Dry January is a popular post-holiday trend and can kick off the new year by cutting back.
But by now, many people have fallen off the wagon and health experts say they’re not surprised.
Eliminating alcohol cold turkey for 31 days may be too restrictive.
So instead of “Dry January, ” try “Damp January” – and February, March, and so on.
Dr. Deepali Gershan is an addiction psychiatrist with Compass Health.
“When we’re talking with people about making a change to their alcohol use, we want to really identify: What are your true goals?” Gershan said.
If your goal is to reduce alcohol consumption, instead of going dry for a month, which can often backfire, try a less restrictive approach or a “damp January.”
Start by taking a few days off from drinking each week.
“We talk about the concept of “sober sampling” or “abstinence sampling,” and that means you’re not committing to an entire month of being sober, you’re not even committing to an entire week of being sober. Try a day or two, try a couple of days where you’re not going to drink and see how you feel,” Gershan said.
The health benefits are clear: Cutting out alcohol can improve sleep, help you lose a few pounds and improve overall physical and mental health.
“For a number of people there may be various drivers that motivate them to make a change, whether it is the end of the holidays or overindulgence,” Gershan said.
There are guidelines when it comes to how much is too much. According to the CDC and NIH, moderate drinking is defined as two drinks a day or less for men and one drink or less for women. That’s compared to heavy or binge drinking, which is considered five or more drinks per day for men and four or more for women in a two-hour period.
“Gradual changes are a lot easier to do and more digestible and lead to better long-term changes,” Gershan said. “And that is what we’re looking for; lifestyle changes, nutritional changes, diet, exercise. … When it comes to nutrition or health or lifestyle changes, we need to attach these changes to our own values and how we want our lives to be improved, even if for the short term,” Gershan said. “If we attach a change to external factors like the month of January, its less likely to be successful. … We do know that gradual behavior changes tend to work better for some people than an abrupt change,” Gershan said. “So if sampling a few more sober days out of the week or more moderate drinking during occasional social gatherings feels more doable, then this may be a better approach.”
Studies have shown alcohol can have health benefits, like wine for the heart. The key is moderation. There are resources, including apps, to help track progress. Substitute sparking water if you need something to sip on. Also, keep non-alcoholic options on hand to intersperse with cocktails when you do indulge.