Dry January: How to Prepare for Success

A dry January seems like a simple proposition: no alcohol. For 31 days. And some enthusiasts jump in without much planning, perhaps Even with a hangover after a noisy New Year’s Eve.

There is no data to suggest that such people will not be able to abstain from drinking, said Dr. David Wolinsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who specializes in addictions. But starting the month with a few strategies in your pocket (and with a clear idea of ​​your goals) can help you make the most of the challenge.

“Most of the benefits of Dry January will likely be related to the intention with which you enter Dry January,” Dr. Wolinsky said. The challenge is not a substitute for treatment for people with alcohol use disorder, he emphasized, but those looking to start the year fresh can benefit from the physical and mental reset it can offer, and the opportunity to adopt new habits. For example, a 2016 study found that six months after Dry January ended, participants were drinking less than before.

We spoke with Dr. Wolinsky and other experts about some strategies for having a successful month.

One of the easiest steps is to spread the word to friends and family that you intend to take the month off, said Casey McGuire Davidson, a sobriety counselor and host of “The Hello Someday Podcast,” which focuses on “sober” topics. and curious.” .

Research has shown that accountability can play a key role in helping habits stick, and you might find a friend or partner to accompany you, Ms. Davidson suggested. Even if you don’t, you’ll be surprised how encouraging people are about your goal (although she said you should only share it with people you trust).

“Dry January gives people a period of time where they can stop drinking with community and support,” he said, “without a lot of questions.” Ms. Davidson also recommended reading books that can help you evaluate her relationship with alcohol or listening to sobriety podcasts.

Habits tend to be driven by certain environments or situations, explained Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California and author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes that Stick.” .

For example, “you have a ‘habit’ of brushing your teeth,” he said. “You put your toothbrush in a certain place. “There you normally brush your teeth at about the same time in the morning.” Dr. Wood said that for many people, drinking habits are shaped in similar ways.

“Understanding where you usually drink, who you’re with, what you’re drinking, and altering those cues — altering the context in some way — is really critical to changing habits,” he said.

It can be helpful to jot down observations throughout the month, Dr. Wolinsky said, recommending three columns: What was the situation in which you wanted to drink? What were your thoughts on the drink? And what did you do instead?

Spending extra time or effort on an activity that is normally perfect for you, like pouring yourself a glass of wine when you walk in the door after a long day at work, greatly reduces the likelihood of engaging in that behavior, Dr. Wood said. Something as simple as moving wine glasses to the back of the cabinet can create enough friction to help you achieve your goal of abstaining.

Similarly, Ms Davidson recommended removing all alcohol from your home by January 1, or at least your favorite drinks.

“I was a red wine girl,” she said. When she took a break from drinking (a break that has lasted eight years), Mrs. Davidson told her husband: “I can’t have anything at home. If it’s on the counter, there’s no way I’m not going to pour myself a glass.”

All of the experts recommended thinking about what you will do at times when you would otherwise be drinking. So instead of making a relaxing cocktail before bed (which can disrupt sleep anyway), you can try deep breathing or making a cup of tea. It may take some trial and error to find satisfactory alternatives.

“Give yourself grace” in the coming weeks, said Khadi Oluwatoyin, founder of the Sober Black Girls Club. Take time to rest to the best of your ability. And don’t make too many New Year’s resolutions, she suggested; For example, doing dry January while adopting a new diet can be a recipe for failure. Some people make a mistake simply because they are hungry, Ms Oluwatoyin said: “Go eat something!”

Ms. Davidson recommends rewarding yourself, either at the end of each day or at the end of the week. Fun activities or indulgences can make the month seem less burdensome.

“This is a period of experimentation and curiosity,” he said. “Instead of going to a bar, can you get a pedicure or a massage on Friday night? Or order sushi to go and plan a movie night with friends or your partner? These “small changes” can give you something to look forward to.