January is coming to an end – and, in the company of 20% of adult Americans (a statistic highlighted in a Morning Consult poll), you’ve gone through the month alcohol-free (1). What now? After having experienced the numerous health benefits associated with sobriety (e.g., improved sleep, increased energy levels, and weight loss), going back to your old drinking habits post-“Drynuary” may not be particularly appealing. But, at the same time, you can’t help but feel intimidated by the prospect of staying sober for life. Because … how? It’s a real dilemma.
To help you out of this tight spot, this article outlines strategies that may bolster your chances of long-term sobriety.
#1: Identify external triggers
A big part of preventing alcohol consumption is understanding your external triggers (2, 3). Or, in other words, the specific people, places, things, and situations that elicit thoughts or cravings associated with alcohol intake. So, take a moment now to examine your past relationship with alcohol. Think about who you were with (e.g., college mates), what you were doing (e.g., partying), and the places you went (e.g., your favorite neighborhood bar) when you drank. Once you’ve identified your biggest risks, you can then create a plan to prepare for or avoid them.
So, for instance, let's say that you're prone to imbibing with your college mates. One thing you could do is inform them in advance of your plans to stay sober – and suggest activities that have nothing to do with alcohol. Examples include hiking, biking, or taking up a class together. Worried that your friends would hate you? Newsflash: true friends will support your journey. So, if yours don't? Find new ones who would.
#2: Adopt healthy eating habits
Food and alcohol consumption are intricately linked (4). Like many people, chances are, you would have avoided eating before a night's out in anticipation of the calorie intake from alcoholic drinks. Unfortunately, while that may ultimately translate into "saved" calories, you risk over-indulging in alcohol (i.e., drink all the calories you initially allocated to a proper meal) because you already “planned” for your intake. An obvious solution to this? Eat a healthy, balanced meal that keeps you satisfied before heading out with friends. Feeling full is likely to prevent you from craving alcohol – helping you stay sober long term, one night at a time.
But wait. What does a healthy, balanced meal look like? It'll contain a good balance of food from the essential food groups: carbohydrates, protein, fat, fruits, and veggies. In addition to increasing your chances of long-term sobriety, adopting healthier eating habits (increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables, in particular) also go a long way in promoting optimal gut and liver health (5, 6, 7). Why’s that important, you ask? Well, all those years of drinking alcohol in the past? It might have caused a plethora of liver and gut issues – from inflammation (which may lead to fatty liver disease and increased intestinal permeability) to an imbalance between “good” and “bad” gut bacteria (8, 9, 10, 11). Note: you may also want to supplement your health-boosting efforts with Dr. Danielle’s Probiotics, Gut Assist and Liver Assist for quicker results.
#3: Opt for non-alcoholic drinks
Let’s be honest. As you may have found out during your “Drynuary” stint, sometimes, abstinence can mean a lot more than simply giving up alcohol. It also means forgoing a whole range of social and professional activities you associate with drinking – as per strategy #1. So, no more hanging out in bars with friends. No bars at all. No dinner parties where champagnes tend to be served, no networking sessions where alcohol acts as a disinhibitory lubricant. Find the thought of it miserable?
There’s good news for you. And it comes in the form of non-alcoholic (N.A.) drinks, which are practically indistinguishable from alcoholic ones at first glance. A good example is N.A. beers. Now, you may be wondering … how do the brewers remove the alcohol? Well, it depends. Some of them use thermal processes like vacuum distillation or the employment of centrifugal disks in a spinning cone, while others use membrane-separation processes like reverse osmosis or dialysis (12). Note: the latter retains most of the original flavor and aroma, so if you’re someone who drinks alcohol for the taste and smell of it, this would be a better option.
Either way, all N.A. drinks generally contain less than 0.5% ABV by the end of it. That said, 0.5% ABV is still alcohol – no matter how little. Thankfully, alcoholic-free drinks exist for those who wish to stay clear of any ABV at all. Just like N.A. drinks, alcohol-free options provide you with something to hold and drink at social occasions and business dinners without sticking out like a sore thumb (plus, you get to avoid potentially awkward questions like, “Why are you not drinking?”)
