“Sober October”, “Dry January” and “Dry July”: During a quarter of the year, these campaigns motivate people to come together and challenge themselves to go alcohol-free. While some are stronger in the United States, like this month’s, in Brazil the challenge is more common at the beginning of the year.
It is no surprise to Annie Grace that these periods to reduce alcohol consumption are becoming more popular. The author of “This Bare Mind: Control Alcohol” said she is seeing more and more people evaluate the relationship that alcohol plays in their lives.
How much is too much? The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies moderate consumption of two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less for women. But two-thirds of adult consumers report drinking more than these levels at least once a month, according to the CDC.
And the pandemic didn’t help. A December 2020 study found that 60% of respondents had increased their alcohol consumption throughout the year and more than a third said they had engaged in binge drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four for women. .
Studies show that alcohol is not good for healthy living. There is no safe amount when it comes to heart health, according to the World Heart Federation. And even moderate consumption set aside for the weekend can have social, emotional and psychological impacts, according to a 2022 study.
“Sober October” may be a step toward cutting out alcohol entirely, but it doesn’t have to be, said biological psychologist Aaron White, senior scientific advisor to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Whatever your level of drinking, a month-long sobriety challenge can help you become more mindful of your drinking, White added.
You may think you don’t need a break from drinking because you don’t show signs of substance abuse disorder: your consumption is causing serious harm, health problems, disability, or problems with meeting responsibilities.
But problematic drinking is a spectrum — not just a binary between addicted and good, Annie said. You may drink a little, but not feel good about why or how you drink. You may drink a lot, but you feel that it works well in your life.
Even people who don’t drink much may have less control over when and how much they drink than they would like, Annie said.
She was one of those people. Annie didn’t think she needed treatment programs, but she found cutting back on alcohol was a struggle, which for her was a sign that something needed to change.
Taking a sobriety challenge doesn’t mean you have to stop for good, but it can help you be more thoughtful in your drinking decisions rather than doing so because that’s what you usually do, White said.
“It gives someone a chance to cultivate alternatives,” he added.
How does that help?
Even in just one month, there is evidence that reduced alcohol consumption can be good for your physical health.
“Most people who drink heavily have fatty livers,” White said. “Even a month-long break is enough to lower your liver enzymes and make your liver look healthier.”
Some people may also find that with less or no alcohol they sleep better and make better food choices for themselves, White said.
And for emotional health, a short-term challenge can point to feelings and routines that could be improved, Annie added.
Many of the people she works with — even moderate drinkers — describe their relationship with alcohol as something they don’t have complete control over, she said.
The writer encourages people who are using a sobriety challenge to notice when they feel like drinking and what it is for. Does it make you feel part of a community to share a drink at a party? Is that glass of wine after a long day a reliable feeling of comfort?
Perhaps drinking is an easy — but not the best — way to meet those needs, Annie said. Taking notes and trying to find these things without a drink can open up new ways to satisfy those feelings, White added.
How to succeed in the challenge
There are some hurdles to tackle during a sober month, Annie said. One is overcoming the urge to drink, and experts have cited different approaches to solving this problem.
Cutting back on alcohol can have a diet-like effect — the more you tell yourself you can’t have it, the more you crave it, said Natalie Mokari, a registered dietitian in Charlotte, North Carolina.
She recommends starting with one less drink than you normally would on each occasion, or breaking a daily habit by limiting drinking to certain days. You can also have sparkling water between drinks or make weaker-than-usual cocktails to reduce your alcohol consumption, she said.
White said it’s important not to feel ashamed if you end up drinking during the sobriety challenge. Don’t throw the whole experience away for a glass of wine, she added.
Annie recommended following along with curiosity and information. Learning more about the psychology and biology of alcohol actually helped reduce her desire to drink, she said, and approaching her urges with curiosity rather than judgment allowed her to learn more about the role alcohol played in her life.
There are also social pressure to drink . How do you not drink when everyone else does? Especially if friends are uncomfortable when they don’t see you with the beer you always drink?
The first thing is to remember that people can make you feel bad because they are uncomfortable with your own drinking relationship, Annie said.
It often helps to have a soft drink on hand at social events, White said, so the offer to have a drink doesn’t even appear.
Don’t overdo it after the challenge
If you’re hoping to reduce your drinking habits or improve your health, it’s important not to think of crossing the finish line as the time to overdo it, Natalie said.
Drastically reducing your consumption over that time can lower your tolerance, and what was enough for dizziness today could result in a much higher level of intoxication than expected 30 days later, White said.
You may also be undoing the habit changes you’ve built up over the month, returning to heavy drinking when you’re done, Annie added.
“In our society, even saying ‘I want to take a break’ is super brave,” she said. “If you don’t change how you feel about it, but put in the effort all month, it becomes forbidden fruit syndrome.”
Source: CNN Brasil