We all know that doctors everywhere recommend we stop doing things like smoking, eating fatty/sugary foods – and drinking too much alcohol. And January has become a focus for the latter, with charity Alcohol Change UK running the annual Dry January campaign.
The idea is to give up alcohol for a month, as a bit of a cleanse and a health kick after imbibing too much over the festive season.
Here at Equipsme, we’re not convinced January is the month to turn over new leaves. With a long grey slog ahead of us until Spring, cutting out the things that help us get through the short days inevitably results in failure. So this year we’re not joining a gym. We’re not going on a diet. We’re not doing New Year New You. We’re not even going dry for dry January - but we are going DAMP…
Because you don’t have to commit to Dry January in an all-or-nothing way and end up berating yourself for slipping off the waggon. You can cut back, allow yourself a little every now and again, and congratulate yourself for going dry-ER.
And there are lots and lots of good reasons to do so…
Why is cutting back on alcohol good for me?
Well it does all sorts of good things for your body, like lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes risk and even the number of cancer-related proteins in your blood. But according to Alcohol Change UK, 86% of people taking part in Dry January also save money, 70% sleep better, and 65% just generally feel better. All that sounds like it could be worth it…
What does excessive alcohol use do to your body?
Well in the short term the physical risks of alcohol misuse include things like falling over, being in an accident, risky sexual behaviour, and alcoholic poisoning that can lead you to being sick, pass out or even have a fit.
Longer term the list of potential damage includes heart disease, strokes, liver disease, liver cancer, bowel cancer, mouth cancer, breast cancer and pancreatitis. In fact, alcohol is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability for people aged 15-49 in the UK.
It's also worth saying that misusing alcohol can have an impact on your mental health, your behaviour, your concentration, your ability to function in day to day life - and your relationships, too.
How much alcohol is too much alcohol?
The NHS reckons that men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. A unit of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol, which is around half a pint of ordinary beer/lager/cider, or a small shot measure of spirits. A small 125ml glass of wine is around 1.5 units.
People are also advised to spread that allowance over a week, but also not to drink every single day, so they have ‘days off’ the alcohol altogether.
If you want to check how many units you’re drinking, try Alcohol Change UK’s unit calculator.
How do I know if alcohol is getting to be a problem for me?
If you’re worried about how much you’re drinking, it’s probably a sign you’re drinking too much. Maybe you feel bad about it, or other people have criticised your drinking. If your drinking is causing you to miss important things, if you can’t remember what you do when you’re drunk, or if you need a drink first thing in the morning to be able to face the day - it’s probably time to consider whether you’re drinking too much.
A dependent drinker might also experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking, things like shaking hands, sweating, hallucinations, depression and insomnia.
How do I take part in Dry (or damp) January?
Taking part in Dry January is really easy – there’s even an App you can download to help you track your progress, understand your drinking habits, and see what you’re saving in terms of money, calories and health.
Alcohol Change UK has found that having the App can double your chances of an alcohol free month. And 70% of those who use it end up drinking more healthily long after January ends.
Remember though, if your body is reliant on alcohol stopping drinking very suddenly can actually be dangerous. If you do get the shakes, sweats or other serious withdrawal symptoms, it’s time to see a Doctor and discuss how you can safely cut down.
How can I access more help about my alcohol use?
There are great resources out there to help you cut down your alcohol use:
If you don’t want to go to your local GP, you can always turn to your Equipsme plan. You can make an appointment to talk to a GP at a time to suit you – including on evenings and weekends.
How can I start stopping?
1. Make a realistic plan
Don’t feel like you have to go all in or all out. Cutting down is a great place to start – join us in a Damp January! Remember, Damp January starts every day of the month, so just take it a day at a time and don’t put too much pressure – or guilt - on yourself.
2. Set a limit
Before you go out, set yourself a limit – and stick to it. Try writing it down or setting a phone reminder to ping at you, or a budget limit you can’t go over.
3. Avoid filler-uppers
If you are having a drink, have one you can control. Drinking wine in a group means someone can easily refill your glass and you can easily lose track of how much you’ve had.
4. Talk about it
Let family and friends know you’re doing Damp January – so they can help keep you on track.
5. Go small
Time for a small glass of wine, a half pint, a bottle of beer, or a lower alcohol version.
Have a coke or a water in between each alcoholic drink. It slows you down, fills you up, and keeps you hydrated.
Try only having alcohol with food, helping to soak it up and limiting heavy or steady drinking.