Dry January is a Bad Idea!by Dr Emma Gray - 1st January, 2023
Dry January is a Bad Idea!
At a glance it seems that giving up alcohol for a whole month, especially after the excesses of Christmas, is a good idea. However, on closer inspection is it possible that this recently popular way of dealing with January is just another version of the feast or famine approach to life that we seem so drawn to.
As a society our relationship with alcohol is far from ideal. Its social acceptability has allowed many of us to fall into the trap of ‘using’ it to deal with the stresses and strain of life with some unknowingly falling into functioning alcoholism. Dry January may seem like the answer to this problem but it is in fact just supporting the problem by creating another opportunity to swing from one extreme to the other and then back again. What is going to feel more appealing on 1st February, celebrating the achievement of a month of sobriety by having a big drink up or, opting for a path of measured and sustained moderation?
Human beings have a tendency towards an all or nothing way of thinking and behaving, a result of our desire for a quick fix and a predisposition to make sense of things by categorising them. Things are good or bad, right or wrong, a success or a failure. Despite knowing that most of life happens in the shades of grey we persist in imposing a black or white template on to our experiences.
Our approach to food and diet is a good example of this. Most of us will spend our lives vacillating between strict (ish) dieting where we restrict our calorie intake or certain foods and periods of overindulgence. Despite all the advice that indicates that the healthiest approach to eating is inclusive, balanced and steady we continue to reach for the extreme approaches that promise to take us quickly from fat to thin and in reality just as quickly back to where we were before or worse.
You can see this pattern in the way we think about things, for example achievement. We don’t tend to think about achievement in terms of degrees or as a continuum along which we move up and down through the course of our lives but as two extremes, success and failure. The result being, if we are not one than we must be the other.
Approaching life in this way, swinging from extremes, can have an very unsettling effect on our mood, if there are only 2 options and only one is desirable, we place ourselves in a vulnerable position, one where depression, anxiety and other mood difficulties are more likely to occur.
The advice after a period of overindulgence (e.g. at Christmas) is to simply return to moderation and balance. Overcompensating by swinging to the other extreme unsettles the mind and body and can push us into a cycle of moving from one end of the continuum to the other, never finding the middle ground. There are no bells and whistle attached to ‘Moderation January’, it certainly isn’t a conversation starter, but as a choice, it is probably a much healthier one.