs or start online gambling to fill the void of alcohol. On balance, if you’ve decided you need to stop drinking because it’s becoming a problem, it’s best to seek professional help.
If you couldn’t complete Dry January or found it especially difficult, we’re here to support you. We help people to overcome alcohol addiction at our purpose-built wellness retreat beside Delamere forest in Cheshire. Whatever the extent of your problems, we can build a personal recovery programme to suit your needs.
Every residential stay begins with a clinical detox. This means you won’t experience any of the unpleasant side effects of stopping alcohol suddenly. Every stage of the withdrawal process is managed by a dedicated medical team. You will then enter into the next phase of treatment which involves intensive psychotherapy in one-to-one and group settings.
During your time with us we will help you to make sense of your alcohol addiction and develop strategies to cope with triggering situations. You will have access to six acres of woodland, an onsite private gym and an extensive programme of somatic healing experiences, from meditation to Equine Therapy. Our aim is to help you stop cravings easily, start the healing process and grow beyond addiction.
If you need help to cope with alcohol addiction, call us confidentially to speak to a member of the team today. Contact Delamere
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