Is January really the best time of year to start a period of sobriety?
There is no ‘good’ time to start a period of sobriety (because you will always find an occasion in your calendar that you may want to wait for!). But what January does is create a convenient cover. When you know lots of other people are doing the same thing you don’t feel so alone. When people ask you why you’re not drinking you can say "Dry January” and people won’t bat an eyelid. It takes away some of the awkwardness and questions. It also adds a layer of accountability – by being able to be open about your challenge to other people, you are more likely to stick to your goal. But the most important thing to remember is that you can do a month any time. I gave up drinking two weeks before my birthday. I could have waited for one last blow out, but I am very glad I didn’t.
What are the benefits of giving up alcohol for just one month?
Any sober sprint will give you a taste of what your life could be like without drinking. A month means that many of the impacts of withdrawal may have passed (you don’t need to drink much to get some mild withdrawal symptoms from feeling thirsty, disturbed sleep and headaches) and you’ll have managed four weekends and realised the sky hasn’t fallen in. You would have felt what having a whole weekend full of energy feels like! You are likely to have experienced some of the triggers you know less about – stressful days, arguments or feeling tired – and be able to try new things to comfort or relax you. In short it gives you the information you need to make a good assessment of when you drink for pleasure, and when you drink out of habit. From here, you can begin to think about your habits in the context of your other life goals.
What tips do you have for anyone who feels pangs of temptation?
What you are feeling is discomfort. It will pass and it won’t kill you! Know what you are going to do to distract you. Grab an alcohol-free beer, eat some Haribo, walk around the block, read a chapter of a book, do ten press ups. Plan the list in advance and make sure you know what action you will take when discomfort strikes, and don’t allow yourself any wriggle room. It does get easier over time, I promise you.
What’s the best way to politely decline anyone who might push you into having “just one”?
Decide what you want to say in advance and when someone asks don’t miss a beat. The more confidently you say it, the less space you give them to persuade you otherwise. Then move the conversation on – “I’m doing Dry January. Do you have any new year’s resolutions? How's the job?” People love talking about themselves so use it to your advantage.
If you have a partner or friend that is particularly persistent, I would recommend being really clear about what you need from them: “It would really help me if you would not pressure me to drink during January. Do you have any health goals I can help you with in return?” If you reframe it as a way they can help you, it’s hard for them to say no.
Do you recommend keeping a ‘dry diary’ of your progress?
Different things work for different people. If ticking off days works for you then do it. Some people get a lot from writing down their plan and then documenting how they deal with different situations so they can learn. Knowing what works for you is key to success.. Immersing yourself in blogs, books and online communities can also really help – you get tips from people further along than you, and realise that what you are experiencing is not unique.
Any tips for having a big night out while doing Dry January?
Phone the venue in advance and ask them what they have to drink. If they don’t have anything you want, then switch venues if you can. Be a demanding customer, and take your time at the bar. Don’t let a venue fob you off with Coke or lemonade from a hose, they nearly always have something better in the fridge. If in doubt, fill a shampoo bottle with some of your favourite cordial, bitters or Ceder’s alt-gin, and pimp your own fizzy water or tonic. You don’t have to settle for a compromised drink. A great venue is one that treats you like a valued customer, whatever you’re drinking. You can find some great venues on ClubSodaGuide.com.
Are there any groups/forums you can join to keep motivated?
Club Soda has a great community on Facebook, which is free to join. We also organise real world events (like the Mindful Drinking Festival at the Truman brewery on 12th-13th January, with over 60 brands and celebrity talks). But have a look around – there’s a tribe to suit everyone.
How about apps?
Dry January has launched a new app called Try Dry that is pretty good. Also Drinkless is great for those looking to moderate their drinking. You may also find apps not directly related to drinking helpful – I recommend sweating all the free trials for tools like Headspace, Netflix, Movement for Modern Life and Audible to keep you on-track!
What alcohol-free social activities do you recommend?
We have a list on JoinClubSoda.co.uk, but there is more out there than you might think. Use Meetup.com to find walks, talks and interesting groups near you. Try a local museum late or go to the theatre. We often never look at what is about locally, but now you have time (and know you can drive too), it’s time to give your curiosity muscle a work out.
What alcohol-free drinks do you recommend?
I love Ceder’s alt-gin which you can now get in all the supermarkets, it certainly fills the ‘reward’ gap that alcohol used to fill. Next to water an alcohol-free beer is the healthiest thing you can drink in the pub, and there are lots to choose from right now. Adnams Ghost Ship is a beautiful citrus ale that you can now get on tap as well in many pubs. Heineken 0.0 is also an easy beer to find and tastes like their full-strength version. Tesco has a massive alcohol-free section and the other supermarkets are catching up. Everyone's taste is different, so have fun this month experimenting with sparkling wines, craft sodas and pale ales until you find the ones you like the best. I never drank beer when I drank alcohol, but it is now my number one go-to when out.
What’s your best advice keeping up the good work once ‘Dry January’ is over?
Don’t just wait for the end of January and cane it. Take some time to reflect on what you learnt, what you enjoyed, and what you found hard. What about this month would you like to keep up (your new Saturday morning walk for example)? No one is stealing all the alcohol, it won’t disappear tomorrow. You don’t have to drink it all on 1st February. If you are planning to moderate in the longer term, then that needs some planning. Just saying you will moderate, will not make it happen. Set yourself clear rules about what, who, where and when you will drink. That way you can save your hangovers for the nights you feel were worth it, and not occasions where you felt pressured or were bored.