#4: Find new modes of decompression
What do you do when stressed? Research suggests that you – along with most adults globally – would gravitate towards the comfort of alcohol (13). And that’s understandable. Alcohol increases activity in your dopamine neurons in the mesolimbic pathway, plus opioid cells that release endorphins (14, 15). Both produce feelings of pleasure, joy, and euphoria, effectively distracting you from your stressors. But, as we all know, alcohol isn’t exactly the healthiest stress-relieving measure you could depend on.
After all, chronic alcohol consumption could also lead to various chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems (16). Luckily, many healthy stress management techniques are available. Examples include practicing gratitude (which could help you combat stress in the first place), exercising, yoga, and spending time with loved ones (17, 18). Psst: also consider supplementing with Dr. Danielle’s Stress Lift and/or Joy Assist – both formulated with ashwagandha, nature’s most potent stress-reliever.
#5: Get support
Time and again, studies show the importance of support systems in maintaining long-term sobriety (19, 20, 21). Wait – support systems? If you're uncomfortable with the idea of recovery support systems (where, typically, you'd have to report your progress to someone in a professional setting), don't worry. The term "support system" refers to a network of people who provide practical or social support, and this can include your family members, friends, neighbors, and even members of organizations you're a part of (e.g., churches or clubs).
Simply spending more time with supportive individuals in your life can help you develop a healthier life and avoid situations (i.e., triggers) in which you would typically drink. That said, be mindful that you may discover that certain individuals may not be able to support you in the ways you need. Maybe they're dealing with issues of their own. Perhaps they're not keen. Either way, don't force them. Instead, focus on finding the "right" individuals who'll help keep you away from alcohol. But what if there's no one suitable in your life? An alternative is turning to online options, like Reddit or Facebook forums. Who knows? You may end up with a few new friends to hang out with!
#6: Practice mindfulness
Here's a disclaimer. While a large part of this article has discussed "sobriety" as synonymous with total abstinence, the truth is that it doesn't have to be. In fact, according to the word's definition, "sobriety" means "the state of not being drunk" (22). Yep, it’s something like a loophole. A loophole that you could make use of – especially if the thought of cutting out alcohol from your life makes you feel downright miserable. So, this begs the question: how can you prevent yourself from becoming drunk? Answer: moderation. Instead of drinking five glasses of wine at a party, drink just one (although, admittedly, this still hinges on your alcohol tolerance).
And as for how, exactly, you could moderate your drinking behaviors without relying on the all-too-fallible willpower? The key may lie in practicing mindful drinking. A 2017 study – published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology – of 68 heavy drinkers found that those who received 11 minutes of mindfulness instruction reduced their alcohol consumption significantly the following week (23). Researchers believe the "microdose of meditation" may have helped the heavy drinks regulate their emotions, encouraging them to rely on mindfulness when they might otherwise turn to alcohol to cope with stress.
So, how can you practice "mindful drinking"? The fundamental underlying idea is to be more intentional about the drinks you choose to consume. Pay attention to the sensation of drinking. How does the wine (or beer) taste? What prompted you to crave alcohol? Are you having a good time? By encouraging you to identify the impact alcohol has on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, mindful drinking could help you realize that you may not need as many drinks as you thought you did to enjoy yourself.
Total abstinence or not, your body will thank you
Ultimately, the choice between total abstinence or moderation comes down to personal preferences. No matter which you go with, though, you can be sure that your body will thank you for it. Need a refresher on the associated long-term health benefits? How about this: a lowered risk of some cancers (e.g., breast, colorectal, head and neck, liver, and esophageal), plus cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome. Oh, and one final point. If you find yourself unable to control your alcohol intake post-Dry January, consider talking to a therapist or health professional. Remember that help is always available.