Setbacks, and how to deal with them

Lauren Booker | January 2024 | 8 minutes

Somewhere along your alcohol-free journey you might face a setback – you've had a drink and aren’t sure what to do next. The main thing to do is work out why you had the drink. The next thing to do is to learn from what happened and try again!

Two common setback styles

1) Constant resets

If you started your dry challenge but found yourself pressing the ‘reset’ button on the 3rd, 6th and 10th day, even if you always swear you’ll add on extra days at the end, you need to figure out what’s going on. There will always be circumstances, events, problems and joys that we’d like to experience with a drink in our hands, nothing wrong with that. But what about your goals? Why do you want to give dry a try? If you keep hitting reset, you’ll never get there. Work out if your motivation is strong enough; if it’s not, maybe you’re not totally ready right now. Why not start next month, but this time really keep your motivation in mind and go for it.

2) Emotional armageddon

Sometimes life kicks you in the teeth and you respond by drowning your sorrows. This is the most common reason why people have a drink when they’re committed to not doing so. It doesn’t even need to be a big Armageddon, just something that knocks you off balance emotionally. Then comes the overwhelming desire to scribble out the unpleasantness for a while and deal with the emotions later. You know that having a drink will make you feel worse in the long run, but that’s also part of its appeal – next to drowning comes wallowing. As booze can make the highs higher and the lows lower, if we go into the glass feeling glum, we’re not going to come out smiling.

This is normal. But it’s not inevitable. Drowning your sorrows makes you internalise negative emotions rather than getting them out there. Try screaming instead. (Maybe just shut the windows first.) Cathartic, isn’t it? Or, if screaming isn’t your thing, try mindfulness. Being able to identify what you’re feeling is a really good start and prepares you for finding positive strategies to deal with the bad stuff.

To read about more setback styles, see chapter 7 of our book Try Dry®: The Official Guide to a Month Off Booze. Read on to find out how to learn from your setback and move on from it.

Learning from your setback

Having a setback doesn’t have to be a bad thing – as long as you learn from it. If you can do that, your setback might even help you to get more from your booze-free period than you would have if you’d cruised through without a hiccup.

Here are some tips for making sure your blip is an opportunity, not a failure. These three questions represent how you can look at what happened, its relevance, and what you’re going to do about it. If you have had a setback, these are great questions to ask yourself:


What exactly happened? What led to the slip-up? What did you drink? What were the consequences? Was it an active choice to drink? If you succumbed to a craving or drinking was a spur-of-the-moment reaction to one of life’s little bombshells, here’s a golden opportunity to think about how you want to proceed.

So what?

What is the relevance of this? What have you learnt? What do you understand about the things that might trip you up in future? Observe how you felt, but don’t judge yourself.

Now what?

What are you going to do now? What will you do differently next time? Can you identify what actions you could take for a different outcome?

Have a good think about these three questions and see how you feel. Dry January®, Sober Spring or any other dry challenge is a learning curve for everyone, so don’t be too harsh on yourself! Learn from your setback, and try again tomorrow. You can do it!

If you’d like to learn more about dealing with setbacks, you can check out our blog series on this topic including, Setbacks – Getting through when you feel like alcohol is everywhere and Setbacks – Understanding ‘Deprivation Syndrome’.

This text was adapted from Try Dry®: The Official Guide to a Month Off Booze, where you can find more setback styles along with extra advice and information! If you haven’t already, you can download our Try Dry® app here.

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