The Best Dry January Tips (aka the Sober October Survival Guide)

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Helen Foster
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One in ten of every people in the UK give up drinking for the month of January. That’s huge, considering how miserable the month is there. If you miss out on the January push you could also try Feb Fast, Dry July or Sober October (Ocsober) – whenever you choose to take your month off alcohol though, it’s not always easy.

Drinking is very much ingrained in our culture and not doing it for a month can be tough – even if you don’t have a problem with booze.

I’ve done all of the months more than once and learned a heap of tips that can help keep you off the wagon. So many, that I was actually asked to write a book on How to Quit Alcohol (for a month)

So, what are the absolute best Dry January tips that help me stay on track, well, keep reading

glass of beetroot juice in a wine glass

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The Dry January Rules

It’s pretty simple. Between January 1st and January 31st, you abstain from alcohol completely.

There are a few schemes that let you buy ‘escape’ passes (with money going to charity) if you have a birthday or need to go to a wedding, but generally, the idea of Dry January, Sober October or Dry July is simply that no alcohol passes your lips during the month in question.

What Are The Health Benefits of Dry January

There’s actually quite a few. You’ll likely lose weight, your skin and eyes will be clearer, hangovers vanish taking headaches, lethargy and that ‘oh god, what did I do’ feeling and your bank balance improves.

But the biggest Dr January benefits occur internally – and science proves them.

In one study involving  10 journalists working on the UK’s New Scientist magazine found that at the end of the month the volunteers had lost weight, their cholesterol had fallen and their livers were in a far healthier state than before the month begun.

Amazed, the researchers working with the journos decided to repeat the experiment with more people. This time they studied 141 men and women in their forties who had decided to abstain from alcohol during January.

On average, before the trial, the women had been drinking 29 units of alcohol a week (nearly three bottles of wine or 14 pints of lager); the men had been drinking 31 units classing both groups as heavy drinkers. But within four weeks of abstaining, their livers’ had started to repair themselves and other measures of health including blood pressure and their sensitivity to the hormone insulin improved, plus they also experienced some clear short term physical benefits like better sleep and concentration.

On top of this, Dry January aims to help you rethink and reset your relationship with alcohol breaking the habit of drinking on autopilot and potentially seeing you cut back on your booze consumption.

It seems to work, a study by the University of Sussex saw people drinking one day a week less after they finished the month when they did drink, they drank less – and, the number of times they actually said they were drunk also fell.

If that’s not enough to convince you, you’ll find some more benefits of going alcohol free here.

The Best Dry January Tips

Between trying Dry January – and the others – a few times, and the research involved in writing a book on the subject, I’ve tried all sorts of tips to help me get through Dr January and beyond. Some work, some don’t – but here are the ones that made the biggest difference to me in surviving Dry January and completing the challenge…

Anything Drunk From a Wine Glass is Relaxing

I’ve realized it’s actually the ritual of lifting the glass that I associate with the end of the day chill out not what’s in it.

Coconut water was a shock though as it looks so winey. Tastebuds expecting Pinot Grigio, getting Pina Colada = complete mindfart.

Don’t believe me? See that lovely glass of red wine in the picture above that might be triggering a few cravings right now – it’s actually beetroot juice topped with soda. That one I admit is an acquired taste – but I rather like it.

Ask This Question

The Allen Carr anti-smoking people also work with alcohol and sent me their book Easy Way to Control Alcohol (Allen Carr’s Easyway). It’s a bit heavy going, but I did pick up on one tip that’s really kept me focused which was.

If you could go to the pub and talk to your friends but not drink booze– or, drink alcohol but not talk to anyone which would you choose?

Umm, I’m thinking if I chose the second rehab is in my future.  Thankfully I didn’t. But it has made me realize I go out to see people or get out of the house, what’s in my glass doesn’t matter. Remember that during your month off.

Oh, and if you are a bit concerned about your drinking, there’s another great book I’ve found. It’s called The 30-Day Sobriety Solution: How to Cut Back or Quit Drinking in the Privacy of Your Home

It’s filled with exercises that you work through on a daily basis that can help you reassess your drinking behaviour.

See more about it here.

Come Up With Alternatives

But saying that…..I’ve also realized half the time I order wine I do it because I don’t want fizzy water or diet coke and couldn’t think of anything else. Now I’m having to take my time at the bar (apologies to the staff at the White Horse) I’ve found all sorts of exciting alternatives. Grapefruit and soda, pomegranate and soda, elderflower cordial. Non-alcoholic cocktails are also my new friend: I can firmly recommend the Elderflower Collins at Jamie Oliver’s Barbacoa in London.

Thankfully even since I wrote the book, the number of non-alcoholic alternatives to alcohol has rocketed and there are some really good choices out there. Check them out in this post on the best non-alcoholic drinks.

Or, if you fancy making your own concoctions, there’s a whole month’s worth of choices to pick from in this book 31 Alcohol-Free Drinks: How to enjoy your month off alcohol

Pledge Money to a Cause You Hate

A lot of the organised campaigns like Dry January see you getting sponsored to stay off the wagon – this can be a great motivator.

