What if I have a drink during Dry January®?

Angela Calcan | January 2024 | 7 minutes

What if we told you there is no such thing as ‘failing’ Dry January® and there is no reason to ‘quit’ if you have had a drink during the month?

Here at Alcohol Change UK we acknowledge that not all Dry January® participants will have 31 dry days and that success is not defined by a number alone. When people commit to the challenge and work through those tough moments, use the month to test things out and reflect on what happened, we often see some big shifts in behaviour. The biggest learning can come out of those moments where it didn’t go to plan. And no, this isn’t an encouragement to drink, but it is an invitation to be curious about the process.

Did you know that your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all interconnected? Your mindset is a key part of change, and how you show up in those tough moments is especially important.

If having that drink feels soul-destroying then we want to avoid heading into a spiral, where the negativity seeps in and we lose our focus on what we want. Behaviour change is rarely as simple as setting a goal and achieving it the first time. There are ups and downs, periods where we plateau, times when we find it easier and times when it is more challenging. This is normal so keep going.

Choose your words wisely

A simple change we can make is in the language we use to describe having a drink. Have you “failed”, “relapsed”, “fallen off the wagon”, and now want to hit the big red 'F it' button? The choice of language influences how we feel and what we think. And those two things have a huge impact on what we do next. So, choose a word that feels more neutral. Maybe you’ve had a “blip”, “slip”, or simply “had a drink” instead.

Another trap is to view our behaviour as evidence of some personal fault or failing. Learning how to take judgment out of our self-talk is key. It can be helpful to take a step back, breathe and just acknowledge what is there. Things like:

  • Label how you feel: I’m noticing that I feel really bad right now. I feel frustrated / angry / upset / worried.
  • Notice the language coming up to describe you and your actions. Ask yourself: is it helpful or kind to say those things right now? Is this actually helping me to understand what was going on for me?

Be your own best friend

The best way to start changing your self-talk is to think about what you would say to a friend facing the same issue. Alternatively, you could imagine what words and approach you would take to a child that is learning something new. Now use the words, tone of voice and understanding you would use for others on yourself and see what a difference that makes. As my 6-year-old reminds me “it’s ok, we all make mistakes sometimes”.

Whether this is your first try at a dry month or you are a seasoned pro, you have all moved on from the person that sets out at the beginning of your journey. Someone once said to me that we can only make decisions with the knowledge we had at the time, and our knowledge grows with every experience including those that feel like setbacks. When we have that learning mindset, we can really get to know ourselves and what we need. We want to be curious about what was at play and take those elements into consideration the next time. This will make a huge difference to your journey.

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