12 January 2021

Why do we wait for Dry January, and is it useful to anyone really struggling?

a photo of a man and bottles of alcohol

We are so conditioned in western culture to make new year’s resolutions and to change our lives post-Christmas break, that it has almost become ritualistic to binge eat, drink, and generally fill our bodies with everything we don’t need over the holiday period, to then come out the other side with an intention to change in the new year.

Dry January taps into this desire within people to change and start the year in a new way, by eliminating alcohol. Yet, abruptly stopping alcohol is potentially life threatening if you are physically dependent. So, is this really helpful to someone who is struggling with alcohol?

*Please always seek medical advice before attempting to make any huge changes in your own habits, if they include dependence on a substance.

Why do people buy into linear time milestones to start changes that are essential?

It really looks to many of us that willpower is the required ingredient for change, and if we prepare ourselves mentally and in as many ways as possible, we will be able to hit that target. But there is nothing you can prepare mentally for a challenge like Dry January, and there is nothing you cannot handle or work out in the moment if you decide to go ahead with it.

We mistakenly wait for a time to start our new goal or plan it to happen ‘next week’, or ‘Monday’ or an occasion like ‘Dry January’ because it looks difficult in our own mind, it looks like something we might find hard, or it looks as if it is not possible. All these are perspectives of the mind; they are not facts of the process you are undertaking.

Alan Watts famously quoted: “Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way,” which highlights how this mindset is damaging.

What is true is that we have the infinite ability to deal with anything, and we just do not realise we are creating a perspective of the world that makes it look difficult. It is the very reason we are addicted to certainty and stay in jobs and relationships we don’t want, because we don’t realise that the ability to respond to life in the moment; it is built into all human beings and is part of the design. What we think we are preparing for is made up of thoughts in our mind, rather than something we need to transcend to make progress.

We simply and innocently get lost in our conditioned and learned understanding of how the mind works. There is never a wrong reason to treat yourself and your physical health well, and it is worth understanding how we can effortlessly guide ourselves through life, towards the things that we truly desire, when we are in touch with how the system works.

It makes sense that Dry January would not even cross your mind if you were not drinking an amount that made you think it was a good idea to stop or take a break. People who don’t drink, for example, do not stop and wonder, should I do Dry January? This begs the question: why do we wait for a media fad, or the opportunity to present our progress to others if we know it is instinctively good for us? And the best person to answer that is yourself.

Why Dry January is not useful to anyone struggling with addiction

If you are struggling with an addiction, or trying to support a loved one, Dry January can seem an appealing time to make or suggest a change. A point which is often misunderstood when dealing with an addiction to alcohol, is that it has nothing to do with alcohol. Alcohol is the outward manifestation of the misunderstanding; it is not the problem. Attempting to stop drinking alcohol is simply a case of removing the coping mechanism for the problem.

You could say it like this: what would happen if we closed the pressure valve on a pressure cooker, stopping it from letting off steam, and letting the pressure grow? The outcome will not be pretty for most.

Often trying to quit addiction physically (such as taking away the coping mechanism for the problem) will result in an undesirable experience of difficulty with mental well-being. This may lead to wrongly diagnosed psychiatric conditions, such as depression or anxiety – experiences that the addiction was covering up.

This list of things that alcohol masks is endless. Here are a few examples:

  • Mental health diagnoses
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficult relationships
  • Health conditions
  • Social awkwardness
  • Peer pressure
  • Exam pressure
  • Grief / loss
  • Trauma

As you can see, stopping alcohol for what seems like a good idea, such as Dry January, can leave you with a whole host of other overwhelming things to cope with – some of which you might not even realise you are struggling with, which present themselves in a more powerful way. The bottom line is this: alcohol is not the problem; it is a coping strategy.

What to do if you do try to stop and find you have overwhelming struggles

If you find yourself suffering, you can of course get professional help. That help may be in the form of therapy, coaching or addiction treatment / rehabilitation. Getting help with your internal world, in whatever way makes sense for you to do, means dealing with the core problem.

When your internal world starts to change, through whichever process you’ve chosen, then your need for alcohol will decrease, your mind will start to clear and you will start to feel much better. Mental well-being is always present. Even if it is masked over by alcohol and overwhelming struggles with mental health, there is always a place of peace to return to.

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Our brand promise

If you successfully complete our 90-day inpatient treatment programme but experience a relapse within 30 days of leaving, we will welcome you back for complimentary 30 days of treatment.*

* Click here to learn more or contact UKAT directly for rehab availability.

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