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February 14, 2022 • read

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10 tips to prepare for a dry month

Going dry for February or at the beginning of the year comes with many health benefits. The negative effects of drinking alcohol are wide-ranging, and even moderate drinkers aren’t immune to them. Here’s how to go dry for February, and why you may want to give it a go.

What does going dry mean?

Going dry means giving up alcohol for a period of time. It comes from “drying out,” a colloquial term traditionally referring to alcoholics who cease drinking. If you don’t drink often, quitting alcohol for a month probably isn’t a big deal. 

If alcohol consumption is a more regular part of your life, however, it’s good to have some strategies in place before you begin. Here are the top 10 tips to prepare for a dry month:

1. Prepare your spiel

If you have a regular weekly drink with your coworkers they’ll likely wonder why you’re not participating as usual. Some might even pressure you to drink. Preparing a little spiel about why you aren’t can help you stick to your plan and steer clear of any peer pressure.

2. Have alternatives available

If you’ll be socializing in a setting where alcohol is available and you’re uncomfortable telling people you’re not drinking, have a backup plan. Sipping soda with lime can help you blend in while staying alcohol-free. Or, try a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail for a delicious and alcohol-free treat.

3. Enlist support

Being the only sober person around can be hard. Reach out to your friends, family, and coworkers to see if anyone is interested in participating in a dry month with you.

4. Change your schedule

If you’re used to having a nightly glass of wine, environmental triggers can push you into old patterns. Break any associations by switching up your schedule. Take a class, go for a walk, or pick up a hobby to fill that time instead.

5. Don’t keep alcohol in your house

If you drink alone, having alcohol in the house can be tempting. Stop buying alcohol in advance of your dry month and remove any before you start.

6. Broaden your horizons

If your social group tends to gather around drinks, suggest a different activity to enjoy together instead. Visiting an escape room, going skating, or even an art class might just prove to be more fun.

7. Track your progress

Giving up alcohol for a whole month is a big deal! Try journaling to track your progress. Writing down how you feel on a daily basis can make you more aware of the positive physiological and psychological effects of giving up alcohol. Plus, you’ll have a visual reminder of your accomplishment.

8. Plan ahead

If you think going dry will be challenging, identify supports before you start. Brainstorm a list of favourite activities or supportive people you can reach out to if you feel a craving for alcohol coming on. Watching a comedy special, calling your mom, or throwing yourself a quick dance party might be all the distraction you need to reset.

9. Celebrate your success

Giving up alcohol for 28 days — or longer — can be really challenging. Break the month into smaller chunks and celebrate each milestone. You can buy yourself a small gift or indulge in a yummy treat to recognize your achievements.

10. Don’t scrimp on self-care

Alcohol is a common way of dealing with stress. Instead of reaching for a drink, try a yoga or meditation class. Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep and eating a balanced diet as well. The healthier you feel, the easier the process will be.

What happens to your body during a dry month?

If you drink rarely or in moderation, going dry likely won’t cause many noticeable changes. If, however, your drinking is on the heavier side — more than four drinks a day for women or more than five for men — you might feel some significant effects. 

It’s not always possible to predict, but if you drink regularly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Alcohol is a nervous system depressant, and withdrawal symptoms typically cause the pendulum to swing the other way. Consequently, quitting drinking can initially provoke symptoms like anxiety. Other disruptions in mood are also possible and could include irritability, agitation, and depression. For heavy drinkers, the physical effects can be even more severe, including tremors, elevated blood pressure, excessive sweating, and rapid heartbeat.

Regardless of whether you drink heavily or more moderately, insomnia after quitting drinking is a common complaint, and it can cause a host of difficulties. Sleep is crucial for your health and lack of it can play a role in relapse. It should be noted, however, that 75% of active drinkers also experience insomnia. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, you may want to consider speaking to a sleep therapist.

Is it worth giving up alcohol for just a month?

The short answer is yes. Alcohol changes your gut microbiota, resulting in inflammation and suppressing your immune system, so heavy drinkers get sick a lot. Quitting drinking can help to rebalance your inner microbiome and give your immune system a chance to reboot itself. This lessens your chances of coming down with a respiratory infection and leads to better health overall. You’re likely to experience feeling more alert, better focus, deeper sleep, and better skin.

How much does alcohol increase your risk for cancer?

