Loss is a challenging but unavoidable aspect of life. Even from an early age, we experience the loss of people, animals, or objects that are important to us. Whether you’ve recently lost someone important to you or you’re curious about the process of grief, understanding what it is can help us move through it with some more ease.
Grief is defined as a person’s reaction to loss during or after a traumatic event, which can include the loss of a life or drastic changes in routine or ways of life that were previously comfortable or happy. As defined by Dr. Andrew Huberman, an American neuroscientist, grief is a process, a motivational state of yearning and desire for something. It is not just about sadness, but both a state of pain and wanting.
Misconceptions and Stages of Grief
Grief is not depression. Grief and depression are two separate things. Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. On the other hand, grief is essentially not a sad feeling. The process of grief is an attempt to reach out and get something you really want.
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are 5 Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Denial is the initial stage of trying to survive the loss by thinking nothing makes sense and going numb. Once denial starts to fade away, we start to live in reality again and anger might start to set in. This is the stage when we blame others for the cause of our grief. Sometimes, the anger is redirected to family and close friends. The next stage is believing we can avoid grief by engaging in some sort of negotiation. Bargaining usually sounds like “If I had done xyz, then everything would be different”. The desperation to go back to how everything was before the loss is so strong, that we are willing to make drastic changes just to get things back to normal. Depression is the most accepted form of grief. We may find ourselves not wanting to talk and be surrounded by other people, or at its worst, experiencing suicidal thoughts. The last stage of grief is acceptance. This is when we come to terms with the new reality and recognize that we’ll be okay.
Three Dimensions of Relationships
Understanding the dimensions in which we map our relationship to persons, animals, and things helps us understand why it hurts when these are no longer accessible to us. Dr. Huberman, in his podcast on The Science & Process of Healing from Grief, has identified three dimensions of relationships: Space, Time and Closeness (Emotional Attachment). Space is the physical proximity in which we can identify a particular person (animal or thing). Time refers to the amount of time it would take to reach this particular person (animal or thing). Closeness refers to the emotional attachment we have to these people, animals, or things or how bonded we feel to them.
Having a relationship with someone usually entails predicting where and when we can be with them in order to feed our emotional attachment. However, when we lose access to them the ability to compute the space (where) and time (when) to reach them becomes destroyed while the closeness (emotional attachment) remains. This is incredibly difficult for the brain to comprehend and this is where the process of grief comes in.
Re-mapping the Dimensions and Coping with Grief
Our brain has created a “memory bank” for everything with which we have a relationship. When we think about seeing someone, our brain immediately predicts where and when we can see them. However, it becomes disorienting if we are still emotionally attached to someone who we can no longer locate in space and time.
According to neuroscience, the best approach to grief is to remap these three dimensions to help us move through the grieving process. This can be achieved by acknowledging the emotional attachment while accepting that we will no longer be able to “locate” this person. We keep the sense of closeness, but we must separate it from the other two dimensions.
This can be achieved by acknowledging the emotional attachment whenever the pang of grief hits. People have different ways of doing this: journaling about the thoughts and feelings that arise, writing a letter to the person we have lost, practicing mindfulness to move through the emotions. This last one is one of my favorites because I can practice it anywhere at any time. What I do is close my eyes and place my hand over my heart. I notice where I’m experiencing the emotion in my body (tightness in my throat, heaviness in my chest, tension around my eyes) and I practice taking big, deep belly breaths until I notice a change.
In order to effectively help the brain remap the loss, it’s important to stay focused on the present and not fall into “what if” thinking. What does it feel like RIGHT NOW? Even though this person, animal, or thing is no longer present in my life, how am I experiencing my love for them IN THIS VERY MOMENT? How am I experiencing their love for me at this moment?
The loss of a loved one can be overwhelming, but many people get through it with the help of family and friends. Take care of yourself, accept offers of assistance from those around you, and seek counseling if necessary.
Should you need help going through the grieving process, here’s a list for you to check out:
Have you noticed the buzz around buzz-free alcohol? Maybe your favorite Instagram influencer is posting about Monday Gin or the Athletic Brewing Company. Has an alcohol-free bar opened up in your neighborhood yet? If so, you can thank the Sober Curious movement.