But, if you don’t want to ask other people to fork out for your success put your own money where your mouth is and sponsor yourself.  But don’t pledge to give it to a cause you believe in, pledge to a cause you don’t –a political party you actively dislike for example.

You’ll be less likely to quit if your failure benefits something negative than if the money is going to a good cause.

Brunch is Your Friend

It means you can go out and meet people but you don’t feel the same need to drink. Also, brunch tends to be self-limiting in time and so doesn’t require you using willpower once it does get to beer o’clock.

Break the Habit Loop

If you drink in the same place, same time, every night you’ve developed a habit and you’ll get cravings associated with that. Breaking the habit means breaking something called the habit loop. This means tackling one of three things involved with habitual behaviour.

You can break the trigger that sets you on the habit path. So for example, if you always have a glass of wine while cooking dinner, cooking is your trigger. How can you change that? Can you do a massive batch cooking session on a Sunday morning when you won’t want a drink and then just warm things up for a week or two to get you out of the habit of drinking.

You can change the action: In this case, the action of opening or pouring a drink and if you don’t have any wine in the house you can’t drink when cooking, end of story!

Or you can change the reward – what does that wine give you while you’re cooking. And can you find that in another way? Maybe you hate cooking and it’s your treat for doing it – what else could you use to make you feel good – playing your favourite music really loud while you cook for example?

Come up With a Line

Peer Pressure is one big reason why abstinence months fail – other people don’t like it when you quit drinking. For this reason, Dry January is often the easiest one to stick to – so many people do it, it’s because a normal part of January now (in the UK at least). If you’re trying to quit at another time though, coming up with a line as to why you’re not drinking can help keep people off your back.

It needs to be believable though.

The old antibiotics excuse never fails but you can’t use it that often.

Training for a half-marathon is a good one as no-one wants to hear running stories. It does need to be believable though – if you’ve never run a step in your life and you suddenly announce you’re running the London marathon to avoid a pint don’t be surprised if people query it or ask for a link to your Just Giving page!

Don’t Blame Willpower

We often think of willpower as this commodity we have or we don’t. But everyone has willpower – it’s actually willpower that gets you to work each day rather than turning over to go back to sleep or sees you stop at two chocolate biscuits rather than hoovering up the whole lot – you just have to choose how to spend it.

Because while we all have willpower it is finite – if you’re really struggling with not drinking at an evening event, try and make as few choices as possible in the day beforehand – wear a favourite outfit you’ve laid out the night before, eat the same breakfast and lunch as yesterday.

Keep the decision making for when you need it. If it sounds trite remember, one of the reason’s Barack Obama said he wore the same colour suit every day was that it freed up his mind for more important decisions.

The thing about willpower that changed its power over me was renaming it. It’s basically determination under another name. I never think I have willpower – I have heaps of determination.

Distract Yourself

The average craving only lasts 15 minutes – if you can take your mind off things for that long (go do that task you’ve been putting off for ages) it will pass.

Dry January and Beyond

As I said, the whole point of doing Dry January or Dry July, or whatever plan you pick, is to help you try and reassess your alcohol intake and reset things a bit.

When Dry January is over, it, therefore, defeats the object to just go sailing back into the ‘mines a large one’ club when it’s all over – and the following tips can help you with adopting more sensible drinking habits once the month is over.

Are You a Starter or a Stopper.

This might not help so much when you’re on your month off, but if you decide you’d like to cut back after the month is over it’s brilliant.

As yourself, can you go to the pub have one or two and switch to water? Or, once you get on the booze is that it – you won’t swap to water.

I’m the latter and so, the absolute best thing I can do when I walk into a pub is order a soda and lime for the first few. Sometimes I don’t actually bother with a drink, but if I do, I’ve already cut my consumption down by a half or a third.

The wine rule also works well here. When I’m swapping from alcohol to soft drinks, I keep the same glass and just top it back up.

Water Things Down

Spritzers are a brilliant way to reduce what you’re drinking without feeling deprived of having to listen to anyone else moan that you’re not drinking – but white wine and soda is not the only option.

Look round the world for alternatives – red wine and cola is big in Croatia, in Germany, you can order beer with Fanta, peach juice and coke.

Also, add ice to wine – it’s an Aussie tip to keep wine cool when it’s 40-odd out but it also makes it last longer and waters it down.

Put Your Glass Down

There’s lots of science on ways to naturally cut back on drinking without really noticing – some of them are really simple like putting your glass down on a table when pouring a drink as you put less in it – 12% according to one study. Old fashioned 1970s wine glasses will also immediately cut you’re drinking in half – they are made for a 125ml measure – not the 250ml plus today’s wine glasses hold.

Buy a Bottle Stopper

It’s a lot easier to put half a bottle of Prosecco back in the fridge if you know it’s not going to go flat.

So there you have it how to do Dry January more easily. If you liked the sound of the tips, you’ll find even more of them in the book – it also covers some of the Dry January side effects you might experience and lots of advice on handling tricky situations that might present itself during Dry January. Just click the picture to head over to amazon and order it now.

Who is The Wellness Nerd?

My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.

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