Today’s Solutions: April 18, 2024

After an eventful and jolly holiday season, it’s completely normal for people to come into the new year wanting to rethink their alcohol consumption patterns. Dry January arises as a symbolic commitment to health, shining a light on the dangers of binge drinking. Though we may not like to admit it, it is common knowledge that drinking in moderation–or not at all– is conducive to a healthier life. Consuming more than two standard drinks each week, according to new Canadian guidelines, may increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Furthermore, the World Health Organization warns that no level of alcohol intake is considered safe for good health.

But how effective is this month-long abstinence? Will Dry January really make a difference in our health? Here’s what the experts say.

The body’s immediate reaction to abstinence

Dry January is frequently accompanied by numerous withdrawal symptoms, the intensity of which is affected by individual drinking patterns. Dr. Dominique Morisano, a clinical psychologist, emphasizes the potential for improved mental health during this stage, particularly for those suffering from anxiety or depression. This phase is often associated with heightened cognition, improved concentration, and a greater sense of clarity.

Launette Rieb, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia adds: “If you’re drinking in the evening and you’re getting up to pee a lot, it disrupts your sleep.” She also emphasizes alcohol’s sedative effect which will lull you to sleep, but then backfire during the withdrawal stage in the middle of the night. “[Alcohol is] activating so it’ll wake you up or make you dream more,” which decreases sleep quality.

On top of that, alcohol increases the possibility of sleep apnea and excessive snoring. However, even refraining from alcohol for a month allows for more restorative sleep, reducing these disruptions.

Benefits that last beyond the month of abstinence

Although total restoration of physical functioning may take longer, especially for strong drinkers, a month-long break provides significant benefits. Research from the British Medical Journal notes “improved insulin resistance, lowered blood pressure, and reduced cancer risk” for frequent drinkers who abstain for just one month.

Strategies for success

Transitioning into Dry January may be different for light to moderate drinkers versus heavier drinkers or those with alcohol addictions. As mentioned in the original article, for the latter category, a gradual reduction in consumption is recommended to reduce severe withdrawal symptoms and smooth the transition.

Dr. Morisano emphasizes the need to use this reflective phase to review one’s relationship with alcohol, address underlying issues, and cultivate a healthier attitude about use.

Key recommendations
Avoid substitution:

Try not to replace alcohol with different substances such as cannabis. This will only “[reinforce] the pattern of chemically coping, instead of building healthier habits,” says Rieb.

Strength in numbers:

Forming a network of support by inviting friends and loved ones to join you in your Dry January adventure offers a better environment for success.

Document your progress:

Keep a diary or journal to track your mood changes, triggers, and improvements. This can help you find trends and celebrate personal progress.

Seek support:

If you are experiencing severe difficulties during your break from alcohol, then there is nothing wrong with seeking professional guidance or help.

If you want to see some short-term improvements to your health and some long-term changes in your lifestyle, then Dry January is for you. It’s more than just a month without alcohol; it’s an opportunity for personal growth, holistic wellness, and a rebalanced relationship with well-being.

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