Sober Curious is a phrase coined by author Ruby Warrington in 2016. According to her interview on ABC News, Ruby wanted to create a term that was non-judgmental and open-ended enough to really give herself permission to explore questions about drinking.
Sober Curious may have had its origins in the existing month-long sobriety challenges like Dry January and Sober October. What makes Sober Curious different is its focus on one’s relationship with alcohol as a personal choice. There’s a common misconception that cutting out alcohol means life becomes uninteresting, unpleasurable, and less fun. The Sober Curious movement tries to see this change from a different perspective – could my life be better without alcohol? Curiosity allows for flexibility without forcing oneself to commit to a change. Perhaps the Sober Curious movement has become a trend because people can experiment with sobriety while breaking from the stigma long associated with it. In other words, you don’t have to be an alcoholic to try sobriety.
There’s a fear that sobriety comes with loneliness. Alcohol goes hand in hand with being social and people who want to stop feeling lonely often rely on drinking. However, studies show that loneliness can be intensified with drinking and increases the risk of alcohol misuse.
Most of us are aware of the potential negative effects of alcohol to our bodies and yet it remains a compelling way to celebrate or escape. According to research, alcohol consumption in the US increased during the COVID 19 pandemic. COVID has made this impact due to stress triggered by financial difficulties, social isolation, uncertainty about the future, and boredom. It’s no secret that most people lean on alcohol to destress, socialize, celebrate milestones, and cope with challenges. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85.6% of people ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime and 25.8% of these people are reported to engage in binge drinking in the past month. Each one of us has a different relationship towards alcohol but being able to take a break from drinking might help you realize it’s not really necessary for you to have fun or manage stress in general.
If you aren’t dependent on alcohol but just want to evaluate the impact alcohol has on your life, the Sober Curious movement might be right for you. With Sober Curious, there’s no timeline for when you should start or end sobriety. The idea is aimed at helping validate your questions about drinking and creating a community for those curious about sobriety.
Anyone can benefit from being Sober Curious. You might want to address your drinking habits even if you don’t have a drinking problem. You might have noticed that drinking doesn’t really do much to address your problems anyway and often leaves you feeling more anxious, something known as Hangxiety. You may not feel a need to quit entirely, but you recognize that taking a break might help you find more productive ways of managing life’s challenges.
Going Sober Curious gives you the opportunity to see how sobriety or moderation might fit into your life – it is not a permanent change, at least not necessarily. Some people choose to avoid alcohol for two weeks, one month, or even up to a year. Others don’t set any time limit but commit to going without “for now” or “indefinitely.” The beauty of this strategy is in its flexibility.
You might decide to have a drink on occasion after weighing what you like and don’t like about alcohol. Many Sober Curious people who notice troubling patterns with their drinking often find that a few weeks or months of sobriety helps them practice more moderate and mindful drinking in the future. And what about all the health advantages that come with sobriety? Consider them a bonus!
We can extend the concept of Sober Curious beyond drinking to other behaviors as well – use of recreational drugs, smoking, and other potentially addictive behaviors. Being curious about our own tendencies, patterns, behaviors, and motives can be the game-changer. We tend to become fixated on a coping strategy when we believe it’s the only solution to our problem. Use curiosity and creativity to explore other ways of feeling better. You might just surprise yourself.
Should you want to learn more about Sober Curious Movement, here are some helpful resources:
- The Verywell Podcast
- Sober Curious Books:
– Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol
– The Sober Curious Reset: Change the Way You Drink in 100 Days or Less
- Youtube videos:
– Being ‘Sober Curious,’ an approach to not drinking with better wellness in mind
– Ruby Warrington: Sober Curious | Commune Podcast
– The ‘Sober Curious’ Movement: What Is it?
- Online articles:
– The rise of the sober curious: having it all, without alcohol
– The Beginner’s Guide To The Sober-Curious Community
If you believe your relationship with alcohol is problematic and you need more support, there are plenty of resources that address alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. Self-help resources like How to Change Your Drinking, Responsible Drinking, and Power Over Addiction (shameless self-promotion) can help you address problematic drinking. (Full disclosure, I make a small commission if you purchase books via these links).
