Cut down or cut out?

Lauren Booker | February 2018 | 6 minutes

Dry or not dry? That is the question.

Working therapeutically with clients, I’m often asked which is better – moderation or abstinence – and there’s no right or wrong answer; each of us has to choose what works for us.

When you’ve had a month off alcohol and are feeling great because of it, returning to drinking can be a scary thought. On the one hand, you had no intention of giving up altogether, but on the other hand you don’t want to slip back into your old habits and not having a drink at all seems easier than stopping at just one or two.

This dilemma is common among those of us who’ve experienced how rewarding and, often surprisingly, how easy Dry January can be. There’s a fear that one drink will lead us back into old ways, but ‘never drink again’ is not easy to swallow either. So, what to do?

It can help to write down a thorough pros and cons list, detailing the good and bad of both options before deciding. Whatever you decide, it doesn’t have to be forever; think of it as an experiment. Make your plan on, say, a month-by-month basis. Like any experiment, note down what’s working and what isn’t and use your data to decide how to proceed the following month.

"I usually advise my clients to aim for at least three months without a drink"

I usually advise my clients to aim for at least three months without a drink, to start re-wiring the brain, reducing the reward signals that tell us we want a drink. Many people who choose the abstinence path for the longer term say it’s far easier than sticking to moderation – the choice is taken away, so there’s no day-to-day decision to make. After three months, they’ve built up strategies for staying dry while others around them are drinking and, importantly, their loved ones are used to their choice and usually supportive.

If you’re planning on staying off the booze for another month or more, there is some great support out there to help you. Recently published, The 28-day Alcohol Challenge, gives tips on how to continue your dry spree and enjoy it too. Reading about others’ dry journeys can also be very motivating. Clare Pooley’s The Sober Diaries chronicles an alcohol-free year with humour and integrity that will resonate with many of us trying out this new lifestyle.

The Dry January community is also still out there. You can continue to use your Dry January and Beyond app or join our Facebook community for positive, friendly support, whether you decide to cut down or cut out.