Did you participate in Dry January? For those that are not familiar, Dry January is choosing not to drink alcohol during the month of January. This has been primarily practiced in the UK, but has gained traction in the US in recent years. The idea behind Dry January is to help your body “reset” after the indulgences of the holidays and to kick start a New Years commitment to health. Whether you participated, continued with your usual habits, or have never heard of it, everyone can benefit from taking a look at their drinking habits and relationship with alcohol.
What is “problem” drinking exactly?
I often hear statements like “I don’t drink alone, so I must not have a problem” or “I don’t drink in the morning, so I am certainly not an alcoholic.” However, problem drinking is more complex and multifaceted than that. Rather than solely focusing on how often and how much you drink, we instead identify the ways in which alcohol may be having a negative impact on your life.
Some questions you can ask yourself to determine if drinking may be a problem for you are:
- When I drink, do I have more drinks than I planned to? Am I drinking more often than I want to?
- Have I tried to cut down but haven’t been able to?
- Am I spending a lot of time drinking, or a lot of time recovering from a hangover?
- Am I having cravings or urges to drink?
- Am I neglecting responsibilities at work, home, or school because of drinking?
- Is drinking contributing to problems in my relationships?
- Have I given up hobbies, interests, or friendships because of drinking?
- Have I put myself in dangerous situations when I’m drinking (i.e., driving a car).
- Do I have physical health problems that are made worse by drinking?
- Does drinking alcohol negatively impact my mood, anxiety, or other aspects of my mental health?
If you answered yes to 2 or more of these questions, you may want to consider changing your drinking habits. However, change does not necessarily have to mean never drinking again or attending AA meetings (though both are great choices for many!). Below I will discuss some other options.
This is essentially what Dry January is. Committing to a set amount of time alcohol free (e.g., 2 days per week, 1 week, 1 month), gives you the opportunity to directly experience what life is like without alcohol in it. For those wanting to sample sobriety, I encourage them to track their mood, sleep, and other changes they notice, so that after the sampling period is over they can make an informed decision about their drinking going forward. What if you try to sample sobriety and aren’t able to do it? That may be a sign drinking is a problem for you and it is time to reach out for help.
The harm reduction approach involves changing your drinking habits so that they have less of a negative impact on your life. This can be accomplished in a number of different ways, but it almost always involves reducing how much and/or how often you drink. Two strategies that help with this are measuring and counting drinks – often times what you think is 1 drink is more like 2 or 3 because of the quantity of liquor in it or the size of the pour. Also, it is important to make a conscious effort to cultivate activities and hobbies that do not center around drinking. Commit to a morning run when you otherwise may have stayed in bed, meet friends for coffee rather than drinks, or take that hike you haven’t made time for yet because an afternoon at the brewery has sounded more appealing.
If after reading this you are questioning your drinking habits, psychotherapy can provide you a space to explore the pros and cons of change. And, if you decide to move forward with reducing or stopping drinking, it can offer you the support, accountability, and tools to increase your likelihood of success. If you live in the Austin area, I would love to speak with you about your situation and see if I may be able to help. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 512-521-1531.