Many stop meeting friends and sit at home eating oatmeal when have decided to have a Dry January. This often leads to a rapid loss of motivation.
Many stop meeting friends and sit at home eating oatmeal when have decided to have a Dry January. This often leads to a rapid loss of motivation.

How to succeed with a Dry January

Do you enjoy the ‘optimal buzz’ that comes from the initial one or two glasses of alcohol? If so, you might want to think about committing to a Dry January, Fanny Duckert suggests. She believes many make a big mistake when trying to have a sober month.

Fanny Duckert has extensive experience in treating people who need help managing their relationship with alcohol.

The psychologist and professor can list several good arguments for taking a break from alcohol in January or any other month of the year.

You will get better sleep quality, a better immune system, better memory, better mental health, and lower blood pressure, just to name a few.

“Alcohol is a burden on the body. As a result, the body adapts by finding more effective methods to neutralise and eliminate the alcohol. The more resources it uses for this, the fewer resources it will have to other important things,” Duckert says.

Get that good buzz back

Another argument for taking a break is that you can regain the joy of drinking alcohol, the alcohol researcher believes.

“If you drink regularly and alcohol is part of your daily life, it’s especially wise to have a dry month. The good, pleasant, and moderate buzz becomes harder to achieve when the body gets used to handling it,” Duckert says.

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    The reason is that when you have been drinking for a while, you tolerate more alcohol than if you are inexperienced with alcohol. It takes more to get an intoxicating effect, partly because the body ramps up its metabolism to get rid of the alcohol faster, she explains.

    A good way to rediscover this intoxicating effect is to have a period of abstinence, she believes.

    Can restart the system

    The sensation of pleasure that many of us experience from drinking a glass of red wine is due to the release of so-called ‘happiness substances’ like dopamine and serotonin in the body. These substances make us feel happy and more confident.

    The kick we get from these neurotransmitters diminish when we drink often and a lot. More alcohol is then needed to achieve the same buzz.

    If people who are accustomed to drinking have sober periods, this system gets a ‘restart’. This is explained by Sven Andreasson, professor emeritus at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, in an interview with Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

    For some, it may take a long time before this happens. But most people experience improvements after a few months, he says.

    In a new research project at the Karolinska Institute, they are studying exactly this, namely how long one has to remain completely sober before the system is completely balanced. Andreasson explains this in an interview with Svenska Dagbladet (link in Swedish).

    Good health effect after one month

    Andreasson also treats people who have a difficult relationship with alcohol.

    For him, a dry month is an important tool in treatment, both for those with a serious problem and those who want to drink less.

    The latter group will also experience positive health effects from a dry period, he tells the Swedish newspaper.

    There are only a few studies that show what happens to your health when you take a break from drinking for a month.

    Researchers have then seen that after just a one-month break, there were positive effects on participants' weight, blood pressure, heart and blood vessels, blood sugar, and perceived quality of life.

    In a 2020 study, 1,192 individuals who participated in a Dry January were compared with a control group. Those who cut out alcohol for one month reported better physical and mental health six months later. They also had a lower alcohol consumption and more control over their own drinking, according to the study.

    It can be difficult

    Even those who do not have a major alcohol problem can struggle to give up alcohol for an entire month. Fanny Duckert believes this difficulty often stems from missing the social and lifestyle aspects linked to drinking.

    “Many stop meeting friends and sit at home eating oatmeal,” she says.

    Duckert believes that maintaining motivation can be difficult if you’re only doing things that are monotonous and healthy, especially during the gloomiest month of the year.

    She advises people to engage in enjoyable activities that are not associated with alcohol.

    “Go out. Eat delicious food. Find other enjoyable drinks that aren't alcoholic. Life without alcohol shouldn’t just be an exception but can also be an opportunity to adjust habits. This will provide greater flexibility and variety in your life,” Duckert says.


    Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik

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