If abstinence is your long-term goal, free community groups like AA, Refuge Recovery, and SMART Recovery are widely available. If you prefer to try moderation, check out Moderation Management groups or look for a harm reduction therapy group in your area. Meeting regularly with people who share your experience creates a sense of belongingness, understanding, and compassion and these have a huge impact on improving one’s relationship with alcohol.
If your history with alcohol is chronically problematic or if you’re also coping with depression, anxiety, or trauma then psychotherapy sessions – individual therapy and groups – can be especially helpful. Find a licensed professional who specializes in addiction or alcohol treatment and who will support you regardless in either moderation or abstinence.
Let us know if you decide to go Sober Curios. We’d love to hear how it goes and provide any additional resources you may need.Learn More
Drug of choice can say a lot about a person or what they’re coping with. People choose drugs that will best help them cope with underlying problems. Sometimes these problems include severe mental illness. Addiction can occur when drugs or compulsive behaviors are relied upon for alleviation from multiple or serious problems.
Alcohol is often sought out by those who have a hard time expressing themselves, especially if coupled with social anxiety. It makes you feel loose and carefree by releasing GABA and suppressing glutamate in the brain. The soothing and disinhibiting effects are also helpful to people in emotional pain, such as someone suffering from grief. Sometimes people with trauma histories turn to alcohol to soothe their psychic wounds. People with schizophrenia sometimes use alcohol to quiet auditory hallucinations.
Amphetamines give you a rush of pleasure and boosts energy and focus by altering norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. They may be sought out by someone who is depressed and has been unable to feel pleasure for some time. Improved focus may be sought after by someone with ADHD. Anti-psychotic medication can have dulling and flattening side effects and sometimes people with schizophrenia seek out the alertness and energy of stimulants. Nicotine is used by 95% of people with schizophrenia because of its ability to increase concentration and focus.
Opiates may help someone who is feeling irritable, stressed, or moody by blocking endorphin receptor sites in the brain and increasing feelings of euphoria. People who have experienced trauma or are in significant emotional pain may also turn to opiates to help soothe and forget their painful memories. Traumatized people may also turn to dissociatives for their ability to induce out of body experiences.
Hallucinogens and ecstasy create a sense of connection and feelings of warmth and empathy by altering serotonin and norepinephrine receptor sites. Someone with anxiety or an inability to feel pleasure may turn to these drugs for comfort.
Recreational and pharmaceutical drugs work on the same systems in the brain. So if your drug use is an attempt to self-medicate an underlying problem, speaking to a trained professional can help you find healthier alternatives to cope.
Photo credit: MarrincLearn More
In the previous installment of this series, we learned that dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and euphoria, but it has other functions as well. And dopamine isn’t the only chemical messenger in the brain.
Dopamine is just one of dozens of neurotransmitters. It is the most well known chemical messenger and is responsible for feelings of pleasure, coordination of movement, and logical thinking. It is responsible for “the rush” one feels when they use a recreational drug and it also influences the addictive potential of a drug. It is released when we do things that are important for survival, like sleeping, eating, and having sex. Dopamine sends the message “That feels good! Do it again!”
Norepinephine is one of the brain’s natural stimulants. It is responsible for increased alertness and focus and is involved with learning and memory processes. Norepinephrine is also involved in the fight or flight response. It signals the release of adrenaline in your body to prepare you for survival in the face of imminent danger. It sends the message “Fight!” or “Run!”
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the brain’s Valium. It relaxes the brain by suppressing overexcitement or hyperactivity, while allowing us to remain alert and focused. Low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety and seizure.
Glutamate stimulates various activities throughout the brain. We don’t know much about how it is involved in mood regulation.
Serotonin plays several complex roles in the brain. It is involved in regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and sex drive. Low levels of serotonin are associated with aggression, irritability, and depression. Serotonin is also responsible for hallucinations and regulating other neurotransmitters.
