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The Day After Dry January

The New Year rolled in, and you committed to Dry January; a month you dedicated to being alcohol free to see if it was possible. How did you do? 

More importantly, what are you going to do moving forward?  For some, this was just a temporary re-calibration. They wanted to save calories and money, and this was an efficient way to do both.

For others, the need may be more urgent because managing was becoming more and more of a balancing act. Life gets chaotic when constantly thinking about wanting a drink but knowing that you shouldn’t. Or sneaking one past your significant other and worrying about getting caught; or taking the back way home praying you won’t get stopped.

For the days you successfully didn’t drink in January, what did you notice? Were you sleeping better? Less moody? Saving money? Did you enjoy engaging with family and friends? Was life more manageable? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then Dry January is a beginning that opens the door on a whole new way of being. And, if you found that you just could not do it, that is an answer too.

The problem with alcohol is that it is fun, until it isn’t. Like baseball, drinking is a national pastime.  The opiate epidemic and the current pandemic are constant headlines demanding our attention and encouraging good self-care. It would seem that the world is telling us “Alcohol is the answer.” During Covid, the rules and regulations around alcohol availability have been lessened, making alcohol more easily obtained and an acceptable means of managing Covid-induced anxiety. Drinking doesn’t raise an eyebrow, but it should.

In the first few weeks of lockdowns, alcohol sales jumped 54 percent over the previous year.

JAMA Network Open

The fact is that alcohol is its own epidemic, killing more people annually than opiates. A September 2020 study in JAMA Network Open found alcohol consumption was up by 14 percent compared to 2019.   

David Jernigan, a School of Public Health professor says, “Alcohol is like wall-paper in our society: it’s so prevalent, people stop noticing that it’s there.”

Additionally, alcohol is particularly problematic for women. According to a study by Lech Chrostek et al., available here, a woman’s ability to metabolize alcohol is extremely hampered by her physiology. This is because women produce significantly less of an important enzyme necessary for breaking down alcohol called alcohol dehydrogenase. Compared to men, a woman’s liver is less adept at getting rid of alcohol, making consumption problematic.

Where Do You Stand?

What does all of this mean for you?  Maybe that it’s time to get honest with yourself.  Have your concerns about drinking been remedied in 30 days, or do you need more than a temporary time out?  If you needed to take a month off from drinking,  maybe you really need more than a short-term break, especially if you couldn’t do it.

Here is a simple assessment to help you start the process. It is called the CAGE Assessment, developed by Dr. John Ewing.  It is not intended as a diagnostic tool, but it will give you something to think about.  The assessment consists of four (official) yes or no questions. I have added an additional question that I feel is important for you to ask yourself.

5 questions to ask yourself about your drinking habit
CAGE Assessment developed by Dr. John Ewing

Each yes gives you one point. The higher the score, the greater the likelihood that Dry January may be a lifestyle change that needs to extend past January 31st. Take this moment to commit to a new way of being.  Google drug and alcohol counselors in your area or check out a few websites like NIDA or SAMHSA.

Marilyn Stein is a certified addiction practitioner and has trained addiction treatment staff at all levels of care.