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Dry January tips from those who know how to get sober

Just because you’ve signed up for 31 alcohol-free days doesn’t mean you are an alcoholic.  However, you might benefit from the experience of people in recovery from alcohol problems and how they manage the first few weeks of sobriety. 



Taking care of yourself is an important part of staying sober, especially on those days when you feel jittery, irritable or depressed.  Self-care means looking after your mental, emotional and physical health. Plan for relaxation, rewarding activities, a balanced diet and sufficient sleep (although this isn’t always easy for some people in the first days of abstinence). Check out local yoga classes or mindfulness groups. Numerous studies have shown that mind-body relaxation reduces the use of drugs and alcohol.[1] 


Saying No might not be enough

Most people will be supportive of your decision to abstain but it’s also quite common for non-drinkers to find their choice being questioned; some people will insist you have a drink and might even imply that you’re being a spoilsport for not joining in. Saying ‘no’ or making excuses is not enough sometimes. One short-term solution for dealing with peer pressure is to avoid situations involving alcohol and instead, find new interests, groups of people, places to go.  As the old Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) saying goes, “If you don’t want to slip, stay away from slippery places”. 


H.A.L.T. and Keep It Simple

AA has plenty of expressions to help you through the first few difficult weeks, for example, “Easy does it – but do it!”, and the acronym ‘HALT’ - which stands for: (don’t get too) Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.  This is common sense advice – the more vulnerable or wobbly you feel, the more susceptible you are to losing your resolve. 


Another well-known refrain is ‘Keep it Simple’ (some prefer KISS – keep it simple, stupid!).  In other words, keep it real, go easy on yourself and don’t overdo it.  One of the best ways to sabotage good intentions is to strive for perfection. 


One day at a time

The most well-known suggestion to help anyone facing a major challenge, addicted or not, is the phrase “One day at a time” – live in the present and aim to stick to a 24-hour plan, rather than making a lifetime commitment to a goal. 

If 24 hours seems overwhelming, break the time down into smaller chunks.  Most people can manage not to drink for an hour – once you’ve achieved that, aim for the next hour.[2]


Get support

Remember the ‘L’ part of HALT – don’t get too lonely. Talk to people; get the right friends and family members around you.  If you are accustomed to socialising in drinking environments, giving up your old haunts can be a lonely business and it’s one reason why recovering alcoholics continue to go to AA meetings – they need the support and inspiration of like-minded people


Dealing with cravings

Now you’ve stopped drinking you might find you experience ‘cravings’ - the intense desire to consume alcohol.  These strong urges can occur on and off for a while after stopping and affect some people more than others.  As your brain chemistry adjusts to normal functioning you might find these urges are accompanied by extremes of mood; one day you might feel happy and calm, the next day you might find yourself feeling sad, negative or restless.  Knowing what to do with cravings is the key to success:


  • Remind yourself that cravings are normal and that they will pass – the more you give in to a cravings, the stronger it becomes.

  • Identify when and where you are most likely to crave, eg, in certain situations, with particular people, when you feel a certain way. Plan how you will deal with each situation, person or feeling.

  • Find a distraction. (Do something relaxing and enjoyable - go for a walk or a run, have a bath or shower, watch a video or go to the movies, listen to a relaxation tape, visit friends who don’t drink).

  • Delay drinking for an hour, or even for 5 minutes.  When the time is up, delay for another hour, and then another, and so on.  It is easier to resist a craving for a short period than trying to stop drinking ‘forever’.

  • Talk to someone supportive when you start craving.

  • Reward your efforts – it takes time to make changes, and being hard on yourself will make it more difficult to adopt new habits.

  • Talk to friends/peers who’ve been able to stop, cut down, and find out what worked for them.

  • Talk to friends about how they enjoy themselves or relax – get some more ideas to help you.


The rewards

Only a relatively small number of people develop a level of alcohol dependence requiring intensive treatment. 

But if more people simply cut down their drinking it could have a major impact on the harms caused by alcohol to the UK population such as liver disease, cancer, and mental health problems.  The benefits to quitting or drinking less are significant, and some of them immediate.  According to research, they include:


  • a sense of achievement

  • saving money

  • gaining more control over drinking

  • learning about why and when you drink

  • realising you don’t need to drink to have fun

  • better health

  • improved sleep patterns

  • more energy

  • losing weight

  • increased ability to concentrate

  • better skin [3]


Happy New Year!

[1] Melemis S. M., 2015. Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale journal of biology and medicine88(3), 325-32. 

[2] Living Sober Copyright © 1975; 1998. Forty-first Printing, 2007. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115 (ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS and AA. are registered trademarks® of AA. World Services, Inc.)


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