Endorphins are the brain’s natural opiates. They influence the perception and control of physical and emotional pain. In addition to pain relief, they are responsible for feelings of well-being, happiness, and euphoria.
Drugs act on these messenger chemicals to increase, decrease, or alter their release or reuptake. Our brain is wired to recognize these chemicals and accept their messages. The difference is that drugs relay the message better, faster, and in a much more intense way. Research shows us that life experiences affect the development of the brain, including how neurotransmitters work. For example, someone who has experienced trauma may find it difficult to feel pleasure or regulate their mood due to low levels of dopamine and serotonin. This may cause them to turn to externally supplied chemicals to balance the levels of neurotransmitters in their brain.
The next, and final, installment of this series will explain why some people turn to recreational drugs in an attempt to balance the chemical messengers of the brain.
Photo credit: Life Mental HealthLearn More
Addiction is scary. It has caused pain in many people’s lives and has cost families and governments trillions of dollars to treat and prevent. It’s no surprise that social service agencies want to educate the general population about the harms of addiction. You may have seen this public service announcement comparing the addicted brain to fried eggs. The image is powerful, yes, but it is not educational. This is what actually happens in your brain when you take drugs.
Above is an image of a neuron. Our brain is filled with billions of these nerve cells and fibers. They contain genetic information and also serve as messengers. They transmit information through fibers from one cell to another via electrical charges. Neurons generate messenger chemicals, or neurotransmitters, to transmit information from cell to cell. The electrical charge travels through the dendrites, cell body (or soma), axon, and terminal bud down to the synapse, the gap between neurons where the magic happens.
Neurotransmitters live in the terminal bud of neurons. An electrical charge comes through the neuron and releases the messenger chemicals. The chemicals then float across the synapse and attach to the neighboring cell for a short amount of time in a process called neurotransmission. Once the message has been relayed, they return to their home cell. This process is called reuptake. For example, if you were to burn your hand on the stove, nerve cells in your muscles would send a message to the neurons in your brain saying, “Ouch!” Your brain sends a message back down to the muscles in your arm to pull your hand back. At the same time, the message from your burning hand also alerts your brain to release endorphins, the brain’s natural pain reliever. The endorphins do their job and relieve the pain long enough so you can think to run cold water over your hand. Once the message has been communicated, the endorphins return to their home cell until the next electrical charge commands them to be released.
Above we have a close up of the synapse, the gap between neurons, and what happens when cocaine is present in the brain. The red arrows show the process of reuptake. The neurotransmitter dopamine has been released into the synapse to send a message to the neighboring cell. Once dopamine has completed its task, it attempts to go back home, but cocaine is blocking the way. Since dopamine can’t go back home it goes back to doing it’s job, binding to the neighboring cell. Dopamine’s loitering, so to speak, is what causes feelings of intense pleasure and euphoria.
Dopamine is only one of dozens of neurotransmitters in the brain. In the next installment, we identify the major neurotransmitters involved with drug use.Learn More
Drugs and compulsive behaviors have an impact on the reward center of the brain.
Addiction causes changes to brain structures that regulate pleasure, motivation, and decision making. Depending on the type of drug abused and the length of the abuse, these changes can be permanent. Other factors, such as pre-existing abnormalities in brain structure (like depression, schizophrenia, or ADHD) can also make the effects of drug misuse irreversible. The primary brain structures affected by drug use and compulsive behaviors are the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens, and the prefrontal cortex.
This is your brain
The VTA is the birthplace of dopamine, a chemical that signals the brain about pleasure. It is involved in cognition, motivation, intense feelings of love, addiction, and psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and ADHD.
The nucleus accumbens (NA) is the reward and pleasure center of the brain. It sends the chemical messenger of pleasure, dopamine, to various areas of the brain, depending on the message. Permanent changes occur to this brain structure with repeated drug use. These changes explain drug tolerance (needing to take more drugs to feel high) and drug withdrawal (physical and psychological discomfort when drug use stops abruptly). The NA is also involved in fear, aggression, laughter, impulsivity, and learning.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of the brain that separates us from other animals. It is involved in executive functioning, complex brain functions that include differentiating from good and bad or same and different, future consequences, predicting expectations based on actions, working towards a goal, and suppressing urges that might be deemed socially unacceptable. In the brain of addicted individuals, the PFC is thought to be involved in anticipation of the drug, motivation to seek out the drug, craving, automatic responses to emotions, and reduced self-control. Once a person becomes addicted, their attention narrows to focus on drug-related cues over all other reinforcers, impulsivity increases, and basic emotions become unregulated.