Alcohol is a carcinogen, which means that its relationship with cancer is undeniable. Current Canadian guidelines allow for moderate drinking, so you might think that this applies to heavy drinkers exclusively. 

Research shows, however, that moderate drinkers account for 14% of alcohol-related cancers. This is especially true for women who increase their risk for breast cancer by 30-50% even with moderate drinking. And according to the Canadian Cancer Society, smoking while drinking is worse for you than doing either alone. Quitting drinking solves all of this, automatically lowering your risk for breast, esophageal, liver, lip, mouth, and colon cancer, among others. 

What are the benefits of a dry month challenge? Are there any long-term benefits?

You may think that quitting drinking for a month has few benefits, but it can actually lead to powerful change. Reassessing your relationship with alcohol can give you a sense of agency. 

It may also have a domino effect, inspiring you to make healthier decisions in other aspects of your life as well. Beyond that, however, it can deliver real physiological benefits as well. Here’s what you stand to gain by participating in a dry month challenge:

1. A sense of control and agency

Even if you drink in moderation, you might see certain situations as almost impossible to get through without alcohol. Successfully completing a dry month challenge can give you a powerful sense of what you’re capable of. Going dry for a month gives you the opportunity to look at where, when, and why you drink, and whether your drinking behaviour could use a change.

2. Mental clarity

Dehydration alone causes fatigue, affects your working memory, and lowers your ability to pay attention. And research shows that even moderate drinking affects your cognitive abilities. That’s why some of the classic symptoms of a hangover are regret and brain fog. Stop drinking for a month and feel your focus and concentration improve.

3. Increase your liver health

Your liver is responsible for processing the body’s toxins, including alcohol. While your liver can handle a certain amount of alcohol, drinking excessively can damage it. Quitting drinking gives your liver a break and a chance to repair itself, reducing potential health issues such as liver disease.

4. Decrease your risk of cancer

Alcohol is one of the top causes of preventable cancers. Abstaining from alcohol can dramatically lower your risk for cancer.

5. Decrease your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease

The jury’s still out on whether a nightly glass of red wine is actually good for your heart. What is clear, however, is that excessive drinking increases your risk for both stroke and heart disease. If you’re a woman who often drinks four or more alcoholic drinks at a time or a man who drinks five, going dry can help to cut your risk.

6. Better skin

Alcohol doesn’t just affect your insides, it can also show up in your appearance. Because of its dehydrating effects, even one night of drinking can dry out your skin and cause under-eye puffiness. Alcohol also causes inflammation, resulting in redness and flushing. Over time, this can become a permanent feature of your complexion along with wrinkles

7. Better sleep

While there’s no denying that a few drinks will ease you off to sleep, alcohol won’t help you stay there. Consuming alcohol is notorious for disrupting sleep. Even if you manage to get a full night in, alcohol lowers the quality of the sleep you do get.

8. Better sex

Yup, this one is real! Alcohol is a nervous system depressant so it interferes with signals travelling to your nerve endings. Essentially, the more you drink the less you feel — especially down there. 

It can also affect your blood circulation, leading to erectile dysfunction. If you typically have a couple of drinks before getting busy, get ready to be astonished at how good sober sex can be. 

9. Weight loss

If you drink a nightly light beer or vodka soda, going dry removes about 100 calories a day from your diet. Over time, eliminating that nightly drink removes the equivalent of three chocolate bars a week from your calorie count. But if you’re a nightly red wine drinker and like a generous glass, quitting drinking means you could be foregoing the equivalent of a daily chocolate bar. Over time, those drinks that weren’t consumed can add up to serious weight loss.

10. Save money

Whether you drink at home or out, alcohol isn’t free. Spending a month sober is sure to free up at least a little cash. Use it to pay down debt, top up your savings, or buy yourself something nice — you’ve earned it!

A dry month can be challenging. It can start to feel like booze is everywhere and you’re the only one not drinking. Whether you drink often or not, however, taking a short break from alcohol can provide both immediate and long-lasting health benefits. 

It’s also an opportunity to reimagine your relationship with alcohol and can give you a sense of how much pull alcohol has in your life. Take it one day at a time, don’t beat yourself up if it’s hard to stick to your game plan, and celebrate the small wins — your four weeks will be up before you know it.

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