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Diet and nutrition

Trying Dry January? Here are some tips 

Trying Dry January? Here are some tips

After a toast to the New Year, some people put down their glass and take a month-long break from alcohol in a trend known as Dry January. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends limiting alcohol to two daily drinks or less for men and no more than one drink a day for women. Heavy and long-term drinking can increase physical problems such as heart and liver damage, increase your risk of cancer, weaken your immune system, and create problems with mood and memory. 

Cutting out alcohol for even just a month can result in noticeable improvements: more energy, loss of weight, as well as lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and cancer-related proteins. 

"Cutting back on alcohol consumption frequently results in an opportunity to pause and reevaluate your relationship with drinking," said Dr. Mitch Crawford, a WellSpan psychiatrist and director of addiction services. "When you can compare the difference of how you feel when not drinking – even if it is just so-called social drinking – it often highlights the negative impacts that alcohol consumption can have on your happiness, relationships, and other aspects of life." 

If you want to start the year with a dry January, there are some solid ways to approach it that also may help you to kick other habits down the road. 

Remember that it takes time to form a new habit. In 2009, a University College London study found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is 66 days, about two months, but it can vary from 18 days to up to 254 days (more than eight months). 

Whatever habit you are trying to break or cut back on – too much drinking, too much eating, too much time on screens, too much time sitting – start with a plan that takes things one day at a time for what seems like a manageable amount of time. A day without a drink, a day without dessert, a day without social media, a day with one walk around the block all seem more doable than a plan to eat celery forever or run a marathon next month. 

"Whatever resolution you have made, make sure to create a realistic plan to achieve the goal, and to be honest and graceful to yourself about what is realistic," Dr. Crawford said. "You will get overwhelmed. Break things down into steps. Get to the end of the day and go another day. Get to the end of the week and go another week, until you get to the end of the month. 

"Each step of the process is also a lesson, and sometimes we learn that we need to choose a new goal or that we need more help to achieve our goal. Please allow yourself to be flexible in that sense and ask for help when you need it." 

Here are some specific tips if you are trying Dry January: 

  • Clear your house of alcohol to avoid temptation. 
  • Have a plan. If you are going to be in a social situation where there is drinking, or you know you crave a cocktail at dinnertime, have sparking water or a mix of sparkling water and juice on hand. Bring your own non-alcoholic drinks to social gatherings, too, so you have something to sip on with friends. 
  • Practice saying no if or when people offer you a drink, so you know what to say. 
  • Tell friends and family about your plan and ask them to help you stay accountable. Find a buddy to do the challenge with you and keep each other accountable.
  • Think about why you drink and find a new way to fulfill that reason. Do you drink because you want to relax? Find another way to unwind like yoga or meditation. Do you associate drinking with socializing or a "happy hour"? Consider going out with friends for coffee or scheduling a walk together to fulfill your wish for together time.
  • Give yourself grace if you fail. Begin anew the next day.
  • Reward yourself at regular intervals. At the end of a week, buy yourself a nice cup of coffee or treat yourself to a movie. Celebrate the successes.
  • If you believe that your use of alcohol is heavy or problematic, it may not be safe for you to stop drinking without medical care.  Please reach out to your medical providers to learn more about your risk of having a dangerous withdrawal from alcohol and treatment options that are available to you. 

For more information about WellSpan's addiction services, go here.