Thinking about Dry January? Things to consider when cutting back on alcohol

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Dry January & Sirens for Life challenge'
Health Matters: Dry January & Sirens for Life challenge
Health Matters January 3: As the Dry January challenge catches on, a psychologist explains the benefits of going booze-free. And Edmonton-area emergency workers roll up their sleeves to give the gift of life. Su-Ling Goh reports. – Jan 3, 2023

January is typically a time of change: new year’s resolutions, fresh starts and other commitments, which may include “dry January.”

Dry January sees people commit to going alcohol-free for the whole month.

While that can be beneficial, it might feel intimidating for some people. For others, it might seem challenging in their social circles.

Global News spoke to registered psychologist Aimee Reimer for some Dry January tips and considerations.

The best time is when you’re motivated

January is a popular month for making changes and it may inspire you to reduce your alcohol consumption. If you’re feeling motivated, take action, Reimer said.

Start by looking at how much you drink and consider cutting back or taking a break.

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“We’re starting fresh. We’re thinking of the start of the new year. That can be a motivation to make some changes.

“New year, fresh start,” she says. “We’re thinking about New Year’s resolutions.

“Sometimes we’re reflecting back on the past year and maybe there’s some things we regret or things we wish we would have done differently. And it’s a nice time to have a fresh start.”

However, if you’re not feeling the push in the first month of the year, don’t despair.

“Anytime is a great time to try it. Whenever someone is feeling motivated to cut down on alcohol use, I think that’s the best time to do it.

“If January is a time you feel it’s a good time to start making changes, then that’s great.”

Click to play video: 'Bin 104 Fine Wine & Spirits has something for everyone — dry January or not'
Bin 104 Fine Wine & Spirits has something for everyone — dry January or not

Start small

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Making a positive change doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

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Reimer said even cutting back slightly is a great start.

“It can feel like a big jump to go from however much alcohol you’re consuming to no alcohol. Even taking some small steps, so if it’s one less drink than you normally drink or one less day than you would normally drink — all those little changes can be the step towards bigger changes,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Easy and refreshing mocktails that still pack a punch!'
Easy and refreshing mocktails that still pack a punch!

Use money as a motivator

Alcohol is expensive. If money is a powerful driving force for you or if your budget could use some wiggle room, consider cutting back on booze as a money-saving decision.

“Maybe they’re even looking at their budget and their finances can be feeling more tight. Using that as one way to cut back on expenses can be helpful,” Reimer said.

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She said that financial pressures are a big stressor for a lot of her clients.

“Perhaps they’ll even notice there’s benefits to their mental wellbeing.”

Examine your reasons for drinking

“Lots of time when people are drinking, there’s some reason behind it,” Reimer said.

“Sometimes it might be that we’re trying to numb ourselves from some feelings. Sometimes it might be that it’s a way to wind down or relax after work. Sometimes it can be a social thing: ‘Well, all my friends are doing it. This is just how we connect.'”

She said it can be really helpful to ask yourself: what is the need that alcohol is serving for me?

“If you had been drinking more before, is it something that you’re doing socially? Is it that you’re trying to numb yourself from your feelings? Is it your coping strategy to wind down?

“If you can think about other ways to have those needs met for you besides alcohol, I think that can help you to be more successful with it.

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“Are there other ways to wind down? Other ways you’re able to be with your feelings? Are there other ways you can connect socially outside from drinking? Thinking about what need it’s meeting and are there ways you can meet that need in ways that feel healthier for you?”

Reimer suggests coming up with ways you can maintain balance — and healthy physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing.

Click to play video: 'Mental Health Series: understanding and managing addiction'
Mental Health Series: understanding and managing addiction

Mental health benefits

In addition to saving money and addressing root issues, there are other benefits to cutting back or cutting out alcohol, Reimer said.

“People might find that they have an increase in their mood. They might notice more stability in their emotions. They might notice they’re able to sleep better at night. They may notice a decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression because we know that can be connected with substance use.”

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While drinking can sometimes provide short-term relief or distraction from issues, it can actually perpetuate these issues in the long run, Reimer said.

“It’s not getting to what the root of the problem is. Sometimes people are struggling with all these different feelings and so it’s a way to mask themselves from those feelings, instead of addressing what that might be.”

She said it might be helpful to reach out for help, whether that’s community resources or professional counselling.

Tell your friends

Alcohol has become so ingrained in our social lives, but Reimer suggests recruiting your friends’ support if you decide to cut back or stop drinking.

“Enlist the support of your friends. Let them know that this is something you’re doing and ‘please come on board with me.'”

She said often people are worried that their friends will judge them, but usually friends end up being supportive.

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