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Experts share the tips you need to successfully complete Dry January

All the advice you need for tackling the challenge of Dry January – staying off the booze during the year’s most depressing month

After making it through the port and stilton quicksand of Christmas and battling through the calendar-defying Dead Week that comes before New Year, the start of 2022 brings with it the need for change. Tired livers and emaciated bank balances simply demand you give Dry January yet another go.

But it’s not easy. Alcohol is woven, almost as routine, into so much of British life. Even for casual drinkers, it’s hard to disrupt that without losing out on the things that bring joy during a gloomy month.

So The Big Issue has spoken to experts to draw up a list of Dry January tips to help you nail it – and stay happy in the process.

Recognise if Dry January is good for you and your circumstances

If your relationship to alcohol is genuinely unhealthy, Dry January could be counterproductive, warns psychologist Ruth Micallef.

For people who use alcohol to “detach and self soothe”, “undertaking Dry January and going ‘cold turkey’ on our coping mode may not actually be the best idea,” says Micallef. 

“This could actually lead to you utilising another unhelpful coping mode, or ‘boomeranging’ back to alcohol even more strongly.”

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For others who use alcohol heavily, immediately stopping could also be dangerous

Instead, try to address why alcohol is used in that way – perhaps by speaking to a registered professional – and working from there.

On the other hand, Dry January can also be a challenge for those with a healthy relationship to alcohol – if it’s part of a balanced lifestyle, disrupting that lifestyle can be difficult.

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Have a clear, positive, and measurable purpose for doing Dry January

In the dark, cold, sober days of January, it’s all too easy to forget why there’s not a lovely glass of wine in your hand. From the outset, make a clear goal and frame it in a positive way. This could be fitness, sleep, financial, or health related.

“It helps to have a ‘go-to’ goal rather than a ‘run-from’ goal,” says Dr Tony Rao, consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. “So, ‘I want to wake on Saturday mornings feeling fresh and ready for the weekend’, rather than, ‘I’m sick of feeling rubbish and lying in bed with a hangover on Saturdays’.”

Having a goal also means you can keep track of it. Doing so can help keep the show on the road when the enthusiasm of the first couple of weeks starts to wane.

Make sure you’re accountable – whether that’s by roping a friend in or telling others you’re doing Dry January.

It’s easy to lose motivation and slip if you’re doing Dry January in a vacuum. After all – who will know?

“If the idea is only in your mind, it’s all too easy to back out when temptation strikes,” says Lucy Rocca, founder of Soberistas.com and sober coach at Lucy Rocca Life Coaching.

But teaming up can help you see it through to the end.

“Doing Dry January with a friend can make all the difference so you hold each other accountable,” says Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for England.

And if nobody is willing to join you, even letting people close to you know that you’re doing it can help keep you accountable.

Doing this can double your chances of success, says Dr Rao.

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Plan activities which don’t involve alcohol

To most people, there are no Dry January tips. The words conjure thoughts of sitting on the sofa for a month, steadfastly turning down any and all opportunities for fun which come your way. This, clearly, is a surefire way to get bored.

Instead of seeing it as your options as the pub or nothing, plan some other things to look forward to which don’t involve alcohol. This could be a way to get some exercise in, or even start new projects.

“You’ll have loads more time to fill in the evenings now that alcohol is off the table, so decide how to maximise it with something engaging and/or fun,” says Rocca.

“Maybe you’ll make a start on the book you’ve been promising yourself you’ll write for years, or perhaps you’ll decorate a room in your house.”

Plan for when temptation inevitably hits

If temptation wasn’t lurking around every corner, Dry January simply wouldn’t be a challenge. It’s inevitable, and something to plan for.

“If you feel the need to drink, have a plan: deep breaths, go for a walk, pick up a good book, watch TV,” says Govind.

Equally, what are you going to do when you inevitably get invited to the pub? Panic order a pint out of pure muscle memory? No. Because you have a plan in place.

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Non-alcoholic drinks can help

Every drink you consume during Dry January will be non-alcoholic, of course. But we’re talking about non-alcoholic versions of your favourite tipples. Not only are these more widely available than ever, but they can be a key tool.

For some, avoiding the pub and drinks altogether is the best way of resisting temptation. But for others, being in that environment and sipping on a zero per cent lager could make it clear that alcohol itself isn’t the source of the enjoyment.

“Non-alcoholic drinks can be useful if you like the taste without the alcohol,” says Govind.

And doing this can help you get to know yourself, says Micallef: “It’s about figuring what are healthy coping modes – such as spending time with friends and family who love and care for us – or unhealthy ones like alcohol to self soothe or gain ‘confidence’.”

Resources and support for alcohol addictionare available from the NHS website and Alcohol Change UK.

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