Making the Most of “Dry January” (Especially If You Keep Drinking)

dry januaryPerhaps you’ve seen articles and posts floating around on social media this time of year about Dry January. If you haven’t, Dry January is a one-month challenge to abstain from alcohol created by Alcohol Change in 2012. About 4 million people participated in 2018, and maybe you’re trying to decide if participating this year is right for you.


After all, January is a time of resolutions for the coming year. Many people use Dry January as a way to help them reevaluate their drinking, especially as drinking typically peaks during the last few weeks of the year around Christmas and New Year’s.


There are plenty of articles out there like this one to help you figure out if you want to participate in Dry January or not. If you do decide to keep drinking, here are some other ways to participate so that you can make the most of your Dry January.


Continuing to Drink During Dry January Does Not Mean You’re a Failure

Or a fuck-up. Or an “alcoholic.” Or that you’ll never get it together. Or any of the other shit you’ve already told yourself a million times.


I heard of Dry January only after I stopped drinking. But if I’d heard of it while I was still struggling with alcohol, I know what my reaction would have been. “Great, the rest of the world can stop drinking for a month just like that, and I can’t. What’s wrong with me that I can’t seem to take a break from this like everyone else?”


My inner critic would have been on full “you’re not good enough” mode, firing all torpedoes.


If this sounds familiar, the very thought of Dry January represents an aspiration that you’ve probably had for some time—to reduce your alcohol intake or stop drinking altogether.

And that you’ve tried unsuccessfully means that you’ve failed. That you’re a failure. So Dry January brings up feelings of shame and inadequacy, not hopefulness.


These feelings, fueled by how you talk to yourself, can lead to more drinking and drinking more than you might want. So, mind your self-talk. Tune in to how you speak to yourself. Your path is your own; stay in your lane and keep focusing on what you feel you can do while you keep drinking to change.


Embrace Your Ambivalence

If you have mixed feelings about Dry January, maybe it’s a good time to check in those feelings, especially if you haven’t before. It might be an indication of your mixed feelings about your goals for drinking overall.


Rather than try to punt that part of yourself that might want to continue to drink out of your awareness (which is a sure-fire way to give it more power), invite that part of yourself to a confab. Ask him or her a few questions:

  • What part of you wants to drink?
  • What does that part of you really want or need?
  • How have you noticed that part of yourself in other areas of your life?
  • If that part could speak, what would he or she say?


Consider Some Ways of Reducing Your Drinking or Drinking More Safely

So much of what keeps the struggle with alcohol going is that many of us have this all-or-nothing mentality that says that you need to stop drinking. Right now. Or you haven’t made any progress.


The thing is that we don’t expect this of ourselves in others areas of our lives. Typically, when you have a goal, you work toward it, making progress along the way. Maybe it’s putting a little aside every month for that car you’ve been eyeing. Or diligently working to earn that promotion. You wouldn’t tell yourself that you’re a fuck-up just because you’ve set aside only have of what you need for that car, would you?


Besides, fighting against your own desire to drink is exhausting and usually works only for a little while. But your brain gets tired of fighting and you give in. So you’re a failure. Again. Right?


Instead of fighting an all-or-nothing battle, you might try focusing on how you’ve made progress this past year in changing your drinking even as your imbibing continues. Can’t think of anything? The fact that you’re reading this means that you’ve done at least one thing to change your relationship with alcohol.


So perhaps you can find other ways to keep your journey of change with alcohol going in January this year, whether it’s using some tools to reduce your drinking or drinking more safely (e.g., not drinking alone, planning on getting an Uber after the party, etc.).


If you’re feeling stuck, feel free to reach out. I’d love to hear from you. Happy holidays!


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Jeremy Mast

Jeremy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA LMFT90961) in private practice in Ventura, California. He helps those struggling with drugs, alcohol, and out-of-control sexual behaviors awaken to new possibilities for their lives. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in beautiful southern California.

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