In the next installment, we’ll dive even deeper into the brain to look at the role drugs have in neurotransmission.
Photo credit: Lydia Kibiuk and BrainFacts.orgLearn More
Addiction is a biopsychosocial phenomenon that affects over 20 million people in the United States. The factors that cause addiction are not yet well understood, with some arguing that it is a disease and others suggesting it’s more complicated than that.
But we can identify some predictors for addiction and we do understand the impact it has on the brain.
This five part series will primarily focus on current understanding about the brain structures and neurotransmitters involved in addiction. We’ll also look at the interaction specific drugs have with neurotransmitters in the brain and how this accounts for preferences in drug selection. We’ll start with an overview of addiction theories then dive into the neurocircuitry and neurobiology of addiction. We’ll conclude by looking at the effect of drugs on neurotransmitters in the brain and discuss why one develops a drug of choice.
Theories of addiction
Although we don’t fully understand addiction, there are lots of theories that attempt to explain it. The most popular one is the disease model. It explains that addiction has a biological origin that causes changes in the brain. This model also accounts for the heredity of addiction, or genetic predisposition. Studies of twins who have been separated at birth show that they are likely to develop addictions, despite growing up in different home environments.
You may have also heard addiction described as a hijacker of the reward center of the brain. Brain imaging studies show that overuse of drugs or compulsive behaviors “hijack” the reward system and can lead to changes in the brain that make it difficult to experience pleasure as one did before.
Then there’s the self-medication hypothesis. It posits that people use drugs to help them cope with physical and/or emotional pain. It helps explain why people turn to specific drugs or compulsive behaviors to help them deal with things like depression, chronic pain, trauma, or grief.
But the best way to explain addiction is as a biopsychosocial phenomenon. We know that addiction has a biological component. It causes temporary and permanent changes in the brain and body. We also know there is a psychological component: an inability to cope with distressing emotions. The social component of addiction is related to peer culture, as they influence what you use, how you use it, or how (not) to deal with your emotions.
In the question about nature versus nurture, the answer might just be nature and nurture. Drugs affect us biologically and we may even be genetically predisposed to those effects. Your parents, family, friends, or lovers may have modeled addictive behaviors or inability to cope with emotions in a healthy manner.
The next installment of this series will focus on the neurocircuitry of addiction.
Photo credit: FaiizeLearn More
Counseling? Rehab? Support groups? How does one know where to start when it comes to choosing a substance abuse treatment program?
First, you’ll want to get a formal assessment from a licensed professional to determine which treatment option is appropriate for you. Some substance abuse treatment options to consider are support groups, inpatient, and outpatient treatment.
AA, NA and other 12 Step programs
Support groups led by peers that focus on helping a person abstain from substances or behaviors.
Pros: offer additional support and can be a good place to find additional resources and information, free, many locations, various meeting dates and times
Cons: Abstinence is the only treatment goal option, lack of clinically trained support staff, religious undertones, little to no treatment for underlying psychological issues
Inpatient substance abuse treatment
Patients are required to stay in a facility for a pre-determined amount of time varying from 15 to 90 days or more.
Pros: safe, contained environment, trained professional staff, 24/7 support, sometimes the facilities are relaxing and luxurious, intensive treatment, various modalities including individual therapy, group therapy, expressive arts
Cons: expensive (plus you’ll have to take time off work), limited contact with outside support system, intensive treatment, there may be limited availability in your area
Outpatient substance abuse treatment
Patients attend treatment once or several times per week and address underlying issues plus addiction.
