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What to do if you’ve broken your Dry January resolution

Lots of people take part in Dry January each year, but how many manage to stay alcohol-free for the entire month?

Priory Group’s addiction therapists have put together advice for Dry January participants who haven’t managed to give up alcohol for a month, despite their good intentions. They have outlined what to do if you have had one or two drinks in an evening, gone on a drinking binge or if you have found that you just couldn’t give up alcohol regardless of your attempts.  

“I've had one or two drinks”

Neil Macaulay, an addiction therapist at Priory Hospital Glasgow, said: “One or two drinks won’t negate all the good that you’ve done so far by changing your regular drinking habits. You will still feel the benefits of giving up alcohol in terms of sleeping, eating, energy levels and concentration. 

Research suggests that people who take part in Dry January are also likely to be drinking less alcohol six months down the line, even if they didn’t successfully complete the whole month. 

“It is all about getting back on track and not drinking for the rest of the month. You are trying to change something that has become a habit. Lapses to old behaviours are common but this doesn’t mean you have failed completely. You are learning where your body is in relation to alcohol and what you want your relationship with it to be.”

“I started off with good intentions but had a big drinking binge”

If you have been trying Dry January, but found that you have drunk  heavily on one or two nights, Neil Macaulay says: “This sounds like a serious lapse, but keep it to a lapse rather than reverting back to old behaviours.

“It is still worthwhile continuing with Dry January because of the potential long-term benefits. It will give you the opportunity to re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol, so that you can break patterns and habits, change routines and look for a different way to deal with alcohol.   

“Instead of looking at the binge as a disaster, view it as a learning opportunity. What’s associated with or linked to your drinking patterns? What triggers episodes of heavy drinking? Identifying high-risk situations and working out coping strategies can make a major impact on your future relationship with alcohol.

“See Dry January as an experiment through which you can understand your current relationship with alcohol, and springboard into a healthier relationship with it.

“Also, remember that stopping, or trying to stop using, alcohol for a month and then resuming your usual drinking habits isn’t going to do much for your long-term health if you tend to overdo it. The danger is that you develop an unhealthy pattern, bingeing one month and abstaining during the next. This is a good time to think about what a realistic amount of alcohol is for your lifestyle.”

“I haven’t been able to give up drinking at all”

Claire Rimmer, lead addictions therapist at Priory Hospital Altrincham, says: “If you had every intention of going alcohol-free for a month, but have found that transferring this intention into action has been difficult, your drinking may be more problematic than you first thought.

 “You may have got through a few days of not drinking, and initially thought that things were okay, and that your drinking wasn’t so bad after all. If you have since become preoccupied with the thoughts of drinking, making excuses for a ‘time out’ from Dry January, and have found that ‘just one’ drink has set off cravings and urges, it is likely that you are problem drinker. At this point, it is highly recommended that you seek professional help.

“It is important to note that if you are physically dependent on alcohol, before you even attempt to cut down or stop drinking, you should seek medical advice via your GP.”

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