Christmas is over and Dry January has started. Most of us have probably over-indulged in eating and drinking, and some of us may now be focusing on making those life changes promised at New Year. For an estimated 4 million people in the UK, this will include taking part in Dry January and abstaining from alcohol for the next few weeks.
Those of us who have decided to take part will all have different reasons for doing so – some to benefit physical health, some as a personal challenge, some to lose weight, some as a detox, and some to perhaps break a habit. Our reasons for taking part may also depend on the reasons why we drink alcohol in the first place.
For many drinking alcohol is something we do to be sociable or to enjoy ourselves. For others, alcohol can be a ‘crutch’ at times of difficulty – it can help some people overcome anxiety, particularly in social situations and make them feel more relaxed or more able to cope with life’s challenges in general. It is when alcohol intake becomes too frequent and too much of a habit and goes beyond an occasional social activity, that it can present more serious physical and mental health problems.
If drinking too much can have adverse effects on our health such as liver disease, high blood pressure and weight gain, it stands to reason that abstaining or limiting our alcohol intake can have positive effects on physical and mental health. For instance, the lower intake of calories contained in alcoholic drinks means you could lose weight; you will be forced to learn other ways of dealing with difficult situations and of relaxing without reaching for the wine glass; you will sleep better (studies have shown that alcohol affects the quality of sleep) and feel more energised and better placed to cope with life. As a bonus, it could also help your bank balance and allow you instead to enjoy other things with the money you have not spent on alcohol.
Probably most importantly, taking part in Dry January can provide an opportunity to re-evaluate your overall relationship with alcohol and how it effects both your physical and mental health. It could encourage a reduction of alcohol intake beyond January and into the future as you become used to drinking less and relying less on alcohol to relax and to perhaps to cope with certain situations.
If you are a very heavy drinker, you should always consult a healthcare professional before taking part in Dry January in order to minimise and manage the effects of possible withdrawal symptoms.
The consultant psychiatrists at Private Psychiatry have many years’ experience in helping people overcome their dependence on alcohol. If you or a loved one could benefit from our help, please get in touch.