Pros: individualized treatment, local, clinically trained professionals, choice of abstinence or moderation, various modalities to choose from including individual therapy, group therapy, partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient
Cons: some treatment options may be expensive, may not be enough support or treatment for your needs, availability may be limited in your area
A partial hospitalization program involves daily treatment for 6 to 8 hours per day for one to two weeks. This is a good substance abuse treatment option for those who cannot afford inpatient treatment but would like intensive therapy or who live far away from an outpatient treatment program that specializes in the care they need. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) involves daily treatment for 1 to 2 hours per day and can last up to several months. This option works well for those who need substance abuse treatment more than once per week or who have time commitments that prohibit them from seeking more intensive treatment. IOP can even be done in the evening after work.
Some people will need to go through medical drug detoxification before starting substance abuse treatment and in some cases it may be a prerequisite for admittance into a program. If you are dependent on a substance, (especially alcohol, opiates or benzodiazepines) it is advisable to detox under medical supervision to avoid complications and discomfort from withdrawals.
Never stop using alcohol or benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan) cold turkey! The withdrawal effects can be severe and life threatening. It is necessary that you detox from these substances under medical care if you have been using them daily and at high dosages.
A note about harm reduction and abstinence: Harm reduction is at the core of all substance abuse treatment programs – abstinence based and moderation management. Harm is reduced by abstaining from the problematic behavior or through reducing negative consequences associated with it.Learn More
Addiction is not a character flaw and it most definitely is not a choice.
Addiction is a biopsychosocial phenomenon that results in negative consequences and feelings of shame and guilt. Biological, psychological, and social factors culminate into a dependent relationship to a substance or compulsive behavior as a means of coping with distressing emotional, psychological, and environmental states.
More specifically, addiction is characterized by several criteria:
- the inability to resist an urge to consume a substance or engage in a behavior that is harmful
- an increase in tension or arousal before the act, followed by gratification and relief
- a noticeable increase in amount and frequency of the act in order to achieve the desired effect (e.g. pleasure or escape)
- over-investment of resources, such as time and money, to engage in the act
The emotions associated with addiction are one of the most notable elements. Shame, guilt and powerlessness are hallmarks of addiction and often lead to feelings of self-loathing and isolation. Individuals suffering from addiction are often misunderstood by their families and loved ones, causing them to lie and keep secrets.
This website offers information about addiction, drugs, and compulsive behaviors, including the latest news and research. Resources for people with an addiction and their loved ones can also be found here.
Informing yourself can be the first step in gaining power over your addiction.Learn More
Are you thinking of taking a break from drinking? Maybe you overdid it over the holidays or you’ve noticed that your alcohol intake has steadily increased since the pandemic started. Perhaps you just aren’t getting the same enjoyment from a glass of wine or you’d like to get a healthier start to the new year. Whatever the reason, the perfect opportunity to take a break from alcohol is Dry January.
What is Dry January?
Dry January is a public health campaign that encourages people to abstain from drinking alcohol for the whole month of January. It’s an opportune time to take a break from drinking after the excesses of the holidays and usually lines up with people’s intentions to start off the new year with healthier habits.
This is the most popular of the month-long sober campaigns, so you’re sure to encounter lots of resources and support. You’re more likely to be successful if you plan ahead and share your intentions with others. Find an accountability partner who will either participate in Dry January with you or check in about it regularly.
Is Dry January worth it?
Dry January lets you have a taste of sobriety without feeling overwhelmed by the idea of giving alcohol up forever. It’s a useful experiment for folks who are sober curious and a great way to establish healthier drinking habits.
In addition, you’ll save some money, get better sleep, and improve liver and brain function. 31 days may seem like a long time if you’ve been drinking regularly and the first two weeks are usually the hardest. But if you can commit, there’s a lot you can learn about your relationship with alcohol.
Without the ability to cope with alcohol, you can uncover hidden feelings and unmet needs. Do you always have the urge to drink after work? What does this mean about your job, the work environment, or your work-life balance? Do you only overdrink in social situations? Could this indicate that you’ve been drinking to self-medicate social anxiety? Use Dry January to learn about changes that could improve your quality of life.
How do I know if Dry January is right for me?
