January is coming to an end, which marks a milestone for those taking part in thealcohol-free challenge. But it also presents a question about what comes next for those who ditched drinking for the month.
While some may want to take a longer break from booze or stay sober for good, others will opt to return to alcohol. In any case, experts say there are a few things to be mindful of.
If you're not sure what path is best for you, reflection can be a useful way to transition into February, says Dr. Aimee Chiligiris, a clinical psychologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Questions you might ask yourself include:
- What are some of the reasons I wanted to make this change?
- What do I want my relationship with alcohol to look like in the future?
- What are the health benefits I noticed?
- Were there any other shifts I noticed when not drinking?
Drinking after Dry January? "Go slow"
If you do return to alcohol, there are a few things to keep in mind for your health.
"After abstaining from alcohol for a month, your tolerance for alcohol will be lower, so it will take less alcohol than it used to for you to feel the effects," says Dr. Sarah Church, a clinical psychologist and founder and executive director of Wholeview Wellness. "Go slow and try to be mindful of how you are feeling so you don't overdo it. You want to gradually introduce alcohol back into your routines."
You may have also experienced some positive health changes during Dry January that you'll want to maintain, including:
- Improved sleep
- Lowered blood pressure
- Clearer skin
- Increased focus
- Weight loss
A return to heavy alcohol consumption in February can lead to the reversal of these benefits, Church says.
"To protect your investment in your health, consider reintroducing alcohol in moderation and pay close attention to see if there is backsliding on the improvements that are important to you," she suggests.
Or, instead of going back to a previous level of alcohol consumption, Church suggests considering a "damp" or "dry-ish" month approach, where you reintroduce alcohol but with more moderation and mindfulness.
"You might want to set a number of days per week that you don't drink, or you may want to set an upper limit on how many drinks you have on the days that you do drink," she says.
Staying sober after Dry January
If you enjoyed the changes you saw with no alcohol, or discovered you had a more problematic relationship with it than you previously realized, your dry journey doesn't have to stop in January.
"Overall we're seeing more people being more socially acceptable and encouraged to take breaks from alcohol or say, 'I'm not drinking tonight.' So at any time this can be something that can be implemented," Chiligiris says, adding that it can also be helpful to get professional support if you need.
As you lean into your alcohol-free journey, Church suggests a few more tips:
Check in with yourself
"Identify your reasons for drinking and find alternative ways to achieve those objectives without alcohol," she says, pointing out you've likely already tried a few of them during Dry January. "Reflect on the ones that were most successful and consider adopting them long-term."
Stock up on spirit-free options
"Make sure to have lots ofboth in your home and when you go to parties and social gatherings," she says, this can include sparkling water, non-alcoholic beer and more.
Communicate your plans
Church also suggests sharing your goal with friends and family and asking for their support.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with alcohol, help is available via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
for more features.