British Columbia·Point of View

So I made it through dry January. Now what?

I learned that I'm starting off stronger than I think. And there are strategies for me to turn 2019 into a much healthier year — even if I continue drinking.

Experts say there are long-term benefits to cutting out alcohol for a month

Dry January is an increasingly popular movement to cut out alcohol for a month. But what are the long-term benefits, if any? (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

It was sometime in December when it suddenly occurred to me: I couldn't remember the last day I had gone without a drink. 

I wasn't getting hammered every night, but I definitely enjoyed a cocktail, beer or glass of wine every day. Sometimes — well, often — more than one. 

I was tired of feeling tired all the time. I couldn't shed the few extra pounds I was carrying. I was sick of the existential angst that comes with a low-grade hangover. And with a family history of alcoholism, I couldn't help but worry that maybe my daily habit was indicative of a more serious problem. 

So when everyone started talking about Dry January, I decided I'd give it a go. The increasingly popular movement has people abstain from alcohol for a month. I was ready to experiment on myself. 

As of Friday, I made it. In fact, after the first couple of days I found it surprisingly easy. I slept great, my mood lifted, my pants fit better and I saved hundreds of dollars. I can now bask in the warm glow of accomplishment.

But now that I've done it, I'm not sure where to go from here. How can I make the most of this experience? 

For help, I turned to addiction experts. I learned that I'm starting off stronger than I think. And there are strategies for me to turn 2019 into a much healthier year — even if I continue drinking.

"People who are completely abstinent for a month reap tremendous benefits," said Dr. Diane Rothon. "It resets their relationship with alcohol whether they have a problem or not."

Tough beginnings

December was a month of fairly typical holiday excess for me. My bar cart was better stocked than a doomsdayer's pantry. 

So when January rolled around it wasn't hard to convince myself to take a month off booze. 

The first couple of days were the hardest. I habitually opened the fridge searching for wine when I came home at the end of a long day. 

But that feeling subsided surprisingly fast after a couple of nights of good sleep. Dr. Rothon says deeper, better sleep and a better mood are some of the biggest benefits of sobriety.

"Most people think that they drink because they're depressed," she said. "But in fact they're depressed because they drink." 

I also felt the other benefits that Rothon noted: I could fit into my jeans again, I saved money for the first time in months and I regularly woke up before my alarm went off. 

Drawbacks

There were some tough moments.

I really missed having a post-ski beer or sharing a bottle of wine with my boyfriend at dinner. 

But I found new tactics to cope with those moments. At restaurants I got a fancy non-alcoholic drink instead. At night I made myself a nice cup of tea.

Dr. Rothon says developing those types of skills is part of the long-term benefits for those who cut back on alcohol.

"First of all they're empowered because they know they can do it," she said. "Secondly they've cognitively developed some creative alternatives and some other strategies to pamper themselves."

Psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang says research show that the benefits of cutting back on booze can last at least 12 months as people continue to use their new-found skills and re-establish their habits with alcohol. 

Next steps

To help me think about what steps to take next, Kang suggested I honestly evaluate the advantages and drawbacks of not drinking.

"Change doesn't happen once," she said. "So if you go back to your old habits that's perfectly normal and it doesn't mean it didn't work for you."

Dr. Rothon also noted that there are apps available for those who wish to continue drinking, but want to do so more moderately.

Both Kang and Rothon say there are myriad health benefits to keeping a more sober lifestyle — whether it be committing to drinking more moderately or not at all.

These include lower blood pressure, better cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.

New beginnings

On Friday night I took their advice to heart, and celebrated with a cocktail.

I'm not going to lie: it felt great. I felt looser, more social, easy going. That first drink quickly led to a second one.

And the next morning I woke up with that familiar undercurrent of dread. 

A month ago I would have had a drink the next day to alleviate that uneasy feeling. But I stayed sober. After all, I knew I could do it. And I knew I would feel even better the next day.

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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