Tips for surviving a dry January

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So, are you into Dry January and really craving a beer? We understand (because we are there too).

Alcohol, like any drug, causes a release of dopamine, which gives us that feeling of happiness, explains Deanna Crosby, Clinical Director at New Well-being Method, a Southern California-based mental health center specializing in addiction treatment. Our brains are set to want it. This makes quitting difficult, even for people without a true alcohol dependency, but there are real benefits to Doing so.

But you have to get through the month – and it may be more difficult than you expected.

The good news is that if you don’t have a true alcohol use disorder, your cravings are likely to be mild and you can probably overcome them with a few simple strategies, says Mark Jaffe, psychiatrist at Beach House Treatment Center in Malibu, California. (If, however, you are really struggling to go through an evening without a glass of wine, you may need to think critically about your relationship with alcohol. In this case, your best bet will be to seek out a professional. substance addiction.)

Identify the type of desire

Fancy a beer because it makes you feel good? Or do you want a beer because you think you are about to feel bad and it will ease the pain? These are the two main drivers of food cravings, says Judy Grisel, professor of psychology at Bucknell University and author of Never Enough: Neuroscience and the Addiction Experience. Identifying why you want to drink can be an important clue in determining what role alcohol use plays in your life, and then in mitigating that role.

In reality, Jaffe says most of his patients end up with a dual diagnosis, with mental health care now part of their treatment plan. “One of my patients drinks because he’s depressed,” he says, adding that when the patient started treatment for depression, the urge to drink excessively every night started to go away.

Grisel says that kind of craving, where you reach for alcohol to move the hard edges of your life, is more symptomatic of a problematic relationship with alcohol. If your cravings are mainly related to partying or going out with friends, consider changing the context of your parties so that you are not surrounded by environments that remind you of alcohol. For example, if you always order a margarita when you and your friends go out to eat Mexican, maybe go for Thai food or see if you can get your tacos to go.

Be aware of stress

“Stress precipitates relapses,” Grisel says, and almost everyone lives on a regular diet. One of the best ways to curb food cravings is to work on removing stress from your life. Since it’s a bit difficult to do and often out of our control, taking a moment to realize that the urge we feel is probably related to stress can, at the very least, help us put what looks like into perspective. a failure of the will.

Do something

Crosby tells his patients that the average urge only lasts seven minutes. While that number may change for different drugs and different levels of addiction, the general idea works: it will pass. Of course, getting out is still difficult. Crosby’s favorite suggestion is to engage in a little workout.In the middle of an urge to smoke, do a one-minute plank, ”or go for a run around your block. It doesn’t have to be long or arduous. A minute or two of effort is a perfect distraction. In part, this is because it is impossible to drink and plank. But exercise, like alcohol, also releases dopamine, Crosby says.

If exercise isn’t your thing, do some other kind of activity that engages your hands and mind.

“It doesn’t matter if you prune bonsai or learn to surf,” says Crosby. If you are engaged in something new and interesting, you are less likely to think about what you are missing.

Get out of town

Routines are powerful and can be hard to break. “It’s really good to take a vacation if you’re trying to stop something, because the totally new context makes it a lot easier,” Grisel says. In addition, you are significantly less stressed on vacation and away from the stress of work, etc. Just be aware that there will always be temptations, like spending the after-bar on a ski trip or browsing the tiki lounge by the pool.

Enlist your friends

Jaffe says a key principle of 12-step programs is the use of a sponsor. Usually this is someone who has been through the program and knows what you are beautiful experience. One great thing about Dry January’s growing popularity is that you probably know other people who have cut alcohol out of their lives this month. Reach them. Schedule a time to get together that might otherwise be time spent in a bar. When your running friends open the cold doors, dodge to meet a sober friend. A 2017 study who followed the progress of those who signed up for Dry January on the official website of the program and those who died on their own found that those who signed up – and had the support of other site users – were more successful than those who didn’t.

Give up the vacuum, but wash the dishes

“In the laws of physics, nature doesn’t like a vacuum,” says Crosby. This open hand at a party where everyone is having cocktails is an invitation for your host to treat you to a glass of wine. She suggests filling this void as quickly as possible. If she has to go to an event with alcohol, Crosby first goes straight to the bar and has a Diet Coke. You’ll never see her at a social event without a drink, because it’s just easier to fill the void than to avoid well-meaning drink pushers all night long.

If you’re hydrated and tired of carrying alien seltzer water around a house party, Crosby suggests that you find your way to the kitchen and start working on the dishes. “Nobody hates the person who does the dishes,” she laughs. And it keeps your hands busy.

Meditate your way through it

If you already have a mindfulness practice, there’s quite a bit of research showing that a few minutes of meditation can help break an overwhelming urge. A paper 2018 Posted in Addictive behavior, for example, found that patients who learned mindfulness-based practices reported lower levels of cravings. For most people, the best thing to do is recognize your desire, and then let go of the thought, returning your attention to your breathing.

Get ready to make it easier

If you took a psychology class in college, you probably remember Pavlov and his dog. Like Pavlov’s dog, your brain can anticipate the flow of dopamine the second you walk into a bar, hear a bottle cork on a counter, or listen to a cork popping out of a bottle of wine. . What many people forget about Pavlov’s experience, Grisel says, is that he also taught his dog to forget about the sound signal equal to food. “It’s called extinction. If you ring five to six times without eating, the dog will stop salivating, ”she explains. In other words, it will become easier. For the first three to four whenever you hear the noise of the traffic jam, Grisel suggests making sure you are in a place surrounded by supportive friends.

Finally, know that Dry January is a great exercise for occasional drinkers. For true alcoholics, however, stopping should be done under the supervision of a physician. Stopping alcohol after long-term heavy drinking can cause additional problems, Jaffe says. If you think it could be you, call your doctor before making any serious changes.

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