Scottish Daily Mail

Why it’s so hard to give up drink for 31 days


January is often the time when people give alcohol a break. It gives people an opportunit­y to see what life is like without booze, and I often advise my patients to give Dry January a go, as I think it helps everyone understand themselves and the role alcohol plays in their lives.

Despite this, a recent survey has found that around half of those who attempt it give up by the second week, and are back to their old drinking habits before the month is up.

Why is it so hard to stop drinking for just 31 days?

I think there are a number of reasons. Firstly, we all have a tendency to throw in the towel when we slip up. Psychologi­sts call this ‘all or nothing thinking’. not only is it very common, it is also very unhelpful.

We tend to think that if we mess up once, then everything is ruined and, therefore, there’s no point in continuing. People do the same thing with diets. In fact, they do it all the time in different areas of their life.

Yet the truth is quite the opposite. We can learn from why we slipped up and this can help us to prepare and plan for potential slip-ups in the future.

HavIng one drink doesn’t mean you have permission to give up. resist the temptation to cave in and, instead, analyse what went wrong and what you can do to avoid it next time.

I’m not a puritan when it comes to alcohol. I understand it has an important social function, and, certainly, the first time you pledge to stop drinking for a block of time it can be incredibly daunting. People can be self-conscious about not drinking at social occasions and often have a sense that they are denying themselves something.

While these thoughts can be helpful to challenge (why is it almost expected for people to get drunk at a wedding, for example?), I’d rather someone allow themselves to break Dry January for an event or two, and stick to it the rest of the time, than not try it at all. giving up can still help us learn about our relationsh­ip with drink.

So, if you know there’s a date in the month when you really will want to have a drink (a special occasion, for example), rather than beat yourself up about this or, worse, use it as an excuse to quit Dry January, give yourself two free passes instead.

Allow yourself two occasions over the month when you consciousl­y allow yourself to drink. This isn’t cheating, it’s planning ahead. you don’t have to use either of them, of course, but you can if you want to.

Whatever you do, don’t avoid going out and socialisin­g. This is a mistake. It’s based on the false idea that you need to drink to be able to enjoy yourself in other people’s company.

Instead, you should go out for meals or to social gatherings and then see how they can actually be even more enjoyable when you’re not drunk. you may find you can have more interestin­g and in-depth conversati­ons with people — and, what’s more, you actually remember them later, and in detail.

But there’s another, more serious reason why I think people have trouble sticking with Dry January, and that is dependency. If you realise that you’re struggling without alcohol, then take this as a sign that you have a problem and need some help. This might even be physical dependency, which is serious as it can lead to seizures. Stopping drinking alcohol abruptly if you’re physically dependent can be dangerous, so if you’ve given up drinking and have noticed that you’re sweating, feeling unwell or shaking, then you should stop Dry January and see a doctor as soon as possible.

Far more common are the mental cravings that make people cave in, which is a sign of psychologi­cal dependency.

While this isn’t dangerous in the same way as physical dependency, it is still a clear indication of addiction.

Feeling that you can’t go without a drink, worrying about how you’ll cope, hiding your drinking or having to lie about it are all indication­s that you have become psychologi­cally dependent on it.

Psychother­apy is incredibly effective in helping people overcome this, but they first have to realise they have a problem — and this, I think, is where Dry January comes in.

Research into drinking habits over the course of the coronaviru­s pandemic has shown there’s been a worrying spike in binge-drinking in the over-50s, with the results suggesting that nearly one in four drinkers may be at high risk or possibly dependent on alcohol.

These people are going to struggle with Dry January, but many won’t realise they have a problem unless they actually try to go without for a month.

Alcohol killed 1,190 people in Scotland in 2020, the highest registered since 2008.

Coming to an understand­ing that you have a problem with drink is the first step in addressing it — and it’s no exaggerati­on to say that, for some, Dry January is a life-saver.

GOSH, if the last two years weren’t enough, now we have a new form of pestilence sent to try us — flurona. This is when people are simultaneo­usly infected with influenza and coronaviru­s. Thankfully, Moderna has just announced that it is working on a single jab which could protect against both.

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