A lot of us use alcohol to cope with boredom and stress or to have fun. But if you’re getting less enjoyment from drinking, it’s a strong indication that you should take a break. Are you feeling shame or guilt after drinking? Have others expressed concerns about your behavior? Are you having trouble keeping commitments?
It’s also a good idea to take a break if you’re drinking more than you’d like, more often than you’re comfortable with, and you find it increasingly difficult to stop yourself. Physical signs that you should drink less include shakiness or tremors (known as delirium tremens), redness in the nose or cheeks, frequent injuries, gastrointestinal issues, and brittle nails and hair due to chronic dehydration.
If you notice that reducing your alcohol intake leads to trembling, altered consciousness, hallucinations, or an irregular heartbeat contact your doctor right away. These are signs of severe alcohol withdrawal and they could lead to death. It’s actually better for you to not stop drinking completely and to go through a medicated detox instead.
How to Stop Drinking for Dry January
Want to give this challenge a try? Here are some tips and suggestions to succeed at Dry January:
1. Hide your booze
If you’re going to try Dry January, you might want to consider keeping alcohol out of sight and out of mind. Start by putting your alcohol stash away. Not that you have to throw it out, but you should place it somewhere where you can’t see it in plain sight – when you’re watching TV or working at your desk. You might try storing the alcohol in places where it’s hard to get to – like on the top shelf of a cupboard, in the garage, or even at your friend’s house. The moment you feel that it’s effortful to grab your beer, it might trick your mind that it’s not worth it.
2. Build some new social rituals
Focusing your mind on something else is also a good way to distract yourself from drinking alcohol. You might want to consider recruiting a partner for this challenge. Not only will going in on your alcohol-free month with a companion hold you more accountable, you’ll also have a built-in buddy to do non-drinking activities with. This person can be your support system, someone who can remind you why you signed up for the challenge.
Come up with healthy, compelling alternatives to drinking: long hikes, rock climbing, surfing, or biking – which are more fun if you have a buddy with you.
3. Make sure you have tasty, non-alcoholic beverage options
There’s a booming trend of non-alcoholic beverages ranging from alcohol-free beer and wine to gins. These mocktails might scratch the itch if you’re really missing the taste of hops or the herbaceousness of a terroir. Check out Monday Gin, Seedlip, or one of Athletic Brewing Company‘s delicious craft non-alcoholic beers.
4. Keep a journal
Keeping track of how you feel during Dry January can help you identify rewards that may not be obvious, like less conflict in your relationship or reduced anxiety levels. In fact, it’s best to start journaling now while you’re still drinking. This way, you can compare how drinking is currently impacting you versus at the end of a sober month.
Dry January encourages people to think about their drinking and engage in healthier habits throughout the year. Being alcohol-free for 31 days gives you the opportunity to experience enjoyment, relaxation, or socializing without booze and helps us develop skills to control our drinking. That implies we’ll be better equipped to make decisions about when and how much we drink for the rest of the year, preventing us from drinking more than we desire.
If you find that 31 days aren’t enough, you might want to consider seeking professional help. There are plenty of resources that address alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. Self-help workbooks like Responsible Drinking, How to Change Your Drinking, Over the Influence, and (shameless self-promotion) Power Over Addiction can help you interrupt problematic behaviors with alcohol. (Full disclosure, I make a small commission if you purchase books via these links).
Self-help groups like AA, Refuge Recovery, and SMART Recovery are widely available if abstinence is your long-term goal. If you prefer to try moderation, check out Moderation Management groups or look for a harm reduction therapy group in your area. Interacting with people who are going through the same experience as you is a big help. The sense of belongingness, being understood, and not judged is a big factor in one’s journey to improving their relationship with alcohol.
Psychotherapy sessions – individual therapy and groups, can be especially helpful if you’ve had a chronic problematic relationship with alcohol or if you’re also impacted by other psychological problems like depression, anxiety, or trauma. Find a licensed professional in your area who specializes in addiction or alcohol treatment and who will support your chosen goal of either moderation or abstinence.
Let us know if you decide to try Dry January. We’d love to hear how it goes and if there are other resources we can provide. We hope you have a restful holiday season and a healthy new year!Learn More