- Quitting drinking by joining a trend known as Dry January is a popular way to mitigate the effects of heavy drinking after Christmas.
- Dry January is linked with a number of health benefits, such as improved sleep and mental health.
- Some people partake in Dry January to change their drinking habits in the long term and improve their relationship with alcohol.
- Some experts suggest Damp January may be a better approach for long-term success.
- Damp January involves drinking less instead of quitting alcohol cold turkey.
January often serves as a reset for drinking and eating habits.
For some, that means partaking in Dry January, a popular trend that encourages participants to completely give up alcohol for 31 days.
In recent years, however, a watered-down version of Dry January has emerged known as Damp January.
With Damp January, participants are encouraged to drink less than they normally would instead of quitting completely. Some say this more relaxed approach may allow for greater adherence and could even help you improve your drinking habits in the long term.
When a new year beckons, it can be tempting to take an all-or-nothing approach to your goals.
However, while going cold turkey allows you to establish firm boundaries around alcohol use, being too strict with yourself can set you up to fail and, in some cases, result in drinking even more than before.
So, if you’re hoping to improve your relationship with alcohol in the long term, starting with a Damp January may be a more effective approach.
Dry January vs Damp January. What’s the difference?
Psychologist Tara Quinn-Cirillo says if you are aware that your relationship with alcohol is unhealthy or problematic, January may be a good starting point for change.
However, she says whether you’re thinking about quitting completely or simply reducing your intake, it all really depends on your relationship with goal-setting, motivation, and adherence.
Some people will thrive with strict boundaries around their drinking, while others may find it too restrictive and ultimately make them feel worse.
For example, with a rigid approach, you might see enjoying one or two drinks during January during a social event as a total failure, increasing the risk that, with one small slip, you’ll give up on your goals entirely.
“You’ll need to ask yourself whether there’s a need to give up completely, for example, if there is a risk such as a health warning, or behavioral issues arising from your drinking, like violence or conflict,” Quinn-Cirillo said.
Gradual behavior changes can often lead to greater long-term success
“We are primed to want a quick fix in terms of behavior change, and this is true for goal setting. Taking the stance that there will be ups and downs on our journey will make for a better outcome in the long term,” Quinn-Cirillo explained.
For Natalie Louise Burrows, a registered nutritionist and founder of the nutrition and health clinic Integral Wellness, abstaining can be hugely beneficial from a health perspective, improving everything from sleep, weight, and immunity to hormonal balance and mental health.
However, when changing any food or drink habit, she believes a gradual approach is always best.
“All-or-nothing actions often only perpetuate a cycle of either extreme binge or exclude behaviors and reduce the chance of a healthy relationship,” she explained. “On the other hand, grey-area thinking brings balance to nutrition and lifestyle choices. This doesn’t mean you can’t give up alcohol, but the approach and the ‘why’ matter for success.”
What’s more, if your motivation for going dry in January is to simply mitigate the effects of heavy drinking in December, you might not get very far.
“I think it’s important to understand how you feel about your relationship with alcohol and to ask yourself whether you want to do Dry January to help you cut back in the long term. If it becomes a ‘get out of jail’ card for December’s actions, it may not be the best way to go as your relationship is unlikely to improve,” Burrows warned.
Quinn-Cirillo agrees. Her advice is to first get clear on why you want to improve your drinking habits and then take small, achievable steps toward your goal.
How damp should a Damp January be?
So, exactly how do you take a damp approach to drinking, and what limits should you set for yourself?
Burrows recommends first measuring your current drinking habits against the guidelines.
The CDC defines moderate drinking as limiting intake to two drinks a day or less for men and one drink or less a day for women.
Next, Burrows advises having three to four alcohol-free days a week and planning these days in advance.
“This really helps from a mood, cognition, and energy perspective. You’ll sleep better, as well as give the immune system and liver the opportunity to regenerate and aid weight loss,” she said.
Burrows’ third tip is to consider why you drink alcohol on the days of the week that are left.
“Ask yourself, is it something you’d like to swap out for a different habit or activity?” she advised.
Low-alcohol and nonalcoholic drinks are a great way to cut back too
There are other practical ways to ensure you cut back in January as well. Quinn-Cirillo says you can opt for lower-alcohol drinks.
For example, you can swap spirits for beer and set a limit for how many bottles or glasses you’ll drink on set days.
Having a few nonalcoholic alternatives on hand can really help too. These days, there are lots of alcohol-free beers, wines, and even spirits on the market.
“Sparkling water is often overlooked,” adds Burrows. “It can be flavored with a drop of natural cordials, berries, or citrus fruits.”
When it comes to any health, nutrition, or lifestyle resolution, Burrows says the key is thinking about how these changes will improve your life.
“Think about what you want your life to look like. Disregard what people or society expects of you because if you attach your goals to external factors rather than your values, it’s more likely you’ll give up,” she said.
Ultimately, whether you decide to do Dry January, Damp January, or neither, it all comes down to personal preference, though both experts agree that taking an all-or-nothing approach rarely leads to long-term success.
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